How Could Future Workplaces Work Better for People with Disabilities?

According to a major study by Accenture, a direct link can now be drawn between a company’s overall profitability and its inclusiveness of people with disabilities. The data found that people with disabilities are underemployed — in the U.S., 29 percent were employed, compared with 75 percent of those without a listed disability — and that organizations that stand out for leadership in areas related to disability inclusion performed better in key financial metrics.

The study directly addresses one of the basic drives in any business: return on investment. It’s part of a growing body of literature that highlights the importance of a strong focus on inclusivity when it comes to hiring, continuous development and the makeup of a company’s workforce. The ethics of inclusion programs and a push for more diversity within any organization are clear, but this study makes the case for disability inclusion’s value as a direct driver of profit. This makes it clear that it’s not only a moral imperative to cater to as broad a pool of potential staff as possible, but also that it actually pays to do so.

In business, the bottom line is often king at the expense of other considerations. As such, simply adhering to laws such as the U.K.’s Equality Act by providing reasonable adjustments for staff with disabilities can sometimes be thought of as a hindrance to profits. But these attitudes have changed a lot in recent years, and we’re at a stage now across industries where employers aren’t looking to work out how to dodge their responsibilities but are going above and beyond in providing for as many people as possible.

Here are some key considerations when it comes to making sure your place of work is catering to as broad a pool of talent as possible, whether that’s prospective employees or those already working within your organization.

Hiring Using Algorithms Is the Future — but Be Careful

HR decision making is increasingly automated, and with the proliferation of readily available data about potential job candidates through public platforms such as LinkedIn, this trend is surely here to stay. The use of algorithms to filter out unsuitable candidates helps cut costs and contributes to a streamlined and efficient recruitment process. AI and machine learning will only further improve this kind of activity as technology continues to develop.

There are, however, limits to the powers of this process. It’s important to understand just how fallible algorithms are. No matter how complex an algorithm gets, existing biases are always embedded within. Therefore, in an ideal world, hard screening decisions should not be made solely by algorithmic processes, at least for the foreseeable future.

If your organization filters candidate lists using AI-based processes, with human oversight coming at a later stage — for example, if you routinely get a high volume of applications — it’s important to be aware of the fact that your algorithms are imperfect. This should naturally lead to a culture of continuous auditing, modification and improvement to your selection processes. Spot checks can be carried out on decisions made by your preferred algorithm by enlisting a member of HR staff to evaluate a random sample of applications and see if there’s a difference in results. When doing this, it’s important to heavily focus on potential biases on both sides — machine and human.

Pushing the Boundaries of ‘Reasonable’ in ‘Reasonable Adjustments’

The U.K.’s Equality Act 2010 sets out legal protections against discrimination in the workplace. It describes the “reasonable adjustments” that must be made to facilitate employees (prospective or current) who may face obstacles in the organization. The definition of “reasonable” here is key, as well as ambiguous. And it’s this ambiguity and businesses’ attitudes toward it that are crucial.

A lot depends on how big the business is. Larger organizations will find it easier to afford the resources to make expensive adjustments for staff members. Smaller organizations are not obliged to bankrupt themselves to make accommodations — for example, by buying land to create closer parking spaces for employees unable to walk long distances.

However, companies should better understand the provisions available from the government, and always seek to work with local schemes and charities. Primarily, this means engaging with the U.K.’s Access to Work program. Through this, staff can gain grants for equipment, aids, adaptations or support worker assistance. The program can also provide additional assistance to employees in getting to and from work.

Instead of seeing this exercise as a means to tick a box, the best employers will have HR practitioners who have a deep knowledge of and working experience with the Access to Work scheme, and will know how to present a compelling case for their staff who require or would flourish with adaptations that can be sourced through these means.

Examples of Disability-Friendly Practices

There are a number of practical points that most organizations can take action on when it comes to welcoming a diverse workforce. Deciding which are actually implemented depends on the state of your staff as a whole, and finding out which areas to focus on can be done through regular feedback from employees, pulse surveys and engendering an open and honest environment.

  • Make physical adaptations and remove physical barriers. This could mean straightforward changes like the installation of a wheelchair ramp.
  • Ensure training and information is provided in accessible formats.
  • Offer specialist training.
  • Invite inclusion-focused guest speakers at in-work functions or meetings.
  • Encourage flexible working patterns and remote working where possible.

A digital tool like Clear Talents can be used as the foundation for profiling your staff so that your organization can be proactive in determining which adaptations are required and implemented. Actively seeking out case studies in related fields is also excellent practice.

The Business Disability Forum is an excellent resource for this type of activity and can signpost important initiatives