disabilities

Nathan Anderson

How Future Workplaces Will Work Better for People with Disabilities

Today, we feature this post, originally published in February 2019, in recognition of National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month.

According to a major study by Accenture, 29 percent of all people were appropriately employed, compared with 75 percent of those who listed disability. Furthermore, that study made a direct link between a company’s overall profitability and its inclusiveness of people with disabilities. In fact, organizations that stand out for leadership in areas related to disability inclusion performed better in several 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.

Including people with disabilities in your company culture is not only a moral imperative. For most companies, it is a financial incentive.

Disabilities Accommodations: Bottom Line No Longer King

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. We’re at a stage now across industries where employers aren’t looking to work out how to dodge their responsibilities. Instead, employers 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 with disabilities 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.

Algorithms are Imperfect

Does your organization filters candidate lists using AI-based processes, with human oversight coming at a later stage? Do you routinely get a high volume of applications that limits human participation?

If yes, 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. By enlisting a member of HR staff to evaluate a random sample of applications, spot checks can be carried out on decisions made by your preferred algorithm. Do those spot checks. Then 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.

The ‘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 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, of course, need not go bankrupt to make accommodations. For example, buying land to create closer parking spaces for employees unable to walk long distances is not a requirement.

Seek Out Partners

However, companies must understand the provisions available from the government. They should also 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 Disabilities-Friendly Practices

When it comes to welcoming a diverse workforce, there are a number of practical points most organizations can focus on. Regular feedback from employees, pulse surveys and engendering an open and honest environment can help decide where focus belongs. The state of your staff as a whole is a factor in deciding which to actually implement.

  • Make physical adaptations and remove physical barriers.
  • Provide training and information 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.

For profiling your staff so your organization can be proactive in determining which adaptations are required and implemented, consider using a digital tool like Clear Talents. Actively seeking out case studies in related fields is also excellent practice.

In addition, the Business Disability Forum is an excellent resource for this type of activity and can signpost important initiatives.

Make the workplace work better with people with disabilities. Starting today.

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