Creating a disability-inclusive workplace: top tips for business leaders

Want a disability-inclusive workplace? Inclusive Futures may have the answers with its new Disability Confident Employers' Toolkit

Around 10-12% of the workforce at most large organisations will have a disability and/or chronic health condition. This means employers must understand the impact of disability on their business and know-how to provide every employee with the tools, flexibility, and accessibility required, to achieve a disability-inclusive workplace.

Susan Scott-Parker and Simon Brown, authors of a new disability-confident toolkit, show you where to start.

1. Make your communications accessible

Imagine if you couldn’t see or hear an important video message from your CEO because it hadn’t been made accessible? It is crucial for your communications work for everyone.

The good news is that you don’t need to be an expert in digital accessibility. It is easy to understand and apply some basic principles which can make a real difference. Some things to ensure are:

  • Hyperlinks clearly indicate where the link goes
  • Images include alternative text for screen readers
  • Clearly contrasting colours are used
  • Keep fonts large and clear, and minimise how many different ones are used per document 
  • Add captions, transcripts, sign-language and audio-only options where needed

Remember that accessibility should be incorporated from the outset, not as an afterthought.

Tip: Use the Accessibility Checker, a free tool available in Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint to ensure your Office files are accessible. It points out issues, explains the potential problems for someone with a disability and suggests improvements. It’s always a good idea to have people with disabilities user-test your communications materials, too.

2. Reasonable adjustments increase equality

For employees with disabilities to meet their potential adjustments may be needed. These reasonable adjustments, also known as reasonable accommodation, could include:

  • Welcoming human aides such as job coaches, interpreters, personal assistants or captioners
  • Enabling access to assisted devices such as braille keyboards
  • Allowing flexitime
  • Removing obstacles from the recruitment process. For tips on recruiting fairly, you might find our previous article useful: ‘How to hire people with disabilities: a step by step guide’.

Tip: If workplace adjustments are made, create an ‘adjustments agreement’ or ‘passport’, between the employee and the employer, so that the employee does not need to renegotiate their adjustments with a new manager.

3. Learn from your employees…

If you want to know about issues which directly impact people with disabilities – the best option would be to ask them. It is vital employers learn from the lived experience of their employees and customers with disabilities.

One idea is to create an informal ‘listening group’ where the CEO or other senior executives invite colleagues with an interest in improving accessibility and disability performance to meet with them twice a year to share experience and suggestions. Be seen to act on what you learn.

It is also important to improve your organisational awareness by inviting colleagues with lived experience of disability to share their stories widely, for example, at ‘lunchtime talks’. Remember that some employees with disabilities may prefer to just get on with their careers, rather than spend time advising on disability matters – respect their right to do so.

4…and celebrate your progress together

It is great to mark milestones and when there have been inclusion-related achievements in the organisation. A great time to do that is each year on 3rd December, International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Your organisation could partner with local organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs) and the wider business community to host an event or awareness-raising activities and to do so in a way which builds bridges between the business and the disability community.

Or why not join the Purple Light Up movement on 3rd December, a global initiative which draws attention to the economic empowerment of people with disabilities – you and your colleagues can take part easily by wearing purple ties or lanyards or signing your name in purple – or even by lighting up your building bright purple!

Another idea is to showcase the progress you are making in videos– Shell’s Be Yourself’ film and Barclays’ ‘This Is Me’ are examples of compelling storytelling campaigns fronted by employees.

5. Audit your building

Your offices may have sat empty over the last year, but it’s crucial that workspaces are set up to accommodate everyone’s needs when this changes.

Ensuring your space is a barrier-free environment means considering all aspects of your building. You need to consider things like lighting, ventilation, signposting, noise levels, floor textures and door-opening mechanisms. Conducting an accessibility audit will highlight any accessibility gaps that need to be addressed. Hand your property manager the Inclusive Futures Accessibility Audit pack for comprehensive guidance on making workplaces accessible.

Remember that spaces which are comfortable and easy to navigate for a wide range of persons with disabilities will benefit everyone, not just disabled colleagues, customers and visitors.

Interested in taking the next step to ensure your organisation delivers the best practice called: ‘disability confidence’. Take advantage of the Disability Confident Employers’ Toolkit. This portfolio of practical guides, checklists, case studies and resources make it easier for any business to deliver the best practice we call ‘disability confidence’.

The resources are free, open-source, and can be tailored to fit your business. Leaders might find the following documents good starting points: A basic guide to accessible communications, A recruiter’s introduction to workplace adjustments and the Accessibility audit pack.
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