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9 min to readDigital WorkplacePublisher Advisory ServicesIndustry Solutions

How improving digital accessibility can help overcome disability in the workplace

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Simon BishopGlobal Head - Recruitment
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Our jobs and ways of working will change profoundly in the next decade. The Institute for the Future (IFTF) and a panel of 20 tech, business and academic experts from around the world forecast that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 do not exist today. Ensuring that everyone can benefit from the economic opportunities in the new digital economy is a key priority. That is why skill building and accessibility are essential to success in a changing world. The number of people with different accessibility needs is equivalent to the population of China. That’s over a billion people. When technology reflects the overall diversity the users, there are no limits to what organizations can achieve. Let´s have a look at some practical ways to make your workplace more inclusive and accessible.

Start including people with disabilities

There are more than 1 billion people - or 15% of the global population - with disabilities, either permanent or temporary, including those affecting visual, mobility, hearing, cognitive, speech and neural functions. 70% of disabilities are invisible. Yet, people with disabilities are still twice as likely to be unemployed, compared to those without a disability. For example, in UK only 53.2% of people with disabilities are in employment, versus 81.8%, of the non-disabled population.

Today technology has made it easier to hire people with disabilities and integrate them into the workforce. Driving disability inclusion may seem daunting, but everybody needs to start somewhere and the good news is that you don’t have to recreate the wheel. Our business partner Microsoft offers simple, practical advice: “If you’re wondering where to start with the inclusion of people with disabilities, hire someone. Find an incredible individual who will empower your organization with the expertise you may not have had before,” recommends Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Head of Accessibility at Microsoft. This is the right thing to do – not just from an ethical point of view, but also from a strictly business perspective.

How to hire workers with disabilities

Many organizations state that one of the greatest barriers they face in hiring people with disabilities is that they have trouble finding qualified candidates. So, how do you go about it?

Put your job advertisements to the acid test

While some of the exclusion of disabled people from the workplace is due to outright discrimination, some of it is also due to simple mistakes. For example, in job adverts, are you making any of the errors that may exclude some qualified candidates with disabilities: requiring a driver’s license when driving isn't key to the role, posting it on a website that isn't fully accessible, using a small font that’s hard to read or not offering alternative formats for applications? Also, think carefully about the language of your ad, which can unintentionally exclude certain groups. Tools like Textio can help you become more aware of wording that may fall into this category.

Partner with disability-related organizations

Go where your target audience is. If you partner with advocacy organizations, they can connect you with qualified candidates, advise you on the best approaches to take, and more. You can also attend disability-related job fairs and conferences, post ads in magazines or on websites produced by disability advocacy organizations, or find specific job boards.

Create an equal opportunities policy

This is basic, but small businesses may not have considered it before. If you truly have an inclusive hiring policy, then state it up front. Create an equal opportunities policy, post it on your website, and refer to it in all of your hiring materials.

Offer a fair interview process

Another area where you can unintentionally exclude people is in the interview process. For example, if you require people to take a test, are you giving them advance notice and allowing them to take it in a different format if necessary? Are you asking questions that are focused squarely on the performance of the job function? Are you making assumptions about how a disability would prevent the person completing certain tasks, or are you giving them a chance to show what they can do?

If you’re wondering where to start with the inclusion of people with disabilities, hire someone. Find an incredible individual who will empower your organization with the expertise you may not have had before.
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Jenny Lay-Flurrie

Head of Accessibility at Microsoft

How to create an inclusive & accessible workplace & improve retention

Of course, hiring disabled workers means nothing if they leave soon after. Although disabled workers generally have high retention rates, you’ll still need to take some measures to ensure that your workplace is welcoming.

Accessibility improvements

Employers are often worried about the cost of accommodating people with disabilities. Costs are tight and business owners may not want to invest a portion of profits towards making changes to the workplace. But the good news is that the costs are generally much lower than expected. Think about it. You might not be aware that much of what you need may already be available to you for no costs at all due to the accessibility options on various software and IT equipment such as M365. How much would it really cost to install a ramp at the entrance to your office or to provide screen-reading software or modified telephones? When you look at the total cost of hiring a new employee, any accommodations you need to make will likely be a very small slice of the overall pie.

To help guide organizations in the right direction, the UK government provides a a guide to employing disabled people and recommends the following simple improvements:

  • making changes to a disabled person’s working pattern
  • providing training or mentoring
  • making alterations to premises
  • ensuring that information is provided in accessible formats
  • modifying or acquiring equipment
  • allowing extra time during selection ‘tests’

There are a wide range of disabilities out there so the strategies for making your workplace accessible will vary widely as well. You can do plenty of research to prepare in advance and then work in collaboration with your new employee to find out what they need and how to provide it to them.

Attitude changes

Survey after survey has shown that our societies are still rife with prejudice towards disabled people. Therefore, it’s almost inevitable that some of those prejudiced beliefs will exist within your workforce. You may even hold some of them yourself whether you’re conscious of them or not. So, in addition to making physical and technological adjustments to the workplace, you’ll also need to educate yourself and your staff to ensure that you engage in productive relationships and get the most out of your new employees.

There are several other barriers to workplace accessibility, such as:

  • Pity - People feel sorry for the employee and are patronizing as a result.
  • Hero Worship - People consider a person with a disability living independently to be “special”.
  • Multi-sensory affect - People assume that the employee’s disability affects his or her other senses.

There are some self-tests you can do online, such as the Harvard Implicit Bias test, which will help you to identify unconscious bias or unhelpful attitudes towards disabled people. You can also contact nonprofit organizations in your area to arrange training where necessary. Additionally, there are some excellent online resources for improving your awareness, such as the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN), funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Final thoughts

Today, it’s critical that IT and HR teams work closely together to ensure that the diversity and inclusion goals of their organizations are met. HR teams are best suited to advise the IT department on the needs of employees and how to sensitively make any change.

Consider technologies like Microsoft 365. These technologies allow people to make their computing experience more comfortable so they can embrace more of what the world and the workplace have to offer. Accessible technology enables your organization to connect with a broader talent pool and a bigger client base. Fundamentally, no workplace is truly modern until it's accessible and inclusive to all.

If you want to start transforming your organization into an accessible and inclusive workplace, make sure you have an experienced partner on your side. SoftwareOne provides the best Microsoft solutions and managed services to support customers in their digital transformation initiatives.

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A man in a blue sweater is posing for a picture.

Simon Bishop
Global Head - Recruitment

Talent Acquisition