A differently-abled being, but a free mind
Celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking changed the way people perceived the cosmos. He was instrumental in shaping the way humans placed themselves in context to the universe. But he also did one more thing – changed how we viewed those with disabilities.
In the 2011 World Report on Disability(1), theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking wrote: “We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities”.
Today, although organizations are actively practicing a culture of diversity and inclusion, we’re still short of optimally tapping into a highly motivated but under-represented workforce, comprising of people with disabilities.
Fear of not being equipped enough and lacking fully integrated and inclusive HR processes, for disability hiring undermines the potential contribution of almost 15% of the global population that could significantly contribute to the economy and business.
A ‘win-win’ opportunity being missed
There are several very compelling reasons why disability inclusion makes good business sense - apart from being the right thing to do and fulfilling a key inclusion objective.
People with disabilities are likely to be more loyal to employers and have been found to be more innovative and productive than their peers.
An Accenture study titled, ‘The disability inclusion advantage(2)’ was able to monitor and measure the impact of disability inclusion on organizational productivity, in forty-five organizations identified for their leadership in such initiatives. Over the four-year period studied, results indicate that these organizations achieved 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 percent higher profit margins, compared to their industry average.
So, despite the huge scale of the opportunity implied by these findings, why is disability inclusion lagging? The gap may well lie with hiring strategies that are yet to become fully inclusive and merit-based.
There’s a fear in organizations that teams may not be equipped with skills or knowledge to support people with disabilities. Also, some employers struggle with understanding how to make workplace adjustments including IT adaptations. This naturally reduces the opportunities available to workers with disabilities.
The way forward, from an employer’s perspective, is for people with disabilities to be simply treated no differently than other potential or existing employees. They need to be held to the same standards as the broader workforce and given the same opportunities to contribute.
And on the other side, we need to go with the belief that having a disability doesn't keep you from having a great job. In fact, many industry studies and real-life examples have proved that organizations can develop better resilience, empathy, creative and problem-solving skills if they have a diversity and disability inclusion hiring model.
Taking the step forward
A move in the right direction would be for employers to start to recruit and open positions for people with disabilities on the basis of strengths and potential rather than the regular approach of considering qualifications or experience.
Another important aspect is to be proactive as an organization to find possible job positions where you could give diverse people opportunities to be employed. A good way would be to set a company goal of how many positions you could open up and then go for it.
Assistive and Integrated Technologies in the workplace
Technology is an effective tool in ensuring better outcomes in disability inclusion. The use of Assistive Technology (AT), at an early learning and onboarding stage, has the potential to positively impact employees with disabilities. AT interventions have consistently demonstrated an upswing in job performance - measured as higher rates of accuracy and task completion, increased independence and generalization of skills.
Accessibility tools and customizable apps, such as Narrator and Magnifier, are now incorporated into Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10 platforms. Google’s developers have also focused on ensuring that their tools address the needs of people with vision, hearing, dexterity, and cognitive needs. This includes their ChromeVox(3) screen reader, adjustable magnification/contrast aids, and a keyboard guide.
Emerging digital technologies will continue to have a profound impact on expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities. In particular due to predictive text, visual recognition, and speech-to-text transcription being offered as built-in functionality within these innovations.
Upgrading HR processes and making integrated technologies accessible can actively remove hiring barriers for those with disabilities while benefitting organizations both culturally and financially.
Given the rising influence of a new generation of socially conscious customers, a truly sincere culture of inclusion is also likely to lead to a positive impact on brand equity.