Eleanor Goichman Brett outlines five tips for disability inclusion – and they’re easier than you think.
People with disabilities are some of the most under-represented individuals in the workplace. In the UK, 19% of working age adults are disabled, according to the latest Family Resources Survey. But the Office for National Statistics has highlighted that disabled people are 28.6% less likely to be in employment.
Yet there are clear benefits for organisations that embrace disability inclusion. People with disabilities take less sick leave and stay with companies longer, according to research by the TUC, whilst disability-inclusive organisations have higher revenues and better shareholder returns, according to an Accenture report.
So, for companies serious about progressing towards true inclusion for people with disabilities, here are five things learning professionals need to know:
It’s the environment that disables a person – not their impairment
The way that our societies and organisations are structured creates barriers for people with different abilities. If you have a hearing impairment, for example, it’s not your impairment that disables you but the fact that videos and closed captions aren’t used enough in webinars. Or if you’re dyslexic, that many elearning courses are text based.
Learning professionals have a responsibility to be conscious of different people’s needs
In the rapid shift from in-person to virtual learning and development, the needs of people with different abilities and disabilities has often been overlooked.
Learning professionals have a responsibility to be conscious of different people’s needs and seek to create accessible, inclusive learning where people with disabilities have independence, choice and the ability to fully participate.
People know their abilities and impairments best – but you need to ask them
Every disabled person is different and whilst some – especially those adjusting to a disability – may require support in understanding the adjustments they need, most disabled people will know the adaptions they need. But you do actually have to ask.
Only by asking the question can you show that you care about their inclusion, recognise they probably have the solution and have the information you need to implement the right changes for them. That means ensuring that accessibility questions are embedded into all your learning processes and evaluations. And it means listening to the answers.
Accessible training is better for everyone
By making your learning programmes more accessible as standard, you will actually be improving the experience for all employees. For example, by ensuring that you use closed captions in all your webinars and voiceovers in all your elearning – and that all your materials use simplified text, accessible fonts and colour contrasting – everyone will benefit.
Managers need to know about accessibility but don’t need to be disability experts
To ensure your organisation is disability aware, it can be tempting to roll out specific disability training to all managers. However, this can create the impression that managers need to be experts in specific disabilities and can lead to some managers feeling overwhelmed and even avoiding hiring people with disabilities.
It’s much more helpful if managers understand their responsibilities to create an inclusive and accessible environment and how to talk to their teams about their accessibility needs. Then, when they do need to know how to support someone with a specific disability or access need, they know where to go to find information and support.
Your people can help make your learning more accessible
If you’re wondering where to start to ensure your learning processes, practices and content are accessible, ask your people. Using accessible guidelines and resources is important but, to truly understand, show true commitment and sustain your own learning, the best way is to work together with those who have lived experience.
The likelihood is, you have people in your organisation who would be willing to help, if you just ask. So, when creating new learning processes or programmes, ask for input on accessibility (although do not ask about people’s disabilities) up front, rather than as an afterthought. That way you can create accessible learning content and delivery that is more inclusive for everyone.
The key to each of these actions is to remember that people know themselves and their abilities best. Only by asking about these unique needs – rather than making assumptions – and listening to the answers, can you truly create a more accessible and inclusive learning environment.
About the author
Eleanor Goichman Brett is a consultant and trainer at global diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global, part of Affirmity