In Australia approximately 1 in 5 people have a disability. That’s a whopping 4.3 million people – or for the more imaginative amongst us, roughly double the entire population of Perth!
And of this figure only 48% of working-age people with disabilities are employed.1 Paling in comparison to those without a disability – of which 79% are employed.
So, what can HR do to help your organisation become disability friendly and live up to its workplace diversity expectations?
HR-tip 1: Become a disability champion
Make sure everyone knows you are a disability inclusive workplace. Workers, business partners and clients/customers alike.
You should not shy away from acknowledging the fact you are doing something great by increasing disability representation in the workplace – you should be proud of it!
Owning your initiatives and promoting awareness among your staff is a great way to nip those nasty stigmatisms in the bud. You can easily get the ball rolling with internal comms promoting the positives of a disability friendly workplace and solidify the change with the following:
- an Equal Employment Opportunity Policy and Procedure
- a staff training session
- communications dispelling disability myths.
These applications when applied correctly will be able to demonstrate why you want to be a disability champion, why it should be important to the staff and what your expectations will be moving forward.
You should be consistently promoting your disability friendly ethos at all stages of the employee life cycle with awareness. For example, changing the perspectives of your recruiters and managers could greatly improve the expectations of all other workers and the experiences of those with disabilities.
Creating awareness is essential, as one bad apple can easily spoil the bunch.
HR-tip 2: Provide assistance through technology
As humans we are pretty average at just about everything without our tools.
Just think about how many pieces of technology we use every day. How do you get to work? How did you call your remote worker? How did you reply to that email?
All these tasks without tools are near impossible, or at least far more time consuming. But with them, they appear near effortless.
And whilst a person without a disability may not require certain tools, the same principle applies for persons with disabilities.
You should consider what technology you could use to remove workplace barriers for persons with disabilities. You may find that by simply providing that one extra tool, a person with a disability is able to greatly contribute to your workplace. And this may be as simple as providing a sign language app, magnified computer screen or voice to text software.
HR-tip 3: Tweak the environment
Disability friendly environments should remove physical barriers.
As a part of your disability friendly plan you should take a step back and look at the physical layout of your workplace. Ask yourself, what would it be like for people with certain disabilities to navigate the office? Could the layout be altered to accommodate, or even assist an employee with a disability?
In considering this it is recommended that you pay attention to car spaces, ramps, desk access and the availability of braille.
By widening a car space, adding a ramp up to an elevator, fitting automatic doors and installing height adjustable desks, you would be able to make substantial steps in improving the workplace for a physically disabled employee.
These alterations are usually once off costs also. So, by making the effort with one disabled employee, you would also be making the effort with every disabled employee who follows and is also empowered by the removal of certain barriers. This once off cost can quickly turn into an effective way of ensuring your workplace is disability friendly.
HR-tip 4: Rethink the 9 to 5
For some people, the 9 to 5 shift in the office promotes their most productive work. But for others, it can limit their potential.
To help your workplace become disability friendly, you should adjust your mindset and expectations as to allow for alterations to the typically expected working arrangements. By recognising the reasons why certain arrangements may inhibit employees with disabilities, you will be able to take a more flexible approach which results in mutual benefit. You may find that employees with disabilities are able to perform their duties with greater confidence, efficiency and skill when you provide a degree of lenience over when and where they complete the work.
Such alterations may be to start times, finish times, the frequency of breaks and where the work is to be completed from.
For example, a worker with autism may particularly struggle with the peak hour commute to work and from work due to the noise of the hustle and bustle on public transport. So, allowing them to either work remotely or commute to and from work on shoulder or off-peak hours could allow them to get into their jobs far easier.
HR-tip 5: Be supportive
One of the best acts you can do in developing a disability friendly workplace is to create a supportive culture.
Employees with disabilities should feel comfortable voicing their concerns and suggesting ways that you can improve the workplace for a mutual benefit. After all, it is the employee with a disability and this employee alone who can tell you exactly what barriers exist and how they can be mitigated.
An effective way to ensure that employees know who to talk to is to develop a support group. In this initiative, management should have a representative who consults with disabled employees on their experiences. This is best done in a collective environment to improve discussion and the acknowledgement of shared experiences. However, complementing the group with an anonymous feedback system would also allow the more reserved employees to still be heard.
The feedback received may be information you would have never thought of alone and could easily lead to the ‘Aha!’ moments necessary in solidifying your disability friendliness.
The team at PerformHR understands how to roll out a diverse and inclusive workplace and is well equipped to guide you through your decision-making process. If you would like any human resources or employment relations assistance, please contact the team on 1300 406 005 or here.