Workplace technology is removing barriers for employees with disabilities – here’s how

By Conway Kosi, - Employee experienceFuture Workplace

A business is more likely to succeed when all of its employees are at their best.

Unfortunately, most businesses struggle to make this a reality – especially when it comes to empowering employees with disabilities.

But when disabled employees aren’t supported in the way they should be, their employers don’t get to benefit from their skills, and the organization as a whole misses out on the creativity and innovation that a diverse workforce delivers.

How can we seize this missed opportunity, and remove the barriers that prevent disabled workers reaching their potential?

I think the answer lies in workplace technology – and in this blog post, I’m going to explain why.

Why it matters

As a leader, it’s important that my team enjoys their time at work – because when people feel positive and fulfilled, we can achieve great things.

When everyone feels comfortable to be themselves at work, they can focus on delivering great results. But it’s important to remember that the majority of disabilities aren’t visible.

If we don’t create a supportive environment where people feel comfortable to be open about their disabilities, they will expend time and energy concealing who they are. As well as the obvious negative emotional effects of this, it also stops them performing to the best of their ability.

A happy and open culture is better for everyone; there’s a more positive atmosphere in the office, people find it easier to connect with their colleagues, and they actually enjoy being at work!

That’s why we’re proud to be a Disability Confident organization.

Talking openly about disability is the best way to build understanding. And that openness is a two-way thing: by encouraging our disabled employees to tell us what they think, we make sure that we’re supporting people with disabilities to do their jobs effectively.

How technology can level the playing field

Technology has also had a transformative impact on enabling inclusion in employment.

Simple adjustments remove the barriers that may have stopped people with disabilities from carrying out their jobs in the past. Zoom or Dragon software, or even a simple yellow keyboard, can enable people with dyslexia to perform at the highest levels.

Social apps also have immense power to personalize the workplace so that it’s right for everybody’s needs. Our BuddyConnect app, for instance, supports people with autism by helping them access the tools they need and building their understanding of how to manage their condition effectively whilst at work.

We’ve also found that technology can help to ‘remove the awkward’, eliminating the need for employees with disabilities to have difficult discussions with their managers.

For example, our online Disability & Adjustment Passport helps employees with disabilities to move into new roles without having to talk about adjustments with new line managers.

An inclusive workplace beyond technology

Giving employees the confidence to talk about disability is crucial, because it enables people with disabilities to reach out and ask for support when they need it.

We try and engender this confidence through our Disability Network. It plays an invaluable role in supporting our efforts to be a more disability confident employer and in creating a better experience for our employees with disabilities.

We also organize awareness-raising events throughout the year to make sure disabilities are on the agenda. A good example of this is Purple Light Up, which happens on International Day for Disabled People.

We encourage all our employees to wear something purple to work on that day, as a sign of support for disability inclusion. It’s always great to see so many people getting involved and enjoying themselves in a celebration of diversity!

A brighter future with a workplace that suits everyone

When it comes to making positive changes for disabilities inclusion, there isn’t much holding employers back.

For some, the topic of disabilities just isn’t on their radar. And it can be a scary topic when you don’t know much about it. Lots of people get worried about using the wrong words, or sometimes they worry about the cost of making adjustments for people with disabilities – even though the vast majority of adjustments are free or low-cost.

But employers who allow themselves to be controlled by these misconceptions are missing out. Particularly when you consider that 83% of people with disabilities acquire their disability while in employment.

If you want to retain and continue to get the best out of your people, you need to able to support them throughout their life, even as their circumstances change.

In many of the countries we operate in, employers also have a legal responsibility to support disabled employees. They may face fines, legal actions or reputational risk if they fail to live up to these responsibilities.

And disability confidence is only going to become more important (and accessible) in future, as the technology that enables it gets better and better. Just think about the opportunities for artificial intelligence to enhance the employee experience of social apps, for instance.

Remove the barriers and let everyone shine

For me, it’s clear that workplace technology is the best way to enable employees with different needs.

But this is just one piece of the puzzle: culture is just as important when it comes to building a personalised workplace that allows each employee to be at their best.

Fundamentally, it all comes down to treating people with respect as individuals. By focusing on our potential, and removing the barriers that impede some from reaching it, we can create a workplace that lifts everyone and allows us all to thrive.

 

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