Diversity is a pertinent issue in the modern workplace across many industries. Disabilities are an aspect of diversity that is often overlooked when discussing underrepresented groups, but it is vital to consider this as part of any inclusive hiring strategy.
How is disability defined?
Hiring inclusively is defined differently across the globe. According to the US government, someone with a disability is defined as having a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.” In the UK, a disabled person is defined under the Equalities Act 2010, as a person with a “physical or mental impairment” for whom this impairment presents “substantial” and “long-term” effects on their ability “to carry out day-to-day activities”. Broadly speaking, related to the workplace, a disability could be a mental or physical health issue which impacts elements of a person’s ability to do their job.
Benefits of Inclusive Strategies for Disabled Employees
Multiple studies have shown the value of employing a more diverse workforce. In the US, people with a disability represent the largest diversity group. Similarly in the UK, nearly seven million working-age Britons are disabled or have a serious health condition. This is a significant talent pool of potential candidates to draw from. A more inclusive hiring strategy can help increase the number of quality candidates you can consider.
The cost of accommodating disabled candidates is often relatively low. Similarly, if an existing employee has developed an impairment, it’s often less expensive to retain them and accommodate their changing needs, rather than recruit someone new to the position.
Multiple studies have shown that hiring inclusively can have a positive impact on your bottom line. Diverse businesses often have a more inclusive culture which can help shift cultural attitudes, and improve morale and retention. In the US, new hires with disabilities have increased from 11.97% to 18.21%, meaning that more businesses are beginning to understand and embrace the benefits of diverse hires.
Disabled candidates will face various obstacles throughout their careers. By implementing a more inclusive hiring strategy and giving thought to the needs of disabled candidates and employees, you can help to address this issue. The three key areas to focus on are: attraction; retention; and advancement of candidates. It’s important to consider all three factors in order to effectively tackle this issue.
Attracting candidates is one of the greatest barriers when it comes to employing people with disabilities. This is often due to unconscious bias rather than a lack of qualified diverse candidates.
In a report by BDF, it was revealed that just 20% of businesses set targets for hiring disabled candidates. In public companies this number is even lower at just 7%. It’s vital to set clear KPIs surrounding diversity strategies. This is not about using diverse talent ‘tick boxes’, it is about finding ways to organically attract more diverse talent, as well as creating an effective system for measuring the success of your inclusive hiring strategy.
An employer’s strategy for communicating their commitment to diversity in their employee value proposition is a vital factor in recruiting candidates with disabilities. Disabled candidates are more likely to be attracted to employers where the employer brand effectively demonstrates their inclusion efforts for employees with disabilities. Communicating the companies policies around inclusion and accommodation will allow disabled candidates to see your organisation as a company than can meet their needs, making you an employer of choice.
A survey by the Business Disability Forum (BDF) revealed that disabled people feel that only one-quarter of businesses show an interest in recruiting disabled talent, with just 1 in 20 employers clearly expressing their willingness to adapt for disabled candidates. In order to attract more diverse candidates, companies must change the way they communicate their inclusion efforts, and demonstrate the success disabled employees have has with their organisation.
Retention is a central issue in the inclusion of disabled employees, and must be addressed in order for this talent to thrive and advance towards leadership level roles. The accommodations made for disabled employees are the single greatest factor when it comes to their retention in the long-term. Disabled employees have identified that the adjustments made for them by their employer is the most important factor in determining if they can be successful at a company in the long term.
A common challenge for employers is a lack of knowledge about the appropriate types of accommodations that should be offered, and how to executive providing them to the employees who need them. One way this a can addresses is through educating companies, business leaders, and key decision makers on how and when to offer and implement accommodations. The US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is a free service available to individuals, employers and service providers across the globe and can be helpful when crafting more inclusive strategies. ODEP offers research, consultations and training that can help educate and support those involved with the employment of disabled talent, and crafting policies that allow for accommodations. 
Research shows that in more than half (58%) of cases, there is no additional cost for making accommodations for diverse talent. And while some additions can be costly, many, such as flexible schedules, have a huge impact for the candidate and no financial ramifications for the employer.
Companies should implement centralised policies and methods for employees to request accommodations, and for companies to address the request efficiently. Providing adjustments allows disabled employees to work more effectively, contributes to their overall team success, and eventually retains their talent within the organisation.
It is essential for an organisation to create an environment where disabled talent can thrive and feel comfortable in order for them to work towards advancing their careers. In this way, advancement hinges on the accommodations an organisation can provide to talent with disabilities, and how these accommodations are communicated to current and perspective employees.
“Matthew Sanders, CEO of BDF Partner de Poel Community, comments: “We are proving just how simple the process really is, for an organisation of any size, in any sector. It is about visibility, instilling confidence in your line managers, consistency in key polices, a flexible workplace adjustment process and providing targeted development opportunities.”
Creating an environment that supports talent with a disability will eventually allow this these employees to thrive and advance naturally within and organisation.
Work towards an inclusive future
When implementing inclusive strategies for people with disabilities, companies must first focus on attracting and retaining talent. By communicating their commitment to the initiative in their employer brand and creating policies that provide necessary accommodations, companies will build a long term strategy that fosters inclusion of disabled talent.
Looking to create a more inclusive hiring strategy? Get in touch.