Removing the barriers that restrict disabled professionals
The social model of disability was developed by disabled people to describe how the barriers they face in society are what disables them, not their impairments or differences.
Barriers can be physical, such as buildings not having accessible toilets, ramps up steps or lifts between floors. They can also be caused by people's attitudes to difference, for example, assuming disabled people are unable to do certain things.
According to the charity Scope, the social model helps us recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people. Removing them creates equality and offers disabled people more independence, choice and control.
In a professional setting, there are unique barriers disabled professionals face, but fortunately there are solutions employers and colleagues can take to address them.
The office environment
When we look at an office environment perspective, in which most finance professionals work, beyond accessibility within the building, as mentioned above, we must take into consideration barriers such as access to transport and the accessibility of the office space itself. It is therefore important where possible to offer opportunities to work remotely or in a hybrid model.
‘However, social inclusion should not be neglected in these instances and we must make sure that all employees are included in team conversations. Oftentimes, attitudes and a lack of understanding are the main barriers. If you have colleagues working remotely are you ensuring that they can access team meetings or that captions are provided?,’ said Christabelle Feeney, director at employer disability information service Employers For Change in Ireland.
‘It is also important in an office context to be supportive without crossing boundaries; so again asking someone if they would like support instead of assuming that they need it.’
The recruitment process
While there has been progress, people with disabilities do not experience the same access to employment opportunities as their non-disabled peers, despite legislation on equality in the workplace. Therefore, many of the obstacles people with disabilities face stem from a lack of knowledge and awareness on the employer’s part.
‘There may be biased assumption on what a disabled person can achieve within a position. These biases may be apparent in the creation of job descriptions, during screening processes and at interview,’ said Feeney.
‘One of the first barriers is that while legislation clearly states that accommodations should be provided to enable disabled people access to employment, many job advertisements fail to include a ‘reasonable accommodation’ statement or contact for requesting such an accommodation.’
Reasonable accommodation helps to alleviate a substantial disadvantage due to an impairment or medical condition. The purpose of providing reasonable accommodation is to enable a person who has a disability: (i) to have access to employment; (ii) to participate or advance in employment; or (iii) to undergo training.
Secondly, hiring sites can act as barriers if not accessible or if applications are not in an accessible format.
Then, looking more closely at job specifications, what is being described — a role’s core functions really, or the individual the firm would like to see fill it?
‘To be an inclusive employer we must broaden our mindset round how jobs can be done and what qualifications are required. The shortlisting process can often remove people with disabilities whose CVs look different, maybe they do not have as much experience or there are gaps. If they have shown that they have the required skills, then invite them to interview,’ said Feeney.
Lastly, also consider that accommodations can be made at interview. ‘In terms of knowledge and awareness, it’s a key positive action that your interview panel has completed disability awareness training,’ said Feeney.
What can employers do to support employees with disabilities?
Disability awareness training for all staff is highly recommended, as it can lead to a culture change within an organisation and create open lines of communication for all employees.
Other measures include:
- Analysing recruitment processes
- Explicitly stating in all recruitment documentation that you are an inclusive employer and offer reasonable accommodations at every stage of interview and on boarding
- Ensuring your website is accessible
- Asking existing employees for feedback and engage them in your policies
‘Employers must also make accommodations to enable people with disabilities to return to work having acquired a disability, as well as to participate in the job application process and enjoy benefits and privileges afforded to other employees,’ said Feeney.
‘Accommodations are more often than not inexpensive or have no cost at all. Research carried out by Ahead found that over two thirds of accommodations relating to work tasks do not incur any cost whatsoever. Items that did incur a cost were readily available in the organisation.’
Examples of reasonable accommodations:
- Considering alternative ways of doing tasks
- Providing company information in appropriate formats and assisting in communication – maybe introducing captioning on your meetings which is readily available with teams and on Zoom
- Accessible facilities
- Adjustable-height desks
- Hands-free telephone sets
- Quieter office space
- Assistive Technology
Feeney also recommends introducing a Reasonable Accommodation Passport, whereby an employee can request an accommodation or adjustment from their manager. ‘This creates a clear process for managers and it also means that an employee knows they can share their disability and accommodation needs at any time during employment. This live documents stays with the employee even if they change roles in the organisation or their manager changes. Thus, they do not have to continuously reshare the details of their accommodation needs.’
Employers for Change offers free disability awareness training, as well as advice and information. For more detail visit their website at www.employersforchange.ie