Five ways to advocate for people with disabilities in the workplace

May 14, 2018
According to the ESRI, current levels of underemployment are now close to those of the pre-crisis period. With the unemployment rate forecast to average 5.4% this year, the war for talent is once again being fought by most organisations.

However, there is a largely untapped pool of talent that offers more open-minded employers a competitive edge; 71% of people with disabilities in Ireland are not currently employed and there is little focus on people with disabilities in the workforce. The following five ‘As’ are a useful guide to employers with little experience in this area.

Attitude

Employing people with disabilities is not a CSR activity; people with disabilities want equality of opportunity, not tokenism.  As the late Stephen Hawking said, “Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it”.

Roisin Keogh, CEO of the Irish Wheelchair Association, cites their position as one of the top 1000 companies in Ireland as proof that employing a high proportion of people with disabilities is compatible with running a successful business. Consider also the success of Paul McNeive, a double amputee and former-managing director of Hamilton Osborne King, a business worth €50 million. 

Application

However, most organisations fall at the first hurdle. Conventional recruitment procedures are often impossible to navigate. Online forms and recruitment software - ironically credited with making more equitable decisions - frequently disadvantage or exclude people with a disability.

To encourage the widest possible pool of applicants, consider the process from a number of perspectives – for example, neuro-diverse, visually or hearing-impaired candidates – and adjust your application process accordingly.

Accommodation 

Organisations often state that they are ‘an equal opportunities employer’ as an indicator that they open to receiving applications from people with disabilities. However, all employers are obliged by law to be equal opportunities employers. 

A more positive indicator would be to state that the organisation is committed to accommodating the needs of people with disabilities and inviting applicants to advise if they have any particular requirements at each stage of the process. 

A further step would be to nominate one suitably qualified person as a point of contact for applicants with disabilities. 

Acquired disability

Approximately 85% of working age people with a disability have acquired it. Therefore, most organisations will have to address the issue of how to retain employees who find themselves in this difficult situation. 

Many employees fear disclosing a disability to their employers. In particular, they are concerned about losing their job, limiting their potential for promotion or being stigmatised. 

One positive action employers can take is to develop a policy on disclosing disability at work. The policy should address issues such as how to disclose, what information will be recorded, what it will be used for and who will have access to it. The policy should also contain positive intent in respect of making any necessary modifications or accommodations to allow the employee continue in their role.

Ask 

Employers often report that they don’t know how to address the issue of disability in the workplace. Some are worried about using the correct terminology, others are concerned by the potential cost of making modifications to the work environment. In fact, there are numerous resources available to potential employers – they only have to ask. A good starting point can be recruiting an employee on a work placement scheme. There are also peer networks of employers who advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. Resources include My Access Hub, The Irish Wheelchair Association, AsIAm, Arthritis Ireland Fit for Work, WAM (Willing Able Mentoring) and TCPID
 
Dawn Leane is Principal Consultant at LeaneLeaders