International Day of People with Disabilities – which fell on Sunday 3rd December this year – was instituted in 1993 by the United Nations, as a moment for celebration, learning and action alongside disabled people worldwide.
This year’s theme is working for Sustainable Development Goals “for, with, and by disabled people” – a call for us all to work together to make the world a better place for people with disabilities, rather than leaving it to disabled people to fight for change and advocate by themselves.
As the UN stresses, action means that “all people, organizations, agencies and charities not only show their support, but take on a commitment to create a world characterised by equal human rights.”
For business leaders, it provides a space to reflect on how working cultures and DEI strategies work for everyone, and the active role organizations can take in promoting accessibility, equity and inclusion.
Added to this, with developing technology like AI at the forefront of tech trends forecasting into 2024, it is an opportune moment to ask how we design new worlds of work with equitable and inclusive outcomes in mind.
iResearch Services spoke with James Houlihan, Former Business Development lead at Purple Tuesday and Commercial Manager at Naidex, to celebrate disability pride for IDPWD, and help keep the conversation going all year round.
Rachael Kinsella, Editorial and Content Director at iResearch Services, was speaking with James as part of the A Fairer Future Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) series. The full conversation, with more discussion on culture, policy, and the practicalities of starting a disability inclusion journey, will be available to view soon.
A club that anyone can join, at any time
Currently, an estimated 1 in 5 people have a disability or long-term health condition. By 2050, the number of people living with a disability is expected to double. Most of us will have a disability at some point in our lifetime or care for someone with a disability. In fact, 83 percent of disabilities are acquired, whether due to an accident, illness, or genetic condition.
Yet, despite this, the picture we have of disabled people at work, and how best to support them, is worryingly incomplete. There is a glaring lack of accurate data. James spoke about how the statistics we have currently do not reflect reality, and how this is driven by fear of disclosure.
He said: “There is a fear to disclose. If one fifth to a quarter of people in the UK have a disability, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to say somewhere between 15 and 25 percent of your workforce might have a disability of some sort. We know at the moment that only 19 members of the FTSE100 are reporting that they know the number of disabled employees they have.
“Only 19% know this statistic – and these are the companies that have the most resources to conduct that sort of research, and the most incentive to publish that sort of data.
“Only three of them say they have a disabled person on their board. This cannot be accurate just going by the sheer statistical averages.
“It shows that there is clearly either a fear to ask or a fear to share.
“That could be because of various cues that an organization sends out – or an absence of them.
“We have to acknowledge that fear, because otherwise we can’t move forwards.”
The need for accessible and assistive technologies
Not only does disclosure of disability help with gaining a clearer picture of disabled people and their needs at work, it’s also crucial to adoption of accessible technology. Currently in the UK and US, the onus is on the disabled person themselves to disclose their disability to gain workplace accommodations, which includes assistive technology.
- According to an iResearch Services survey as part of the A Fairer Future: DEI in Professional Services report, 59% of companies do not have any specific disability inclusion initiatives, and the same number of respondents, nearly 6 in 10, do not have any assistive technology in the workplace.
- 64% of firms have employees disclosing a disability, yet less than half (only 31%) say they offer dedicated support.
Rachael elaborated: “There is this trend of lower numbers of organizations that have assistive technology available or have specific support or initiatives in place. Now the conversation is becoming normalized, it’s those next practical steps in terms of creating the strategies and making support available to all.”
Is home working the answer?
It’s a particularly timely discussion. In the UK, the Government has just announced its plans to get more unemployed people with disabilities working from home. While many welcome the opportunity to expand working from home as an accessible option for disabled workers, a great deal of disabled people are worried about equitable access to the technology that makes working from home possible, and whether they will encounter supportive workplace cultures.
The role that employers can and should play in setting culture and providing concrete support, alongside Government initiatives, is a crucial plank in the journey to equity. In keeping with this year’s IDPWD theme, there is also the key responsibility of the community or workplace coming together to effect change.
As James responded, when asked who is responsible for culture change: “Everyone!”
“It has to be top down and bottom up.”
“If everyone is invested then it’s everyone’s opportunity. If only certain people understand where the opportunity or strategic advantage is, others will be less invested. The more you can get the message out and make it relevant across the organization, the more it will then lead to a culture change, rather than just a project.
“Culture will outpace a project every time.”
Business in the Community’s Katy Neep, speaking to iResearch Services for Fairer Futures, echoed a similar sentiment. She emphasized how well-meaning policies need to be followed through with measurement.
She said: “Culture eats policy for breakfast!”
Katy continued: “There’s awareness raising, without knowing if interventions are going to land in the right way. That’s something we’re trying to work on currently.
“So, you’ve put in a policy and you believe you’ve created a culture in which everybody can ask [for work flexibility]. But is that the reality on the ground? If you can’t track that and you don’t know – what’s the point?”
As an example from the top, James outlined a practical solution that he’s seen working well in the boardroom.
He said: “If you have this representation at board level, it’s coming from a lived experience point of view but also strategic experience.
“Let’s just say you don’t have anyone on your board who has a disability.
“As an example, we work with a number of people in the housing sector. A social housing provider gets some of their tenants to sit on their board as honorary members. That’s one thing you might be able to do in the short term while talent works its way through an organization.”
He added: “If that culture change happens, you might find that you have more disability representation in your organization already.”
The evolving world of work
With proper support, safe cultures of disclosure, and access to accommodations, the picture for disabled people at work could look radically different. As International Day of People with Disabilities reminds us, communities work together to change cultures – and by IDPWD 2024, your organization could be forging new paths towards equity.
More of James and Rachael’s discussion, including James’s practical tips for organizations to boost their disability inclusion efforts, will be available soon.Back to Blogs