An inclusive workplace is better for everyone — not just those with disabilities.
The more diverse your workforce, the broader the range of talent, insights, and innovation that you are inviting into your company. A diverse workforce is also much more likely to understand and cater to a varied customer base, ensuring that your company reaches the widest audience possible.
Supporting those with disabilities and different needs in the workplace is also an ongoing effort — it is not simply about ‘ticking boxes’ or meeting requirements. A genuinely inclusive workplace should have support, adaptability, and communication built into its very core.
Current studies show that nearly one in five people has a disability. This may be an invisible disability, like a long-term health condition, mental health issue, or disorder such as dyslexia or dyspraxia. It could also be a more obvious impairment, like hearing loss, sight loss, or a physical disability, for example.
Disabilities are as varied as people, and it is important for employees and employers to feel they can have supportive conversations around these topics. Beyond the requirements of the Equality Act — which states employers have a duty to ensure that employees with a disability are able to work effectively — there is so much more that can be done.
In this article, you’ll learn five key ways you can help to create a more inclusive workplace in your own business.
1. Adapt The Environment
You can support those with disabilities in the workplace by adapting the working environment physically. It can be especially helpful to first discuss with employees any individual needs they may have, and what would best support them in their work.
Changes can be as simple as removing physical barriers and obstacles, rearranging certain areas, or adjusting desk and seating arrangements. Alternatively, more in-depth alterations might be required – such as introducing specialist working equipment or computer software, for example.
Professional advice is available — as well as financial support if you are eligible. Not all modifications need to be costly or substantial, and even small changes can have a big impact.
2. Make Information Accessible
Many people with disabilities in the workplace have found that information can be shared in a way which is not always accessible to them. For employees with sight loss, for example, emails or bulletin boards may not be the best way to receive crucial information.
Consult with colleagues and employees about what is the best way to communicate information with them, and whether they require the details presented in a different format.
Sharing information consistently and in a variety of accessible forms is not only vital for ensuring everyone feels included, it is also key for high productivity and good overall communication in the workplace.
3. Perform Regular Reviews And Foster Dialogue
Maintaining an inclusive workplace is often an ongoing project – constantly adapting and changing the space to support the needs of new personnel. Part of facilitating this is creating an open dialogue, where everyone has the opportunity to voice their concerns, questions, or feedback about what is working well – and what needs improvement.
It can be helpful to schedule regular reviews or workshops to assess whether the workplace is as accessible and inclusive as it could be, and what the best ways to support people going forwards are.
Employees should be encouraged to feel confident in approaching their employer with suggestions or concerns. Happy employees who feel heard and supported are more likely to be loyal, productive, and creative in the workplace.
4. Train Your Staff And Build Awareness
Consider having trained healthcare professionals on site — especially ones qualified in mental health first aid.
A greater understanding of mental health in the workplace has been a crucial development in recent years, leading to millions of employees receiving far greater support.
Of course, having trained professionals on the team is especially helpful, but so is fostering an overall culture of sensitivity and awareness around disabilities in the workplace. This can be encouraged through additional
courses, training, or educational workshops.
Sensitivity, positivity, and high levels of awareness are all important to nurturing an inclusive workplace — especially for understanding areas such as invisible disabilities, or mental health issues.
5. Offer Flexible Working Options
Everyone can benefit from more flexible working options, but for those with disabilities this can be especially crucial.
Flexible working options might include working from home on certain days, staggered start or finish times, as well as phased return to work options — such as after an accident, or a medical procedure.
Studies have shown that flexible working options do not have to be erratic or disruptive in any way. On the contrary, they have often led to more productive, satisfied workforces, and stronger results over time due to improved energy levels, a better work-life balance, and higher job satisfaction.
Offering a more inclusive and accessible workplace will also benefit you in terms of the calibre of candidates you will attract to job roles, and in the quality of work they will produce.
For more resources and further advice, be sure to visit specialised websites such as AbilityNet, the government’s Access to Work programme, and the relevant sections of the Equality Act.