According to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), disability discrimination occurs when a person with disability is treated unequally, less favourably, or not given the same opportunities as other people because of their disability. The treatment may be direct or indirect.
Direct discrimination involves overt acts, often intentional, such as explicitly denying rights under the law or deliberately excluding people with disability from community life. For example, refusing a person entry to a café because they have a guide dog.
As someone with a minor disability since 2017, I experience this too. From the office to the post office, you’d think in this era that people would be more considerate and aware.
Sources of discrimination
People with disability may experience discrimination from various sources. In Australia, this discrimination most often occurs in relation to the provision of goods and services and employment. Experiencing discrimination in one area of life can result in people avoiding that particular situation as well as avoiding other situations.
Of the estimated 314,000 people aged 15 and over with disability, living in households, who experienced disability discrimination in the last year:
1 in 5 (21%) said it was by an employer
1 in 6 (15%) said it was by work colleagues
Source: People with disability in Australia 2020 (AHRC).
The benefits to employers offering an inclusive workplace to staff with varying abilities are numerous. Generally, staff with a disability are known to take fewer days off, less sick leave and stay in jobs for longer than other workers. These employee attributes create real business cost savings, through reduced staff turnover and lower recruitment and retraining costs.
How can a company update its thinking and strategies related to this neglected category of talent? There are four ways to make it happen*:
1. Identify and change processes that support unconscious bias. Are your recruiting and hiring processes discouraging applicants with disabilities, or limiting their ability to demonstrate their strengths?
At Microsoft, managers realized that people with autism weren’t getting hired despite clearly having the required knowledge and intellect. As Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the company’s chief accessibility officer, told us, “We discovered that the problem was the interview process, so we did away with that process entirely for candidates with autism.” Microsoft instead began working with a local autism-support organisation to bring in candidates for a different type of evaluation process.
This way of thinking also applies to people development and training processes. Even small changes in standard training programs can make a big difference.
2. Help all employees understand the challenges that persons with disabilities face and contribute to solutions. A little extra effort in this area will go a long way toward creating a work environment where every employee can contribute his or her best.
Camille Chang Gilmore, a vice president of HR at Boston Scientific, says the diversity and inclusion team at her company introduces new joiners to nine employee resource groups (ERGs), including one focused on empowering persons with disabilities, within their first 30 days on the job. “We strongly encourage new joiners to become engaged with those groups, whether or not they themselves need the particular resources being offered,” she said.
3. Strengthen the hiring pipeline by engaging with community groups. One of the challenges companies encounter in tapping the talent pool of persons with disabilities is the very first step: identifying candidates. It’s a connection issue. Persons with disabilities may be reluctant to apply for jobs they don’t think they will get, and so their talent and interest remain under the hiring radar.
4. Create a mutually supportive community. Training programs and opportunities to connect with other employees will help ensure that persons with disabilities develop and succeed. Mentoring and coaching initiatives are also vital lifelines. Persons with disabilities who serve in senior positions should strongly consider becoming mentors or champions — both internally and externally.
Employees who serve as caregivers to persons with disabilities will also benefit from the topic’s increased visibility and the company’s increasingly empathetic approach.
Take these four steps; it’s a commitment with no downside.