Disability Inclusion

Disability Inclusion and how Corporate India can contribute

Published on : 12/3/19
  • After passing of ‘The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill – 2016’, perceptions regarding disability underwent a radical change. It became one of the salient points on the corporate agenda with many organizations initiating special drives to recruit people with disabilities (PwD).

    However, an important lacuna in this approach was soon noticed - it assumed disability to be an issue that impacts a marginalized group of people; it completely missed out the fact that an injury or illness leading to disability could happen to anyone of us. Let’s discuss some triggers and solutions.

    According to a study by the World Health Organization 2019, 1 in 6 people in the working-age population will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives. Furthermore, 83% of people with disabilities acquire it during their working lives, says Business Disability Forum 2015. With this broadening of the spectrum dawns the understanding that some disabilities are visible, while others are not. People with visible disabilities cannot conceal supports such as a wheelchair etc, but there are a number of invisible disabilities to consider too, such as a learning condition or mental health issues. Some employers might look upon these less favourably than physical disabilities and are real barriers in the job market.

    What are the other barriers?

    Although unwillingness to disclose invisible disabilities for fear of discrimination is a major barrier, there are a few others to consider too.

    Ready for the job – Despite some organizations expressing the desire to hire skilled people from the disabled community, they have had their postings languish due to lack of applicants. Major reasons identified are - the traditional means of posting jobs may not be accessible to the disabled, they may not want to self-identify as disabled or they may have concerns related to lack of work experience in a business environment.

    Attitudes and perceptions – This is another key barrier. Perceptions regarding disability, especially mental health illness, are overwhelmingly negative and this is intimidating for them.

    Focusing on abilities

    So how can organizations help in overcoming these barriers? Well, perhaps it’s time that the term ‘differently-abled’ completely took over the term ‘disabled’. Businesses should focus on what they can accomplish, rather than what they are currently unable to do. Employers could work together with PwDs to identify reasonable accommodations that could foster their creativity and help them better deliver in their current or prospective roles. Corporates could also introduce support systems to help them overcome particular challenges foreseen at the workplace.

    What are these workplace challenges?

    workplace challenges for PwDs

    From the time that the differently-abled arrive at the workplace to the time they leave it every day, the normal workplace poses several issues to them, mainly pertaining to accessibility and accommodation.

    Physical and architectural – Normal staircase, elevator or escalator at access points and inside the workplace can be troublesome for people with mobility issues. Workstations and working tools can also pose problems.

    Information and communication – Accessing information that they need, for example in the HR system, is difficult for visually-impaired. Communicating with co-workers and clients is also challenging.

    Attitudinal – Negotiating with co-workers and team leaders who practice discrimination against the PwD is a very real problem.

    Technological – Operating computers, dealing with touchscreens and similar technology without assistive devices could be a challenge for PwDs with certain medical conditions.

    Organizational – Traditional HR practices, appraisal formats that exclude the PwD can prove to be especially frustrating.

    What next?

    • Change the dialogue. Help people at all levels feel open to express their concerns when it comes to dealing with people with disabilities in the work environment
    • Build awareness about people with disabilities in your workplace. As employees begin to understand the business case and learn that people with disabilities can make a positive contribution to business at all levels, attitudes will change.
    • Build your business case. Ensure that senior leadership, as well as middle management and recruiters, understand the business case for diversity; understand why it is a priority for your organization.
    • Be accommodating: Accommodate potential hires by considering job carving – allowing a person with a disability the opportunity to do the portion of the job they are capable of and reassigning what they cannot do.
    • Review and rework the recruitment process and embed the need for hiring people with disabilities into all strategic and planned hiring.
    • Look for alternative recruitment methods that will include people in the disabled community.
    • Create an internship/mentorship program for people with disabilities.
    • Connect with community organizations that assist people with disabilities in their job search.

    The goal: to create an inclusive culture that favours all employees

    inclusive culture for PwDs

    Organizations have to gear up to do meaningful work; much more than convenient philanthropy.

    Employ

    Organizations must ensure that persons with disabilities are represented in their workplace and in their talent pipeline. Beyond hiring, employers should implement practices that encourage the progress of persons with disabilities.

    Enable

    Leaders must provide PwD with accessible tools and technology and/or a formal programme. To improve awareness and integration across teams, companies should consider introducing training for employees without disabilities to learn about tools available to their colleagues.

    Engage

    To foster an inclusive culture throughout the organization, companies must invest in awareness-building through recruitment efforts, disability education programmes and engage digital and physical infrastructure to support.

    Empower

    Companies must offer mentoring and coaching initiatives, as well as skilling/reskilling programmes, to ensure that persons with disabilities continue to grow and succeed. The PwD should occupy roles at all levels, including top leadership positions.

    The road to inclusion at Sodexo

    Diversity and Inclusion have always been a priority at Sodexo India – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is critical to the future success of our businesses and our economy. We realize that differently-abled individuals form a sizeable part of the community and to act truly inclusive, we need to build an eco-system that can aid their complete inclusion in the workforce as well – giving them a fair chance to lead a perfectly deserved normal, independent and confident life. That’s because, when we grow, people around us grow – the communities prosper.

    Disability inclusion matters at Sodexo and we have committed that 100% of our workforce will have access to initiatives supporting the inclusion of PwD by 2025. This includes a non-discrimination policy about people with disabilities, communications to support the inclusion of PwD and a disability champion.

    We have already begun our journey in this direction. Many of our work positions are open for the differently-abled and can be seen on our Job portals, tagged as disabled-friendly. We accommodate the PwD by providing them customized jobs, flexible working hours and shifts. Our Spirit of Inclusion programme imparts employee and leadership sensitivity training to build awareness.

    One of the most inspiring examples of PwD is Himanshu, employed in the housekeeping division of Sodexo at our client site. Having learning disabilities and suffering from epileptic fits, Himanshu has overcome his fears and is today recognized for his hard work and loyalty. He is a great support system to all his colleagues.

    We look forward to many more such champions among our midst as we move towards creating a more inclusive workplace at Sodexo.