Employment is central to the ability of persons with disabilities to maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and for their families. It is an important factor influencing their opportunities to participate fully in society. However, despite existing national, regional and international laws, persons with disabilities throughout the world too often continue to be denied the right to work and statistics indicate that the rates of unemployment, underemployment and economic inactivity among persons with disabilities tend to be much higher than those of other workers.
15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries. One-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities. According to Profile of persons with disabilities in South Africa produced by Statistics South Africa after the National Census in 2011: “The national disability prevalence rate is 7,5% in South Africa. More than half (53,2%) of persons aged 85+ reported having a disability. Discouraged by discriminatory barriers and mistaken assumptions about their capacity to work, and in some cases fearing a loss of benefits, many persons with disabilities withdraw from an active search for employment and jobs.
While persons with disabilities continue to face significant challenges in relation to employment, it is important to note that there have been improvements in many countries. It is essential to build on these and to maintain this positive momentum, which we believe begins with HR, and this is what we suggest.
1. A good interview process starts with HR training—and training for everyone else
The interview and selection process is unique to each organisation. Still, it’s likely to involve people beyond HR.
That’s why all members of the interview team need to understand best practices for employee disability interviews. And that includes being mindful of employees with disabilities—including disabilities that you may not be aware of. Some best practices for interviews can be:
- Assess a candidate’s engagement with difference in mind. For example, some candidates may be uncomfortable making eye contact. Others, including those who have invisible disabilities such as ADHD, can be visual thinkers. If you expect each candidate to have the same interview style, you’ll miss out on good candidates.
- Be flexible with your interview style. To get the best picture of a candidate’s strengths, engage them by adjusting your approach. It’s OK to sit in silence while a candidate formulates a response.
- Be mindful of the environment. Ask yourself whether the interview space is wheelchair accessible. Is it free from noise and other distractions? Inviting the candidate to tour your workplace might help to ease conversation.
This gives you a shared understanding of basic expectations. And these practices still allow everyone involved to preserve the uniqueness of your organisation’s overall approach.
2. Advancement is the key to supporting and retaining employees
Disability inclusion goes beyond the selection process. As with any employee, this question is vital: How do we, as a management team, support and keep this employee? My organisation should be keenly aware of the main motivators for retention—among them, opportunities for advancement. Understanding the strengths and interests of your employees is the first step toward supporting their advancement. Consider offering modified work schedules and other types of flexibility to all employees, so everyone has more opportunities to. Advancement offers an opportunity for HR to discuss if any additional support is needed.
3. You should keep disability inclusion at the center of all of our work
In any HR position, you would want to ensure that employee disability inclusion is central to your work. Inclusion is vital for a thriving workplace.
To that end, here are some guidelines:
- Managers should check in with their reports frequently. A simple call, text, or email is a great way to see how each employee is doing. Ask how their project or work assignment is going and if there’s anything notable (good or bad). Avoid asking “yes” or “no” questions like “Is there anything else I could be doing for you?” Instead, ask open-ended questions like “What else could I be doing to support you?” And note that informal chats can be useful, too.
- Make sure managers have what they need. Managers should have the knowledge and resources to effectively support their employees.
- Education, education, education! We don’t believe an annual training, on its own, is effective enough to foster meaningful inclusion. One way we promote year-round learning for our employees is through short, focused lunch-and-learns that are easier to absorb, or even during team building events, employees will engage more and enjoy the learning process!