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Covid-19: Creating more inclusive workplaces

calendarApril 20 2020

Clare Kennelly is the founder and principal consultant at Inclusive Cork, a diversity and inclusion training provider.  Clare talks about how Covid-19 has offered us the opportunity to make our working environments much more inclusive. She talks about what we are doing now and how we can continue to make more inclusive workplaces as we move forward.

Greetings from Cork

I was delighted when Emma asked me to contribute to the blog as I am a big fan of what We Can Access are doing.  I am based in Cork, Ireland, so the infrastructure around disability differs somewhat from that of the UK.  However, many of the challenges that are facing us as individuals and organisations are similar in these unprecedented times of Covid-19.

So let me start by saying that I hope you and yours are all well and keeping safe.  Remember, we are all in this together; and none of us alone are as good as all of us together.  To this end, I am writing this with my teacher/trainer hat on and offering some practical, no-nonsense solutions for individuals and organisations to consider around authentic well-being and making more inclusive workplaces.  Let us strive at a societal level to leave none behind. 

With Covid-19, people who may never have described themselves as disabled are mow experiencing anxiety, fear, social isolation and uncertainty in their future lives. These are emotions that most disabled people have experienced and overcome and replaced with resilience.  Therefore, some of my insights are from the personal, disabled perspective. 

Why create more inclusive workplaces?

Many businesses ask why it is important to be inclusive and accessible.  I am part of the Business Resource group for the Valuable 500.  Here are some of the reasons from their website why it is a business imperative:

According to the World Bank group more than 1.3 billion people around the world live with some form of disability.

The Disabled Living Foundation states that 80% of disabilities are acquired between the ages of 18 and 64 – the workforce age.

The Global Economics of Disability Report estimates that this group, together with their friends and family, has a spending power of $8 trillion. But the same report goes on to note that only 4% of businesses are focused on making offerings inclusive of disability.

A bit of advice before we start

We are in V.U.C.A. times: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous. So, please let me start by offering four pieces of advice from a vision impaired Irish mother, i.e. yours truly:

Breathe.  We need to calm down the reptilian brain that is soaking up all the negativity from social media and is fighting, fleeing and freezing.  Breathing is a powerful tool. 

Control the Monkey mind that is telling us we want it all to go back to the way it was.  This is not realistic or helpful.  All our cultures are impacted by this virus and we can learn new ways to behave.  We don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water. So keep what works and let go of what does not.

Engage your leadership brain.  We can be our own parents/best friends and compassionately look at where we are and how best to plan for the future. There is a lot of good work being done these days to support individuals and business alike.  Embrace them.

Ask for support. None of us can do this alone and therefore, even the most independent people must ask for support.  There is no shame in looking for help and support.  That is why sites like We Can Access are vital in times like this. 

Being an inclusive workplace during the Covid-19 crisis

Employers want to know how they can support their staff.  Many employees are working remotely.  This new experience is a positive move for some and a very difficult one for others. 

Consider your employees’ circumstances

 Employers need to be aware of the differing circumstances for their employees.  Some may be well set up with an office but others are working at the kitchen tables.  Added to this may be home schooling children and looking after elderly relatives.  Therefore, employees who may never identified as vulnerable are now in that category.  This is new for managers at all levels.

Mental Health and Well-being

Mental health and well-being is on the table and being discussed widely.  So do not underestimate the power of communication.  There is a digital divide so use the platforms your employees and customers use. For some this may still be the landline telephone.

Being mindful of these varying scenarios is a good place to start in being an inclusive, remote-working organisation.

Be approachable

Employees may not disclose the difficulties they are facing as they are worried about discrimination.  This may not always be direct discrimination.  It can be very subtle.   For example, not being selected for challenging projects and therefore no being allowed to prove their ability in more situations.

Action Points for Disability Business Inclusion

Here are some ideas for improving your company’s disability inclusion policies and practice and creating more inclusive workplaces.  Any business who wants to maintain or increase market share must ensure that the needs of all employees and customers are met across diverse business processes including but not limited to the following areas:

Training

Training is key for creating more inclusive workplaces. Include disability awareness equality training for all staff, e.g. related to combatting unconscious bias, stigma and stereotypes.  You will find that employees will become more disability confident with not only colleagues but customers too, which can have a direct and immediate benefit for your business. If you look at the wecanaccess.com review area  , there are categories for “helpful Staff” and “trained staff”. “Helpful staff” are great but nothing compares to “trained Staff”.  That is what you are aiming for.  Right now, we also all need Covid-19 trained staff so our businesses can get back to what we do.

Ensure that training delivered by the company is accessible to employees with disabilities.

When training courses are provided to your organisation, talk to the provider and try to make sure that the registration forms and training materials that attendees will get are also accessible. Making something more accessible for one employee inevitably makes it accessible for others! For example, large print and clear imagery will help visually, hearing or cognitively impaired employees but will also allow all participants to easily follow the session.

With this in mind, the trainer should also be able to adapt their method of instruction and course materials to cater for attendees are:

– Deaf or hard of hearing

– Blind or vision-impaired

– Cognitively impaired

– Impaired mobility

– Neurodiverse

Attendees should be able to use their assistive technology during training if necessary. Ensure appropriate supports, such as sign language interpreters and real time transcription services, are available for those who require them. There should also be accessible ways for attendees to give their feedback after the training. Trainers and other staff should have completed disability equality training.

Resources for humans

a. Have an explicit (general or disability-specific) policy and/or strategy, endorsed by senior management, to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities.

b. Actively encourage job applications from people with disabilities, by explicitly welcoming applications by disabled candidates in job advertisements.

c. Have a disability recruitment process, e.g. e-recruitment, inclusive interviews and accessible materials, reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities.

d. Ensure on-the-job, apprenticeships, training, job retention, career development and other relevant terms and conditions of employment for people with disabilities.

e. Provide work experience opportunities for people with disabilities, e.g. traineeships, apprenticeships, mentored internships.

Accessibility

1. Have a policy to ensure accessibility of internal and external Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to people with disabilities.

2. Is your company website compliant with the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0?

3. Have a policy to ensure physical accessibility of business premises, including rented facilities.

I hope these tips will help you as an individual, employee or employer to create more accessible workplaces.  In addition, I hope we take an inclusive approach to resolving the current situation and with resilience, regrow together.

Take care everyone and be kind to yourself and others.

About Clare Kennelly

Clare Kennelly is the founder and principal consultant at Inclusive Cork, a diversity and inclusion training provider. 

She is a graduate of UCC, University College Cork, with a BA in Spanish and Sociology and Higher Diploma in Education.

An image of Clare Kennelly sitting in a lovely garden.
Clare Kennelly

She worked for 26 years in varying teaching roles: TEFL, post primary, further and third level education. Clare is vision impaired and is personally and professionally passionate creating more inclusive workplaces through business disability inclusion and universal design. 

Connect with Clare on Linkedin and Twitter

She is the creator and presenter of the DisruptAbility podcast which is an educational and information platform for employers, employees, professionals and parents/guardians to highlight the barriers and opportunities for employing people with disabilities in Irish society and beyond.  Clare’s professional goal is to make Cork a leader in Inclusion. 

Click here for DisruptAbility on Youtube with captions

DisruptAbility podcast is also on Soundcloud, Spotify and Itunes

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