Disability should be considered one of the most valuable assets an employee can bring to a team and organisation. Instead it is usually viewed as creating an extra burden on teams and team leaders, taking resources, time and energy from colleagues.
To address this a mythology has developed around disabled people that they are less prone to sick days and will be more loyal than other employees. Once again, disabled people are reduced to being present for reasons other than their ability to contribute to the success of the organisation.
For added emphasis all manner of feel good reasons are developed to tug on the heart strings, suggesting that employing disabled people will make organisations feel better about themselves, as though the function of disabled people is to improve the wellbeing of others. Common reasons such as:
- It’s the right thing to do
- People with disabilities have a right to independence
- We have an employment quota set by the Minister
- Our competitors are all doing it, so we’ve set a target too
- It’s good for the confidence of people with disabilities to work
- We have diversity targets, so we should be doing this
All of these reasons do not contribute to the good of the organisation, its bottom line, or its strategic goals. They are about the wellbeing of the people framing the question, or for externally driven factors like government targets. These reasons contribute to a perpetuation of disability being seen as an inconvenient characteristic.
Disability should be seen as one of the biggest assets an employee has, and one of the biggest assets for achieving diversity targets and the benefits they bring.
Rather than ticking boxes and achieving quotas in order to win diversity awards, organisations should be assessed on how their innovation has improved, or the greater capacity of their teams to solve problems, or a greater connection to their consumer base, or an improvement to their overall efficiency and profit levels.
These are all contributions that a strong presence of disabled employees will provide, they are all outcomes of greater diversity in the workplace, yet they are rarely acknowledged and are not the criteria for winning business or diversity awards.
Disability is still framed as a deficit, yet it has been proven to bring quantifiable value to organisations, improving decision making, and ensuring greater connection with the market.
Organisations often cite far greater numbers of disabled employees in anonymous censuses than openly disclose their disabilities. Disability Leadership Institute members make it clear that this is due to unsafe work environments where disability is not welcomed by colleagues. The more senior a person is, the higher risk open disclosure becomes, so people do not openly identify unless they have no choice.
When the benefits disability brings are considered, disability should be viewed as an asset, with specific targeted recruitment to bring it into the senior echelons of organisations in order to drive efficiency and innovation.
Once disabled people know they are valued they will openly identify as disabled and bring their full range of talents to the table.
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Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person