How to Work on the Invisible Barriers that Prevent People with Disabilities from Having Access to and Remain in Jobs

The unemployment rate among people with disabilities is twice as high as that of the population without disabilities. Although there have been progress and global initiatives to foster labor inclusion, results are slow. Overcoming less visible barriers to access to jobs —biases, prejudices or old paradigms— is one of the keys to achieve more equity which may be sustained in the long term.

Historically, in most developed countries the percentage of unemployment in the population with disability is at least twice as high as that among people without disabilities. In developing countries, that proportion increases up to a range between 80%-90%. “The main obstacle faced by people with disabilities is cultural: the paradigm established in society about their possibilities and the policies more related to welfare assistance than to transformation. If organization leaders fail to see the transformative power that creating a true diversity and human talent culture may have for a company, it is very difficult for opportunities to arise,” affirms Javier Lioy, director of La Usina, a civil organization that fosters the visibility of people with disabilities.

This paradigm is reflected in recruiting, hiring and career processes and becomes evident, mainly, through the invisible barriers such as biases, prejudices, ways of addressing an interview or of looking at difference. In this context, the first step companies may take considering the social model of disability is providing customized support systems, which would be a starting point to achieve more equality. 

Then, removing invisible barriers in the labor world means, mainly, to understand the paradigm shift and “to focus on the abilities of the persons, their potentialities, and be aware of their limits, not to exclude them but to compensate them with the relevant supports” (.Manual on Good Practices Regarding Disability of the Secretary of Management and Employment of the Argentine Republic).

In order to conform to this new perspective, employers must reconsider how they search potential employees. In particular, “hiring managers should reflect on which questions they make to applicants with disabilities or which accommodation and supports those individuals may need when starting a new job”, states Laurel Rossi, co-founder of Creative Spirit, an advisory firm specialized in labor inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  

A tool that may be the asset to achieve more accessibility is technology. In fact, in some cases, remote work offers the opportunity to reduce commuting and set a work modality in line with the needs of the individual.

Furthermore, several companies in the technology sector are changing to create working spaces that ensure that people with disability may work at their maximum potential. Companies such as Vodafone or Samsung make available to their employees several devices, such as screen readers. Considering categories such as vision, hearing, dexterity and interaction, and voice, Samsung helps people with disability to find resources and devices they need to better their quality of life, and thus, also facilitates their work performance. In Spain, this company has a corporate program called Technology with a Purpose, aimed at fostering positive impact through the use of technology to achieve more inclusion and fewer barriers.

Eve Andersson, Director of Accessibility at Google, affirms that this company is constantly developing tools to ensure access to the web and to Internet for everyone and according to their needs. This means that they take accessibility into account when designing and creating products and applications

To that regard, Noa Gafni, Executive Director of Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation, highlights: “ “the importance of diversity to achieve a positive social impact” and encourages leaders to “create a synergy between profit and purpose.” Frank Dobbin, professor of Sociology at Harvard University, recommends having a Diversity Manager to boost inclusion and engagement by the top management. He also recommends working in three strategies that help overcome obstacles: getting managers involved in the solution of the problem, making them share time with people from different work teams to foster interaction, and promote corporate social responsibility through trust relationships. 

The first step suggested by Dobbin is to educate managers on how to interact with people with disabilities and on how to best support them. Mentoring is another way of getting them involved and helping break down prejudices; by empowering mentors and entrusting them with training tasks, the manager helps them be more empathic with people with disabilities. Another line of work to think about is to adapt opportunities to individual needs. 

Those who work in the field highlight the value added and the experiences people with disabilities may contribute to a company. They ensure that having diverse points of view is essential to find innovative solutions and drive businesses. 

Based on all the foregoing, it is essential to instill in organizations a sustainable and human mentality in order to overcome obstacles. Leaders’ commitment to this mentality has a positive impact throughout the entire company: it allows each person, with its view and voice, to contribute the distinctive talent that makes that person unique. In an inclusive model everyone wins.

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