Rita Trehan: Opportunities for everyone – thoughts on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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Does more empathy have to be injected into our hiring practices to ensure more people with disabilities are working full time?

I came across an article in Fast Company where one of the reporters interviewed two designers at Google. The topic: how to keep accessibility in mind when creating technology. The concept may sound simple, but in reality, it’s not necessarily as intuitive as it sounds.

The statistic stated at the front of the article was part of what really grabbed my attention: The World Health Organisation states that 1 billion people worldwide have some kind of disability. Add to that the fact that August of this year will mark the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark that mandates conveniences as designated parking, Braille signage and wheelchair ramps.

Design 

But the number of disabled individuals worldwide stands at 1 billion. That number is staggering, particularly when you stop to think of how many of them are actually employed. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics in the US, in 2014 the number of Americans with disabilities who were gainfully employed stood at a mere 17.1 percent of the population. With the designers at Google putting themselves in the shoes of those 1 billion individuals and taking their needs into consideration when designing apps that give cues other than colour for those who are colour blind, sensitivity toward screen readers for the blind, the proactive approach to equality in design bring to mind another reason why Google is a global market leader: they build capacity for their users by meeting them where they are currently and taking them further than they thought they’d ever go. It’s quite brilliant, really.

Consider if we all had the capacity to think that way. What if we were to add a bit of empathy into our hiring practices and build capacity for our companies by altering our workplaces to accommodate the disabled?

Not only ergonomics 

I’m not just talking about ergonomics and desk design. I’m talking about knowing what talent you need to move forward and creating a work environment agile enough to accept them with willing arms and allow them to thrive. Screen readers are just the beginning: Braille keyboards, interpreter software for the hearing impaired in meetings, corporate presentations that are designed to be seen, heard, and perceived in any number of ways. Can your workplace handle wheelchairs or walking implements? How would you handle conference calls with a deaf employee? These questions because it opens your doors to so many incredible possibilities. You have endless agility with these considerations in mind. Don’t consider them later. Think of them now.

Environment 

Which leads me to another point: are you actively recruiting where the disabled live? Creating an environment that is supportive of all kinds of workers – and advertising it as such – widens your workforce to accept brilliant minds that could take your workplace into the next dimension. Capacity comes from thinking ahead of the problem, and, as I talk about in my forthcoming book, it requires HR to get out of the business of task orientation into forward-thinking solution generation. Start thinking about how to create opportunities to build this workplace now, and look at how it fits your numbers. Disabilities are merely considerations when it comes to corporate workforces. Find a way to make it work. Take your company into a whole new direction, and watch the successes unfold.

Put yourself in the place of those who are considered unable to contribute when, in reality, they are more than up to the task provided a few simple considerations. Be empathic. It could be the keys to a profitable enterprise beyond your dreams. More than that: it’s quite simply the right thing to do.

About Rita Trehan

As a global HR leader at Honeywell and The AES Corporation, Rita helped rethink how business was done. From profitable ways to launch business units around the world to inspired means of measuring performance, she consistently improved strategic operations, saving time and money in the process.

Rita has led change management initiatives in more than 30 countries across five continents. She has enacted communication and engagement strategies, safety, and performance improvement initiatives in 27 countries, delivering savings of more than $100million.

Rita is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, as well as producing guest articles publications such as Corporate Vision, Changeboard, Fresh Business Thinking and My Money Making Magazine. Through her writing, Rita has explored a range of topics from recruitment and social media to leadership and transformation.

As the vice chair of the Cioindex Inc. Women in Technology Leadership Special Interest Group (SIG), Rita provides education, thought leadership and knowledge sharing among women working in senior positions in technology businesses. Rita is also a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), where Rita shares her vision of HR and support change in business and the wider community.

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