Every day, we hear about instances of racism, sexism, and slavery, all of which are profoundly prevalent in today’s world. What we don’t hear enough is the word “ableism.” Sadly, it exists, but is not given the importance it deserves. Persons with disabilities (PWDs) constitute the most significant minority in the world. According to the WHO, persons with disabilities represent approximately 15 percent of the world’s population. 80% of this population resides in developing countries such as India, Pakistan, and the Far East.
A disability can happen to anyone from birth, due to a medical condition, or an accident later in life. Therefore, assistive technologies and disability supports, which help integrate people into the labor force, are of massive importance.
In this piece, we discuss the the strategies and best practices adopted by some global technology giants to create a more inclusive environment for their workforces, and the state of general diversity of the modern workforce:
As a company, Microsoft takes a multidimensional approach and delivers well on its promise of inclusivity:
- Creating opportunities: Microsoft Real Estate and Facilities (RE&F) partners with employment agencies and vendors globally to create jobs for PWDs within their company. This includes people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).
- Guarding against bias: Their recruiting teams are trained for accommodations, disability etiquette, and supportive expectations.
- Expanding the talent pool: The Microsoft Autism Hiring Program reaches out to people within the Autism spectrum and supports them throughout their interviews and jobs. For example, all interview centers are equipped with increased accessibility in terms of accommodating reserved seating, personal attendants, service animals, open captioning, sign language, wheelchair/scooter rentals etc. All interviewees receive ADA housing accommodations. The company also organises Microsoft Ability Hiring Events where PWDs can appear in a one-day interview process.
Apple has always been highly flexible when it comes to the needs of its employees with disabilities. According to Barbara Whye, Apple’s VP for D&I, “Inclusion and diversity are cornerstones of the global Apple community. We’re proud of the foundation we’ve built, and we’re clear-eyed about the challenges that remain. Together, we’re committed to continuing this journey with humility and resolve.”
Here are some steps that the one of the world’s most popular companies takes towards inclusivity:
- Increasing access: Apple is dedicated to providing reasonable accommodation to job applicants and employees, consequently increasing accessibility for all persons with disabilities in its application process.
- Creating awareness: Apple trains all its employees on inclusion, accessibility and human rights upon hiring. This training is an ongoing process throughout the year to ensure an inclusive work culture at a company wide level.
- Incorporating feedback: The company understands that the process of inclusion is one that is constantly evolving, and gives due weightage to the experience and feedback from its employees in terms of their limitations and needs.
Accenture is a Fortune 500 company that has repeatedly proved itself to be a global leader in accessibility and inclusivity practices. In the words of Sanjay Dawar (MD, Capability and Global Network Strategy, Accenture),
“When we eliminate the barriers to socio-economic inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, we create a safe environment where everyone feels they belong.”
Here’s a list of things that Accenture is doing right:
- Increasing access: As the first step, the company tackled the issue of accessibility by creating an IT accessibility program aimed at making 100% of the company’s technologies compliant with global accessibility standards. Accenture is also funding research to raise awareness and educate other companies about the value of accessibility.
- Enablement via the right tools: Accenture has opened a world of possibilities for persons with disabilities by ensuring that they have access to all the tools they require during their workday. From training using captions and sign language interpreters to helping its employees upskill, the company believes in truly investing in its workforce.
- Creating awareness: Whether it is through their website, publications or research – like this study in partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities, Accenture has constantly championed the cause of disability inclusion.
Boston Scientific scored a perfect 100 on the Disability Equality Index (DEI) in 2021 for the sixth consecutive year. The company understands that achieving excellence requires tapping the untapped talent pool of differently-abled persons and managing workforce diversity.
Here are some concrete steps that Boston Scientific has been taken to ensure its perfect DEI score:
- Employment partnerships: Boston Scientific is a member of the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN), dedicated to workplace inclusion. This partnership has led to improved comprehension of over 500 regulatory requirements on how to enhance PWDs inclusion in the workplace and at the same time find talent through sourcing partners.
- Expanding the talent pool: Boston Scientific partners with various disability services for students with disabilities on university campuses, where they actively recruit talent for their organization.
- Reasonable accommodation: The company’s efforts towards inclusion also reflect in its ready access to reasonable accommodations for employees and applicants.
“I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams I would be where I am today. I want to represent to other Muslim women who want to be engineers someday that this is something they can do too,”
says Zina Alnoor, Electrical Systems Design Engineer, The Boeing Company. Boeing has made the inclusion of people with disabilities an essential part of company culture. Boeing is a part of “The Valuable 500”, a global campaign to put disability at the forefront of corporate priorities worldwide. The company has also held the perfect score on the Disability Equality Index five years in a row.
Here’s what the Boeing leadership is investing in:
- Creating awareness: One of the ways in which the company ensures its participation is by being an active part of the conversation. From its website and company values, to organising conferences like “Diasbility:IN”, a career networking event for persons with disabilities.
- Enablement and networking: The company’s commitment to an accessible culture is also illustrated through ongoing investment in professional networks, like the Boeing Employee Ability Awareness Association.
- Reasonable accommodations: Like Apple and Boston Scientific, Boeing also ensures that all employees and job applicants with disabilities have access to reasonable accommodations.
Daily life for people with disabilities is the same as what the rest of the world experienced during the covid-19 pandemic. The digital divide concerning people with disabilities predates the pandemic. This challenge cum revolution in the way we work, which took all our jobs and tasks online, has opened new opportunities and pathways for people with disabilities.
Here are some key strategies being adoptedby technology giants to achieve optimal workplace inclusion:
- Business leaders and senior management must openly speak out about disabilities and encourage others to come out and do the same. A firm step by the top management helps cultivate an inclusive work culture.
- Invest into assistive technology. The integration of enabling tools and assistive technology into the recruitment process, training stages and during actual working is perhaps the best way to bridge this gap. Steps taken by Apple, Microsoft, Boston Scientific, and Google are stellar examples.
- A significant amount of research shows that investing in raising awareness and education about the value of accessibility helps the culture of inclusion, both ways.
- Ensuring access to reasonable accommodations for PWDs help integrate them better into the organization and perform optimally from day 1.
Workplace inclusion does not only mean that the employees are allowed to be together; it means that they are genuinely valued. Diverse teams bring value to the organization and enable everyone to achieve diverse dreams and the impossible together. The untapped pools of talent of people with disabilities can serve as a goldmine in the fast-changing remote work culture worldwide.