Five Ways for Leaders to Encourage Inclusion for Employees With Disabilities

Five Ways for Leaders to Encourage Inclusion for Employees With Disabilities

By Eleanor Goichman Brett

There are an estimated 1.85 billion people with disabilities globally, with spending power of $490 billion in the U.S. alone. Friends and families of people with disabilities add another 3.3 billion potential consumers—consumers who are more likely to act on the perception of disability inclusion. (Source: “A Hidden Market: The Purchasing Power of Working-Age Adults With Disabilities,” April 2018, The American Institute for Research)

This alone should be sufficient motivation for the insurance industry to ensure it provides accessible and inclusive services for people with disabilities. And one of the best ways to ensure that approach is to include, value and listen to your disabled employees. However, people with disabilities are some of the most underrepresented individuals in the insurance industry workplace.

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Gender is often touted as a more important priority for diversity and inclusion activity because more than half the population is female. But people with disabilities make up the next largest group. Yet they are often overlooked. And even when organizations do seek to include people who are differently abled, they often start with an occupational health assessment—telling people what they already know about themselves at a cost to the business.

Here are five practical ways business leaders in the insurance industry can progress toward true inclusion for employees with disabilities:

  1. Know that not everyone identifies with the term disability.

Many organizations struggle to collect data on the number of people in their business who have disabilities. This is partly because not everyone who has a disability in the eyes of the law identifies with the term disability. So, in order to gather meaningful data to genuinely help you include people with disabilities, it can be more helpful to ask people about their adjustment or accessibility needs. That way, you can understand how best you can support employees to do their jobs and feel included.

  1. Your people can help make your firm more accessible.

It’s likely that you already have internal experience and knowledge that can help you make your firm more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities, internally and externally. But you have to ask. So, when reviewing your people processes or creating new virtual environments or products, ask for input from your people with different accessibility needs—but be prepared to listen and act on the feedback. This will serve to not only increase your accessibility but also ensure your people with disabilities feel respected and valued.

  1. It’s the environment that disables a person.

It’s not someone’s impairment or health condition that impairs them but the environment around them. It’s the way our societies and organizations are structured. For example, someone with a hearing impairment may be disabled by the fact that the customer services team is only available on the phone; or someone with dyslexia is disabled by the fact that policies use complex language. In order to be a disability-inclusive organization internally and externally, you need to recognize and remove these barriers as standard, not on an ad-hoc basis.

  1. People know their abilities and impairments best.

Even once your firm is disability inclusive as standard, there may still be times when employees and customers require specific adaptions or adjustments. In these cases, it’s vital to ask the person what they need and believe them. Most people will know their own accessibility requirements best. Although sometimes occupational health assessments or the equivalent can be helpful—if someone is adjusting to a new disability, for example—most of the time they increase costs and reduce trust and engagement.

  1. Attitudes and behaviors are the greatest barrier to disability inclusion.

Research shows that one of the main reasons that people with disabilities feel excluded from the workplace is the attitudes and behaviors of others. These unhelpful attitudes do not necessarily reflect negative intent. Often, they come from a desire to look after and protect people, but they still result in disability exclusion. So, it’s vital that, at a minimum, your customer-facing staff and people managers receive training in disability inclusion and have information available on demand on different disabilities when they need it.

The key to each of these actions is to work with people with disabilities, whether potential customers or employees—trusting that they know their needs best and working together to find solutions that are right for them. Only then will you build internal and external trust to be seen as an insurer of choice for people with disabilities.

*Eleanor Goichman Brett is a consultant and trainer at global diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global, part of Affirmity.

*This article first appeared on

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