By Eleanor Goichman Brett, global diversity and inclusion consultant and co-founder of Charity Culture Catalyst.
Nearly a quarter (22%) of people in the UK – and 19% of working-age adults – have a disability, according to the latest Family Resources Survey. However, only 53.6% are currently employed compared to 81.7% of people who are not disabled (House of Commons Report). Whilst the research into the employment of disabled people in the charity sector is woefully absent, we do know that 33% of disabled candidates believe charities approach to disability inclusion is ‘lip service’ and that disabled volunteers are less satisfied with their volunteer experience.
As a disability advocate and ally, and as someone who has close members who have disabilities, this does not surprise me at all. My experience of the charity sector has been that although there is a strong desire for disability inclusion, the practical knowledge and processes to ensure that disability inclusion plays out in practice is often lacking.
So how can the charity sector do better when implementing not just reasonable adjustments but a culture of disability inclusion?
Collect data, and use it. However, be aware that many charities struggle to collect data on the number of people in their organisation 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 people to do their jobs and feel included.
Then use that data to understand at what point people are disengaging with your charity by analysing it against any other people data you can get your hands on for example recruitment, performance, volunteer engagement, attrition and beyond.
Be proactive from the outset
Don’t put the ownership on people to tell their recruiter, or role manager, about the adjustment they need without being asked. It takes time for disabled people to feel comfortable enough to show that trust, but asking how you can enable people to do their role through adjustments is standard practice. Whether that’s while onboarding volunteers, inviting people to fundraising events or providing training; the more proactive you are about asking how to include people, the more they are likely to feel comfortable to share.
Charities are often understandably concerned about budgets and that can result in asking for proof of a disability or enacting occupational health assessments before implementing an adjustment. This can be helpful if someone has a new disability and is getting to know their own needs, but most of the time it wastes time, money and trust. Most people will know the adaptions they need to do their job, so the best option for productivity and trust is to ask and believe them.
Provide adjustments for volunteers
Legally, charities do not have a requirement to implement reasonable adjustments for volunteers and this can result in charities failing to do so. I have personally seen role managers advocating for adjustments on behalf of their volunteers only to be turned down by other departments. To be truly disability-inclusive it’s important that charities take a stance that they include everyone, not just disabled employees that they have a legal requirement to support.
The key to any disability-inclusive charity is to work with disabled people, not around them. Everyone’s experiences are different, we all experience our abilities and impairments differently, and we all have unique needs. Only by asking about these unique needs – rather than making assumptions – and listening to the answer, can we truly create more accessible and inclusive learning environments.