How to make learning and development more inclusive for disabled peopleby
With disabled people making up nearly one-fifth of the working population, L&D professionals have a responsibility to ensure their learning offering is not preventing those who are disabled from realising their full potential.
As an L&D professional I have always focused on supporting potential, on allowing L&D to be a true enabler of this potential and the associated opportunities that this brings to the learner and the organisation. Learning and development is a great leveller – available to everyone to allow them to gain knowledge and apply this knowledge and develop through it to fulfil potential.
However, is L&D in your organisation inclusive? Is it driven by, and does it drive, diversity?
We know that a more diverse organisation has a greater wealth and breadth of knowledge and experience. We also know that the more diverse an organisation is, the more creative it is. But do your learning and development interventions reflect this?
If they don’t, then that’s a failure and a missed opportunity to realise the true performance of both your L&D offering and your learners.
Inclusion is at its most effective when it touches every process and every part of the organisation.
Some key facts
Let’s look at this claim in relation to disability to illustrate the scale of this missed opportunity. In the UK, 19% of the working age population is disabled.
Did you know that 7% of C-Suite level employees are disabled (although only a minority declare this in the workplace)?
These statistics beg the question: if one in five people participating in learning activities in your organisation are disabled, does your offering, approach, design, and facilities reflect this? If 76% of organisations state Diversity & Inclusion either as a key priority or a set value, does their L&D reflect this?
If you are on the path to discovering more inclusive learning and development then we’ve outlined below some of the advice – specifically around disability – that we provide to the organisations we work with.
Understand the why of exclusion
We know that disabled people are the group least developed within any organisation. There are multiple reasons for this including the fact that disabled people may be appointed at a lower level within the organisation and more likely to be in part-time positions.
We need to ensure that disabled people are offered the opportunity to engage in L&D activities by being put forward by their managers for these opportunities. We also need to ensure they are not ‘opting out’ because of accessibility issues or other barriers.
‘Not for us without us’ – become an ally
Disability is wide-ranging and it can be complex to understand both the issues and opportunities. If your organisation has a disability network group or Employee Reference Group then this is a great resource to tap into. Making sure that disabled people have an input is crucial.
Know the barriers
Accessibility is vital, so check what accessibility options you offer. Firstly, do you ask people if they need adjustments in order to participate in learning activities?
Within this, there are some things to consider:
Is the physical venue accessible?
Do you have specialist equipment available e.g. hearing loops?
Are you aware of your training environment e.g. lighting, excessive noise and visually intense presentation materials and videos?
Do you need a British Sign Language interpreter or have closed captions (subtitles) on screens?
For online learning, is your technology accessible? Do participants have access to closed captioning (available on Teams and Zoom) and are your presentations accessibility checked (available on PowerPoint)?
Have you added alternative image descriptions on images that you use to allow a screen reader to describe them to someone with a visual impairment?
In short, are you aware of what your options are to ensure an inclusive approach? Don’t feel overwhelmed – it is simply a case of knowing what you can do and asking individuals what their requirements are.
Let’s look at a couple of other key areas in addition to accessibility...
Considerations here (in addition to ensuring accessibility) include the media you use and having alternatives, the language you use and taking into account a range of learning styles. Again, this can be extended to any pre-learning activity, accompanying media and assessments.
Flexibility is also a key consideration in everything. For example, do you have time restrictions on any online activities or do you offer flexibility so people can work through them at their own pace?
It is easy for inclusion to be a secondary consideration, a bolt-on or to be something that is just considered during delivery, but inclusion is at its most effective when it touches every process and every part of the organisation, including the L&D function and within the development and design of learning interventions.
Feedback and monitoring development
This is exactly what it says on the tin. Feedback is crucial in creating an inclusive offering along with tracking the development of individuals and the progress of L&D as a whole.
It is vital to note that people do not have to declare that they are disabled but are more likely to if you create an inclusive environment.
Belonging as individuals
So, the above areas are really important aspects of inclusion but let’s go back to basics: our view is that inclusion is about creating a sense of belonging in an organisation. It is also about ensuring that people are treated as individuals.
Do you know of the barriers disabled people face in the workplace and around learning? And if you do, what is it you do to remove these barriers and promote inclusion?
Finally, it is about potential – and in the case of disabled people, a potential that is all too easily overlooked.
This is where learning and development has a real opportunity to support inclusion and realise potential within your organisation.