Fiona Kyle


July 13, 2022


Creating a Workplace That Attracts, Retains and Empowers Disabled People

When was the last time you took a look at your workplace from the perspective of colleagues–and potential colleagues–with disabilities?

Whether it’s the culture of your organisation, the recruitment process that candidates will go through or the internal communications shared within your organisation, there’s always more that can be done to make sure that disabled colleagues feel like an included and valued member of your team.

Creating a disability inclusive culture at work

The employment rate for disabled people is around 28% lower than the comparable rate for people who do not identify as having a disability. In real terms this translates into hundreds of thousands of people who are missing out on a career and all the financial, social and mental benefits which that could bring. On the flipside, it means workplaces are missing out on this talent who could bring unique ideas and perspectives into their business.

Creating an inclusive workplace is not an immediate switch that can be flicked. It takes time, effort and sometimes asking difficult questions and tackling uncomfortable topics. It is not about employing people because they have a disability and you get to tick a box–it is about the culture that colleagues with disabilities will find when they start work–or even before, in the recruitment process. It is giving everyone a voice and a representation at every level of the business. This can only benefit every employee in your organisation.

There could be a whole range of reasons why your organisation does not currently feel welcoming to candidates with disabilities. Unconscious bias is a term used to describe the judgements we make about other people resulting from our lived experience. These can be either positive or negative, depending on whether we think they are similar or different to ourselves. These false beliefs can influence the decisions we make, especially if we are unaware that we even hold the beliefs in the first place.

To make your workplace more inclusive, it’s time to challenge these unconscious biases both in yourself and in your team. Speak to colleagues about it to make sure they understand the concept and address their own biases, and look for training if you feel that it would help your team.

Combat unconscious bias when recruiting by investigating new options for places to put adverts to actively target diverse candidates and looking into ways to make the process more anonymous such as initial telephone interviews to make sure a candidate’s physical appearance is not influencing decision making. Make sure you keep a written record of  the decisions you make during the process and why you have taken them, in case you are challenged further down the line.

The language used throughout your organisation–from internal communications to how people speak every day–is important. Look at the terms you use to describe disabilities and make sure it’s up to date and still considered acceptable and if not, what the reason is. If you’re not sure, ask. You could do this by holding a focus group with colleagues with disabilities within your organisation and asking them about the language they prefer and what is now out of touch.

Another topic you could address is ‘ableist’ language–phrases people use every day that might be hurtful to disabled colleagues. Have you ever thought about how phrases like ‘fallen on deaf ears’ feels to someone who is actually deaf? Take time to find out and make changes accordingly.

Read more about creating disability-inclusive workplace cultures.

Making your recruitment process more disability inclusive

If you are aiming to attract more diverse employees into your organisation, it’s critical to get it right from the very first interactions. The chances are that the first time a candidate will interact with your employer brand is during the recruitment process so take a look at it through fresh eyes to see how it could be made more inclusive.

It all starts with the job post. This is your opportunity to make it clear how important DE&I is to your organisation–it is not an after thought either to the job post or to the organisation as a whole. Show how seriously you take the issue and reference real measures that could make a difference to candidates from remote working options to diversity focus groups.

Take a look at the language you use in your job description and what it might mean to someone who could be lacking confidence in the world of work due to a lack of representation and role models.

If your current descriptions are made up of jargon and a seemingly never ending list of desired and essential qualities or experience that a candidate has to meet, ask yourself if that’s really necessary. Non-disabled applicants may feel confident enough to chance an application despite not meeting all the criteria but a disabled candidate, who might already feel everything is stacked against them, may be prevented from applying because of some obscure requested experience that in reality very few candidates actually have.

Keep job copy engaging and to the point–and that’s preferable for every potential candidate. Just tell them what they actually need to know and make them aware that you are an employer of choice–backing this up with authentic examples of why this is.

Once the candidate has applied for the job, if as an organisation you are interested in what they have to offer, the next step would be to invite them for an interview. The thought of a job interview can be anxiety-inducing for anyone, but this can be amplified for disabled candidates. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to make any necessary adjustments to make sure the interview is accessible for everyone. Offer a video interview to candidates who aren’t able to attend–or consider replacing the traditional in-person interview with an online equivalent entirely.

For the most relevant perspective and to make sure you’re not missing anything, speak to existing employees with disabilities. They might be able to suggest issues getting in the way of an inclusive recruitment process based on their own first-hand experience. You could make this into a regular focus group, feeding back on multiple issues affecting disabled employees, such as the onboarding process. Ask for feedback about onboarding materials, for example are these communications designed to welcome new employees into the business serving their purpose for everyone.

Is the format of your onboarding materials appropriate? Most organisations give out typed up sheets of paper or a printed handbook but there are people, such as those with a visual impairment or dyslexia, for example, who might prefer an audio or video version. Consider offering a range of media.

Make sure the content of the onboarding materials welcomes new disabled employees by reassuring them how willing you are to make the adjustments they need. Introduce training for the rest of your team so they understand the commitments made by your onboarding materials and why it’s important.

Read more about creating a disability-inclusive candidate journey

How employer communications can be made more inclusive for disabled colleagues

 When it comes to disability, sometimes employees can be so worried about saying the wrong thing that they would rather avoid the subject altogether. Even though this can be done with the best intentions, the result can be that colleagues with disabilities feel uncomfortable, which impacts on their performance and self esteem.

 This situation can be avoided with employer communications that address these issues. We touched above on creating employee focus groups that give disabled colleagues a voice in your organisation. This is another issue that it can be really helpful to consult such a group on. Address key questions like what your communications–both for employees and beyond–should cover from a content perspective, What would they be interested in reading about, how should inclusion be covered and what would help existing employees with disabilities feel more welcome and therefore more likely to stay with the company for longer?

Consult with the focus group on creating a full communication strategy to make inclusive communications part of your business as usual. A key part of this should be celebrating and sharing the stories of people with disabilities who work within your organisation–and beyond. This will start to redress the balance of a lack of disabled role models. Find employees who are willing to share their experiences in whichever medium works best for them, whether it’s video, podcast, copy or anything else. But remember, true disability inclusion is not just creating content about disability issues–it’s about celebrating the successes of colleagues with disabilities, just like you would with any other colleague.

Introduce different voices into your employer communications. It can quickly get monotonous if it’s always written in the same tone or from the same perspective which might lead employees to zone out and not take important messages onboard.

Try looking beyond your organisation for content on the subject of people with disabilities and what they have achieved and curate the content on social media and share it within your organisation. Encourage employees to get involved with events around disability and show everyone–inside your organisation and beyond–just how important DE&I is to you. This can becomea virtuous circle and people with disabilities outside your organisation will see you as an appealing place to work because of your commitment to inclusion.

Set up a review of your own employer communications and invite colleagues with disabilities to contribute, asking for feedback relating to inclusivity. Include the language used in your communications within the terms of the review. Make sure the words you are using are inclusive and not off putting or hurtful to disabled colleagues.

Investigate whether the medium you’re using for internal communications is as inclusive as it could be. You could research screen readers and alternative ways of making the content accessible for everyone.

Read more about how to include disabled people in your employer brand narrative.


For more information on a diverse and inclusive communications strategy, please get in touch.



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