The four-level journey to a disability inclusive workplace

With the rapid move online since the Covid pandemic, we’ve seen improvements for disabled workers with flexible working now common, and inclusive working practices being explored by most organisations. But what does it mean to become a disability inclusive organisation?  

What is disability inclusion?  Group of people holding saplings in their hands

Being a disability inclusive organisation involves creating a thriving, inclusive workplace culture where everyone belongs. It’s also a strategic imperative from a moral, legal and commercial standpoint. 

Inclusive workplaces bring great rewards for any organisation such as differing perspectives, varied problem-solving skills and improved employee engagement. 

How to start your disability inclusive journey  

Building on disability inclusion practices is a story of growth. You could liken this to the evolution of an oak tree from acorn to mature tree.  

All organisations are at one stage or another, but how do you start your disability inclusive journey? Having a clear picture of where you are now with disability inclusion, and a roadmap to move forward will transform your ability to make meaningful progress. 

Here’s our four-level journey guide to help you gauge your organisation's level of inclusion maturity for both employees and customers. 

The four-level journey is an introductory of AbilityNet’s in depth employee inclusion journey gap analysis – a process to help you identify shortcomings in your employee experience, zoning in on each step in the employee journey from recruitment to onboarding, working culture and career development, offering tech-powered and culture focused solutions that can help.

Level one – Acorn A single acorn

Level one can be compared to an acorn. For most, this is the starting point in the process. At the acorn level, it feels like disability is fairly invisible in the organisation’s culture.  

The organisation (most likely mistakenly) considers that it does not currently have any disabled customers or staff or any processes in place. Consequently it has not put any processes in place to support disabled people. The organisation anticipates that if a disabled customer or staff member came forward requesting support, it will then handle the situation accordingly.  

This level presents a high risk for the organisation in that there are very likely to already be disabled customers and employees who are being disadvantaged or excluded by the absence of inclusive practices.  

Level two - Seedling A seedling

Level two can be imagined as a seedling. At the seedling stage, the organisation has an appreciation that disabled people exist in the organisation and as customers, but the onus remains on them to request and advocate for adjustments to working practices. 

At this level, employees and customers may not feel comfortable requesting support and adjustments in case they are declined or the request is perceived as unreasonable. On the organisation’s side, it is also likely to incur more effort and difficulty in dealing with each request on a case-by-case basis rather than having a process and options defined in advance.  

Level three - SaplingA pair of hands holding a sapling plant

Level three can be compared to a sapling. The sapling stage is a great step forward, and this is where your organisation has taken a structured and strategic approach to anticipate and offer a range of adjustments to staff and customers. 

At this level employees and customers are much more likely to feel confident to access support and adjustments without concern of judgement or difficulties. They are still expected to share information about their disability, however, which may mean some people do not come forward and are then excluded from working for or purchasing from your organisation in the way that suits their needs.  

Level four - Oak treeAn oak tree

Level four is the final stage of the process and can be compared to a mature oak tree. At this final level, there is a realisation that making adjustments to working practices and providing choices for customers benefits everyone. This means that people are not obligated to disclose a disability to be able to access options and tools to work in the way that suits them best. Likewise, customer interactions and services are created with the broadest audience in mind.  

At this level, you can feel confident that you are providing an inclusive environment for everyone, regardless of disability. 

However, level 4 is not the end, like an oak tree, your organisation will need to continue to evolve and respond to the changing world around them. At the oak tree stage, you also need to demonstrate an openness to discuss any requirements that have not been thought about yet. You can also use your own positive stories to engage other organisations in progressing in their journey.  

Next steps to becoming disability inclusive

Which stage is your organisation at? Are you an 'acorn' that needs help to develop into a mighty ‘oak tree'? It’s important to listen to the perspectives of your team and work with your Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and Human Resources (HR) teams to figure out where your organisation is with disability inclusion.  
If you need further help to identify what steps you can take to achieve meaningful change and growth, you can book a free 15-minute gap consultation.

Book your 15 consultation

You may also find our How to apply for an Access to Work grant factsheet useful. We also have information on Reasonable Adjustments and Disability and Employment

We also have affordable, online training courses to help you improve your employee journey from:  

Get 10 training courses for the price of 8!
You can make savings for the year ahead by getting two AbilityNet training courses free as part of a bundle! 

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You may also find AbilityNet's online learning modules useful. Teach your workforce about inclusion and accessibility awareness with digital step-by-step modules for staff to complete at their own pace.