Some of the world’s largest employers (including PepsiCo, PwC, L’Oréal and Zurich Insurance), have committed to making their businesses more supportive of people with disabilities and health conditions. Pledges include accessibility improvements, employee education and recruitment of disabled people. In a similar vein, recent announcements from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of disabled people in employment has increased. Such headlines would lead us to think that companies are effectively managing support for disabled employees. However, the disability pay gap – the difference between median pay for disabled employees and non-disabled employees – is a startling 13.8%.
Inaccessible technology is just one of the barriers faced by disabled people in the workplace. Because of this indirect discrimination, disabled workers may have to work harder and longer to achieve the same recognition for their work as their non-disabled peers. Some employers believe that disabled workers are less productive or efficient workers. In reality, it is the system that is less productive and efficient – not the disabled employees. This is why the lack of accessible technology has exacerbated the systematic underpayment and unemployment of disabled people.
Organisations should consider using “tech for good”. There is a plethora of technological advancements that aim to support people who have visible or non-visible disabilities. For example, Microsoft is introducing new hardware designed for users who have difficulty using a standard mouse-and-keyboard set-up – a customisable system that aims to help people with limited mobility operate devices as quickly as non-disabled people. When 70% of the web is largely inaccessible to those with visual disabilities, plug-ins for users can adjust and improve their reading experience online. And for staff that are deaf or hard of hearing, real-time captioning and subtitles on video calls is still a nascent but advancing technology.
Ultimately, cultural change is needed – conversations must happen with disabled people, and their lived experiences must be listened to and respected. This way, the right technological support can be put into place to fulfil each individual’s unique needs in the workplace, and they can be confident that reasonable adjustments will be made. For some companies, “listening” may manifest in forming a Disability Network; other companies may seek to work with charities.
We all know that diverse teams that include people with a range of lived experiences bring better problem-solving, creativity and innovation which, naturally, results in products and services that meet the needs of all customers. However, to retain their employees with disabilities, companies must be actively challenging the pay gap. To be ahead of the curve, companies should develop specific strategies and, crucially, seriously consider the role that adaptive technology has to play in fighting the disability pay gap.
Author: Rosanna Greenwood