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Ensuring your diversity and inclusion efforts include workers with disabilities

By Shandel McAuliffe | |7 minute read
Ensuring your diversity and inclusion efforts include workers with disabilities

As support for creating inclusive workplaces rapidly increases, organisations realise they must build a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion to benefit individual workers. Remote working is now the norm, and there are growing imperatives to ensure fairness in employment.

However, whilst hiring managers are actively seeking talent from a wider employment pool, they are missing a valuable opportunity. Despite many employers realising valuable skills lie with workers belonging to marginalised groups, such as those with physical disabilities and women, one diverse community is persistently missing from active employment strategies: neurodiverse candidates with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs).

A Skillsoft survey confirmed that while a large majority (88%) of respondents said that their organisation has a DEI policy in place, less than half believed it includes people with IDDs.


The need to understand IDDs

It’s important to understand what it means to be an individual with an IDD. Conditions include Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

It’s no hidden fact that it’s simply harder for these workers to ‘find’ jobs – and it’s often a case of jobs needing to access them. Standard recruitment practices continue to disadvantage neurodiverse candidates, and many face stigma and exclusion by organisations for roles which could perfectly accommodate their skills.

It’s time for proactive DEI strategies which reach out to workers with IDDs. Particularly at a time when business partnerships are being forged based on social values, organisations need to understand, step up and be ambassadors for inclusion.

There are three action-oriented strategies for building a truly inclusive culture:

1. Leverage digitisation to rethink recruitment and accessibility

Most marginalised groups have benefited since the start of the pandemic in accessing roles they previously couldn’t. Individuals with IDDs may find commuting hard, or experience hearing and/or vision challenges which make working in open offices difficult. Working from home, in a way which makes them feel safe and comfortable, means they can focus on their tasks to bring significant talent to the table.

Understanding the accessibility and management needs of those with IDDs is important. Managers should have open and honest communication with candidates to ensure appropriate equipment and technology is in place, and roles and responsibilities can be adapted for their needs.

2. Instil a role-based approach to inclusivity

Once a clear strategy has been devised to harness the talents of candidates with IDDs, it’s vital to consider the environment they are joining. It’s important to have buy-in of all staff to a culture of constant curiosity, continuous growth, and development.

All workers must be educated on how different skills contribute to the building of a better business, and what being inclusive means. Offering all employees training courses on diversity in the workplace will enable a culture shift in the organisation.

Changing employment and team-building habits does not happen overnight and it takes some commitment to acquiring, developing, and advancing talent in organisations without exception.

3. Create equitable career advancement and mentorship opportunities

If the skills of individuals with IDDs remain misunderstood and unappreciated, they are unlikely to be empowered to achieve their true potential. Providing equal opportunities to match their skills to the right roles, enabling the learning of new skills, providing development opportunities and career support, are all essential.

It’s critical to assign a mentor who can work closely with those with IDDs to establish objectives, listen to their needs, and adapt the work environment to suit their preferences. Replacing an annual review with regular work and health checks will offer the best support for their physical and mental wellbeing.

Creating environments that showcase their work among team members will boost the motivation of workers with IDDs.

A long-term mission

Forming an inclusive organisational culture doesn’t just come from HR policy. It is a long-term mission which needs to be driven right from the top of the business, with each worker committed to share, collaborate, support, mentor and listen – appreciating others and the skills they bring to the organisation.

Some businesses have already familiarised themselves with the wealth of talent this valuable group of individuals can offer. For the diverse community being left out of recruitment conversations, it’s time to start turning education into action to embrace individuals with IDDs within the workplace to build truly inclusive organisations.

Kath Greenhough is VP for APAC at Skillsoft



Your organization's culture determines its personality and character. The combination of your formal and informal procedures, attitudes, and beliefs results in the experience that both your workers and consumers have. Company culture is fundamentally the way things are done at work.


The practice of actively seeking, locating, and employing people for a certain position or career in a corporation is known as recruitment.

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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