When disabled and neurodiverse people truly belong, everyone benefits

By Phil Turner

Where does your organisation sit in relation to disability and neurodiversity on the above Belonging Continuum?

At the Accessibility Tick and New Zealand Disability Employers’ Network we work with organisations on their disability and neurodiversity inclusion. But inclusion is not enough and is not the ultimate end game. It can’t be! Let me explain.

Let’s use a meeting analogy to explore what I mean…


In a diverse meeting, we have a good range of people in the room, including disabled and neurodiverse people. We feel good about it, as it’s lovely to see such a range of people in the room.

But just because someone is in the room doesn’t mean that they are participating. The meeting has not been set up in a way that invites them to have a voice, nor does it make them feel a part of something.

If we are truthful, this is where we are at (or not even at) with most disability and neurodiversity employment in New Zealand. The disabled and neurodiverse people are in the room, if they are lucky, and we feel proud to have welcomed them.


That’s OK, let’s have an inclusive meeting. We can invite disabled and neurodiverse people to sit down at the table and include them in the discussion.

We’ll ask them questions and hear their perspective. We may even value their views, leading to better outcomes for all. We feel even better because we are inclusive, bringing disabled and neurodiverse voices to the conversation.

Have you noticed something? It is still about us. We are feeling good due to us being disability and neurodiversity inclusive.


This is where the magic happens. Let’s ensure everyone belongs at the meeting.

To date, it has been all about us. We have felt good about bringing people into the room and then into the conversation. It shouldn’t be about them or us, as there is only us.

When disabled and neurodiverse people belong, they are our equals at the meeting table. They participate not because we invited them into the room and asked them to talk, but because they are a part of us and it would make no sense to have the meeting without them. They add their own unique value just like the rest of us.

Now we are really getting somewhere. Disabled and neurodiverse people are there because everyone knows they belong there as part of the whole, and everyone benefits.

Why should we care?

To be honest, I should just state here “It’s the right thing to do”, and be done with it. In New Zealand, one of our core values is fairness and equality. With everyone having the right to live a full and productive life in the way they choose. That should be enough.

But smart organisations are seeing that not only is it the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. Organisations that get this right see the following benefits (and more):

  • Increased talent pool – there is a large pool of talented yet unemployed disabled and neurodiverse people, many of which have never been give the opportunity to reach their full potential.
  • Committed employees – on average, disabled people take less sick leave and stay longer in jobs. There are loads more stats I could share here, but that will have to be another article.
  • Better understanding of their customers – having disabled and neurodiverse employees leads to better institutional knowledge about disability and neurodiversity. Did we mention 24% of New Zealanders have a disability, and the estimated prevalence of all neurodiversities is 15-20%?
  • Stronger reputation – organisations that get this right improve their image amongst their staff, customers, and the community.
  • Increased innovation – disabled and neurodiverse people have barriers put in front of them all the time, which can contribute to them becoming great innovators, a strength which they then bring to the workplace.

How do we improve?

Disability and neurodiversity belonging doesn’t just happen overnight because someone decided that the organisation would be that way. It takes careful execution of a well thought out plan, involving considerable cultural change. But there are two things you can do to kick things off.

  • Normalise disability and neurodiversity in your conversations – the first step to cultural change is to bring disability and neurodiversity out of the shadows. Create an organisational understanding of why it should be disability and neurodiversity inclusive, and then talk about it. A lot.
  • Hire disabled and neurodiverse people – bringing disabled and neurodiverse talent into your team, and supporting them to succeed, is the single most effective way of changing your culture. This may involve some accommodations on your behalf, but it also may not. Either way, in my experience, the benefits always outweigh the costs.

If you would like to talk more about disability and neurodiversity belonging within your organisation, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us – info@accessibilitytick.nz.

A word on the language used in the article

The language we use is important. Throughout this article I have used the term “disabled and neurodiverse people”. As such, I have chosen to use the term disabled people instead of people with disabilities, inline with the social model of disability and the New Zealand Disability Strategy. If your preference is person first language (ie. people with disabilities) then please substitute that in while reading the article.

NZDEN Letter to the Minister re Disability Systems Transformation and Accessibility Legislation

Today the New Zealand Disability Employers’ Network (NZDEN) wrote to Hon. Minister Sepuloni as Minister of Disability Issues congratulating her on the recent announcements for Disability Systems Transformation and the planned accessibility legislation.

The NZDEN is largely supportive of the annoucement and will be interested to see further details as they become available. We look forward to having a good relationship with the new Ministry for Disabled People (name pending) and Accessibility Governance Board.

“We know that employers have a vital role to play in positive disability outcomes. As the leading employer body in New Zealand solely committed to improving career outcomes for disabled people, disability inclusion and accessibility, we ask to be fully engaged in the creation of the new Ministry, drafting of the legislation and creation of the Accessibility Governance Board.”

“By the Government including the NZDEN as a partner in this process and future systems, we can ensure that any final systems and legislation will work for both disabled people, our members, and other NZ employers, leading to positive outcomes for all.”

The letter was sent in multiple accessible formats, in support of many New Zealanders who have a print disability and access information differently.

Download the full letter here in accessible formats –

The Accessibility Tick welcomes Sandra Budd

The Accessibility Tick is very pleased to announce that Sandra Budd has joined the Accessibility Tick team as a Relationship Manager.

Sandra brings with her a wealth of experience and knowledge. Her previous roles include Chief Executive and senior executive in the Australasian public health, disability and not-for-profit sectors.

She has led national and multi-state initiatives modernising services within the NZ Blind Foundation, South Australian Children Youth and Women’s Health Service, NSW’s Greater Southern Area Health Service and Auckland Healthcare’s maternity and neonatal services.

Sandra has a strong background in organisation transformation and building social enterprises. She is also an experienced board director, sitting on existing Boards and and Advisory Groups.

She has had considerable experience in community engagement and relationship building. As a certified member of Australasian International Association for Public Participation she works with people to build compelling desired futures.

It is important to note that our programme and network wouldn’t exist without Sandra having supported us in her role as Chief Exectuive of the Blind Foundation. It was Sandra’s foresight and support that enabled us to get started, and become what we are today.

We are certain that you will agree, Sandra is a positive addition to the Accessibility Tick and NZ Disability Employers’ Network whanau.

Sandra looks forward to meeting our members in the near future.

NZ Disability Employers Network (NZDEN) Meeting – 23rd November 2020

We are pleased to announce that we can now meet in person again. Our next NZ Disability Employers’ Network meeting will be held at the EMA Auckland Office (Google Maps) and Zoom Video Conference on
Monday 23rd November 10am – noon (with a light lunch afterwards)

Agenda will be shared with attendees ahead of the meeting.

Our confirmed guest speakers are –

  • Tania Reed
    Vulnerable Customer Programme Lead at Westpac New Zealand.
    Sharing some of Westpac’s journey creating their Extra Care Programme. Looking to amplify their disability inclusion practices across all their customer offerings.
  • Dr Chandra Harrison
    Managing Director at Access Advisors

    What is the value of ensuring that our online/digital platforms are inclusive of everyone? Why does it make sense?
  • Vivian Naylor
    Barrier Free Advisor & Educator at CCS Disability Action
    Vivian is a highly respected expert in built environment accessibility, working across many major projects in New Zealand. A wealth of knowledge who is always ready to share it with our network.
  • Sharleen Tongalea
    Regional Disability Leadership Coordinator at CCS Disability Action
    Talking about the challenges she faces getting people with a disability in to work.

This will be our final NZ Disability Employers’ Network meeting for 2020.

Registration details and a Zoom link (for those wanting to join remotely) will be shared with members over email. If you wish to attend but have not received the link, please email info@accessibilitytick.nz.

Disability Employers’ Network Meeting – 7th September

Due to current Covid-19 restrictions, our next Disability Employers’ Network meeting will be held over Zoom on Monday 7th September.

The Zoom link will be shared with members over email. If you wish to attend but have not received the link, please email info@accessibilitytick.nz.

The agenda is going to be a full one.

With the election approaching and on the back of the Working Matters – Disability Employment Action Plan being released by the government, we have invited both the Hon. Carmel Sepuloni, the Minister of Social Development, and the Hon. Alfred Ngaro, Opposition Spokesperson for Disability Issues, to join us.

We will also be hearing from Catherine Trezona of Altogether Autism on the inclusion of autistic people in the workplace.


2.00pmWelcomePhil Turner,
Managing Director,
Accessibility Tick
2.10pmWorking Matters Disability Employment Action Plan –
Our Disability Employers’ Network Contributions
Phil Turner
2.30pmThe Government / Labour Party’s plans for disability employmentHon Carmel Sepuloni,
Minister of Social Development and Disability Issues, Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Pacific Peoples
2.50pmAutism in the WorkplaceCatherine Trezona,
National Manager,
Altogether Autism
3.10pmThe Opposition / National Party’s plans for disability employmentHon Alfred Ngaro,
Opposition/National Party Spokesperson for Disability Issues, Children, Community and Voluntary Sector and Pacific Peoples
3.30pmGeneral BusinessPhil Turner
No later than 4.00pmFinish

Monday Mythbusting on Disability Employment – How many do you know?

We are busting disability employment myths. People with accessibility needs are quite often discriminated against based on incorrect information. We are seeking to educate people about their true value, one myth a week.

Follow us on LinkedIn and/or Facebook to always see the latest myths when they are released.

If you are wanting help changing your organisations outlook, checkout our
Programme page for more information on the Accessibility Tick and how it helps organisations improve their disability inclusion.

Myth #1: Disabled people are too much of a health and safety risk

Fact: Employees with disabilities have less health and safety incidents than their peers.

“Disabled employees often have fewer health and safety issues than non-disabled workers. This is because in managing their impairment from the start, the employer and the employee will have developed strategies to address the health and safety risks. Whether your employee is disabled or not, your approach to health and safety should remain the same.” – Business.govt.nz

We believe it is even more than this. As people, those who have an accessibility need are managing risks daily, they become experts at it and they bring those expertise to the workplace. Many companies have reported better health and safety outcomes by having them onboard as they share their experience/expertise with the greater team.

Myth #2: Disabled people take too much sick leave

Fact: Employees with disabilities take less sick leave on average than their peers. One Australian study says 85% less.

Myth #3: Disabld people are less capable and do lower quality work

Fact: Surveys have found that 90% of disabled people rated average or better than their peers on job performance.

Myth #4: Disabled people don’t stay long enough in a job

Fact: NZ Statistics* show that disabled people are loyal, on average staying with employers over 50% longer than their peers.
*Stats NZ – Disability Employment Statistics

Myth 5: We don’t have anyone with a disability in our organisation

Fact: 24% of New Zealanders have a disability. 80% of those disabilities are hidden. Still think you don’t have anyone with a disability in your organisations?

Myth 6: It’s expensive to employ a person with a disability

Fact: Most disabled people do not require anything additional to do their job. When they do, there are support programmes and funding available.

Research has shown that the benefits of hiring disabled people outweigh any expenses, ultimately leading to a better bottom line.

Myth 7: People with a disability can only do basic unskilled jobs

Fact: People with a disability bring a range of skills, talents and abilities to the workplace. Many have tertiary and trade qualifications. They know their abilities and are unlikely to apply for jobs they can’t do.

Thumbs up to Powerco

Congratulations to Powerco, who have recently achieved the Accessibility Tick reflecting their focus and commitment to disability inclusion.

Emma Bennett, Group HR Manager says it’s confirmation Powerco is on the right track. “We’re committed to offering an equitable and accessible workplace for our team. We are firm believers that accessibility needs shouldn’t be a barrier to participation in the paid workforce. It’s up to organisations like ours to educate ourselves and do better.”

“We’ll continue to challenge our thinking and explore new ways to make Powerco a great place to work, for everyone,” she adds.

ATEN Vision for #VisionWeekNZ

Our vision for New Zealand to become the most accessible and disability inclusive country in the world.

The Accessibility Tick Employers’ Network is made up of 27 of New Zealand’s leading organisations committed to the inclusion of people with disabilities, chronic health conditions and facing mental health crises.

We have a vision of New Zealand becoming the most accessible and disability inclusive country in the world.

To achieve this, we need to inspire change.

  • We recognise and advocate that supporting a person with a disability is more than just getting them a job. It is empowering them to have a meaningful career.
  • If you want organisations to change their behaviours you to need to show them how the changes are beneficial, then support them to lead the changes themselves.
  • Practical programmes like the Accessibility Tick are essential to supporting organisation transformation.

We hope this video encourages people to think about accessibility and ask the same questions we did when creating our vision.

  • What could be done?
  • What should be done?
  • What must be done?

Members of the Accessibility Tick and its Employers’ Network are:

ACC, Adecco, Air New Zealand, ASB Bank, Auckland District Health Board, Blind and Low Vision NZ, Counties Manukau District Health Board, Fidelity Life Assurance Company, Hind Management (Sudima Hotels and Novotel Christchurch Airport), Jacobs, MATTR, Meridian Energy, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development (Bay of Plenty), nib NZ, Powerco, Quentosity, Ricoh, Scentre Group, SkyCity Entertainment Group, Taikura Trust, The Warehouse Group, Toyota New Zealand, Vector, Waitemata District Health Board, and Westpac.

Mental Health Crises – Helping your staff avoid or manage them

Mental Health printed on scrabble blocks

Very few people will be able to claim that COVID-19 has not increased their stress levels in some way. Whilst New Zealand as a country has managed through their lockdown exceptionally well, many New Zealanders are at risk of, or are already in, a mental health crisis.

As an employer, it is in your interest to support your staff through any challenges they may be facing to their wellbeing. Beyond any legal requirements, benefits of getting this right can include:

  • More engaged staff with a stronger employer/employee relationship
  • Increased performance and reduced absenteeism
  • Better quality staff retention and increased loyalty
  • Reduced workplace accidents

We wanted to share with you some of the online resources that we have come across over the past weeks to support you in these efforts.

If you have other resources that may be of value, please let us know so that we can share them as well.

Just A Thought’s – Staying On Track

just a thought

The Staying on Track course introduces easy-to-use, practical strategies to cope with the stress and disruption of day-to-day life as an impact of COVID-19. The page also includes a number of resources that can assist your team to maintain their mental health.

BlueSkyMinds’ – COVID-19 Mindfulness Meditation Help


Accessibility Tick partner BlueSkyMinds has prepared a number of resources to assist during these challenging times.

From mindfulness meditation practices by MBSR Trained instructors, links to other COVID-19 specific resources, suggestions of books worth reading and apps that assist. These are all worth checking out.

ILO Global Business and Disability Network’s – Mental health conditions and work

Global Business and Disability Network

The ILO Global Business and Disability Network’s Mental health conditions at work online course is a great set of short 15 minute e-learning modules followed by a short 5 minute quiz aimed at –

  • Combating stigma and raising awareness
  • Manager training
  • Resonable accommodations
  • Return to work
  • Employment strategies for persons with severe mental health conditions

Mental Health Foundation’s – Five Ways to Wellbing at Work

The Five Ways to Wellbeing (Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, Give) are proven to help people find balance, build resilience and boost mental health and wellbeing. The Five Ways to Wellbeing can also support workplaces to meet their health and safety obligations to manage risks to mental health and wellbeing.

This toolkit can help you build a strategy if you don’t already have one.

Mood Gym (Australia)


Moodgym is like an interactive self-help tool which helps you to learn and practise skills which can help to prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.

With over 1 million users worldwide, it is a fantastic resource to assist during these times.

R U OK? (UK)

R U OK, A conversation could change a life

This is a great resource for if you have concerns about someone’s mental health. It provides guidance on how to start and hold a conversation with them in a safe and supportive manner.

Simple steps that could change a life.

Heads Up – Better Mental Health in the Workplace (Australia)

Heads up, Better mental health in the workplace

A treasure trove of resources for all sections of workplaces, both large and small. Here you will find some great resources for the organisations, employees, managers and even small businesses.

Note: A number of these resources have accessibility flaws. We were unable to find resources that were developed with full accessibility in mind, but considered that the overall benefit to those who could access them outweighed not sharing these due to their incomplete accessibility. If you need assistance in making them available to staff with accessibility needs, please reach out on email to info@accessibilitytick.nz.

Making Online Meetings Accessible

There are many things that you can do to ensure your virtual meetings are usable by everyone, including those with accessibility needs. I thought that we would take the opportunity to share a few of them with you –

Assume there are people who are blind, deaf, neurodiverse, have a physical impairment, or any other number of accessibility needs joining your meeting

Unless you have information to the contrary, you should always assume that there are people who have accessibility needs attending your meeting and make the meeting as accessible as possible.

To obtain information to the contrary, you either need to –

  • Have existing relationships with each of the attendees and know they don’t need adjustments, or
  • Ask attendees to declare their accessibility needs ahead of the meeting.

When scheduling a meeting ask something like the following –

Our organisation is committed to ensuring our meetings are accessible for everyone. In order to be able to participate in this meeting successfully, do you have any adjustments/accommodations that you would like us to make? If so, what?

Understand the accessibility features of the tools that you are using

Most the mainstream tools for online meetings and webinars have information publicly available regarding their accessibility features. Take the time to understand what is possible with your tool.

Where you are using additional features of tools (such as whiteboards, chat, polling, etc.) understand the impacts that they may have on participants.

Have fit for purpose equipment

Quality audio visual equipment

Where at all possible, don’t just use a laptop’s built in web camera and microphone. Ensure that you use a high-quality web camera and microphone to ensure that everyone can hear and see you clearly.

Good quality broadband

Also ensure that you are connected to a suitable broadband connection to minimise the chances of any buffering causing issues with meeting members comprehension.

Ensure your materials are accessible

When creating your material, ensure that you follow accessibility best practices. This will require you upskilling to understand how to ensure they are accessible. You can do this by –

Share material out before or at the start of a meeting

Sending materials to the attendees before actually starting can allow them the opportunity to use them should they encounter accessibility barriers with the live meeting.

Provide Captions

The choice of which captioning technique you use will depend largely on the level of accuracy required, budget, needs of those in the meeting. Your options include:

Sign Language

If it is requested, you should engage a sign language interpreter. They will guide you through the process.

See the Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand’s Interpreter Directory (opens in a new tab) for a list of interpreters.

Ensure everything on screen is audio described

If something is put up on the screen don’t assume that the audience has read it. Some people will be unable to interact with the visible content so ensure that you have verbalised it as well.

If you can’t verbalise it, then the content shared well in advance to allow those with accessibility needs to consume and subsequently comprehend it ahead of the meeting.

Say your name every time you speak

Ensure that the meeting has an understood convention that every time someone speaks they say their names. This will allow those using audio only links, who are blind or have low vision, or for everyone else where someone has just not labelled themselves correctly in the software, to understand who it is that is talking.

Have someone monitoring the chat

Ensure that you have someone monitoring the chat who can assist people with any accessibility challenges that they may raise.

Post URLs in presentation in the chat

When you share a link to something in the presentation, ensure that the link is also made available in the chat function.

Pause at key points and ask for feedback

People with various accessibility needs may not feel confident to interrupt you to ask a question. Ensure that you ask questions at set points and allow plenty of time for them to do so, including by chat if they prefer.

If one person is dominating the conversation, ensure to ask others for feedback as well.