The Belongong Continuum. A red line trends upwards with the words Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (circled) at equal intervals along it. The Accessibility Tick logo is in the bottom right.

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…

Diversity

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.

Inclusion

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.

Belonging

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.