David Banes is a Global Access and Inclusion Consultant and was previously CEO of Mada, the Qatar Assistive Technology Centre. Read his thoughts on why businesses have much to gain from employing people with a disability.

Work is important. It is how we achieve our aspirations and quality of life, how we contribute to the society in which we live and is often where lifelong attachments and friendships are formed. For people with a disability, employment and meaningful work contributes to self-esteem, well being and inclusion within the community. It has been said elsewhere that for many people the only relief from poverty is through employment. Work matters.

Recent initiatives in Qatar have done much to expand the employment opportunities of those with disability in Qatar, seeking to find purposeful jobs for those with additional needs, where traditionally no such job was available. 

Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim Al Thani has said that Qatar Chamber ‘strongly urges’ local companies to recruit trained and qualified people with special needs ‘in appropriate jobs’. He announced that Qatar Chamber ‘will bolster communication and coordination’ with Qatar Society for Rehabilitation of Special Needs (QSRSN) ‘to bridge it with private sector institutions and companies, and enable members (to) find jobs’, and legislation across the country supports the rights of people with a disability to enter the jobs market. While such progress is applauded, there is much that can be done to build upon this, not least within the private sector and Qatari businesses.

As we look towards 2022 and the impending world cup, it draws into focus the notion that people with disabilities can be customers. They have income and to spend it, they need to feel welcomed and valued. Restaurants, hotels, leisure facilities and a range of shops and services will hope that the influx of visitors will want to make use of their offerings while in the country. The same can be true of citizens, residents and visitors at all other times. People with a disability do not use facilities alone. The businesses they choose to use most are those that welcome them, and those decisions might include friends and family. When a business is inaccessible it is not only turning away one person, but all the people they might bring with them as well.

It makes good commercial sense for businesses to encourage those with a disability to be customers. Achieving this can feel challenging and employing people with a disability, who bring their additional experience alongside the other skills and knowledge they have, is one way in which this challenge can be addressed. Employers need not create special posts for people with a disability, but once they have been employed, in whatever capacity, they offer added value.

Moreover, most people with a disability acquire their disability as adults. Either as a result of illness or trauma, or as the natural consequence of aging, there are few businesses that can afford to lose the expertise and experience of great employees just because they have acquired additional needs. 

People with a disability have many of the attributes that employers are seeking. Those graduating from universities within Qatar and internationally are well-qualified and eager to contribute to the country and their employers. Others who have graduated from high school often undertake further training to get qualifications in the areas in which they wish to work. In Qatar, you can find people with a disability employed in almost every sector – banking, communications, law, etc. They are valued and committed.

To acquire this added value that people with a disability can bring, there are some steps that employers can take to recruit and retain those with additional needs. Here are some of the most important:

Demonstrate Your Commitment
It is much easier to recruit and retain people with a disability if you promote your commitment publicly. There are many ways to do so: you can make sure that you connect with disabled people organisations, display posters and align your social responsibility or charitable activities with thinking inclusively.  

Prepare Your Team for Working with People with Disability
Some of your team may be anxious or poorly informed about working alongside a person with a disability. Some simple, and even online disability awareness training will help, dispelling myths and especially reducing anxiety about what to say or not say with a disabled colleague. Preparing line managers to clarify expectations and support for a disabled team member will assist also; they represent the front line of your public commitment.

One message you may be communicating at this stage is that anyone might acquire a disability at any time, the things we do now might be important to any employee one day.

People with disabilitiesAnticipate Adjustments in the Workplace
Gather some information on simple things you can do to anticipate the needs of disabled people and set up a process to make any adjustments or accommodations that might be needed in the future. Some things are very simple, ensuring that there are ramps into your building, offering accessible documents, including technology for the deaf in reception areas, etc. But it is also very important to get people thinking more inclusively: not blocking entrances or corridors with flowers or boxes, labelling routes and doors around the building, and so on.

One major adjustment you can consider, which may benefit many employees, is the introduction of flexible working practices. Allowing those with a disability some flexibility over working hours, breaks and travel can make for a far more productive employee.

Review Your Recruitment Process
Think carefully about how you attract and recruit your employees – do any of your practices make it impossible to someone with a disability to know that you are seeking someone? While it is useful to inform disabled people organisations of potential jobs, it is equally important to ensure that your advertising is accessible to all. Having job descriptions and other information available in accessible electronic formats will help also. 

Seek to Retain those Acquiring a Disability
Encourage your team to be open about any difficulties that they are encountering as they emerge. If you have an HR department they should seek to communicate that you value your employees and can talk about some practical steps that they can undertake to assist anyone before an issue becomes a crisis.

Offer Inclusive Products and Services
As a business you will value all of your customers or clients. Making it clear that you think about the needs of disabled customers will communicate clearly to potential disabled employees that you might be a good company to commit to. 

Communicate Inclusively
Communications and marketing are your route and channel to the wider community, as well as serving the needs of your team. When you communicate, consider the needs of those with disabilities, to be as inclusive as possible and adjust where needed. Making sure that videos have captions, that documents can be converted to braille, and that your social media posts are open to everyone will all help you to reach the widest possible audience. That helps with sales and with attracting or retaining the best talent. 

Consider Your Premises
Undertake a simple review of your workplace: try walking around it thinking about what problems a person using a wheelchair or crutches might have, is the workplace very noisy, is it easy to know who is behind an office door. A simple review process can help all of your employees.

Check Your Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
Do you know if your technology is accessible and usable by those with disabilities and how you make adjustments for individuals? There is great expertise in Qatar and internationally who can advise you in your procurement and use of technology. Accessible technology tends to be more usable for everyone, reducing the risk of pain and strain at a workstation and helping to reduce days lost through ill health.  

International integrated chemicals and energy company Sasol has issued accessibility guidelines to improve access to exhibition stands for people with disabilities, and a system to conduct accessibility audits for these stands, under community initiative Accessible Qatar (AQ). This is the first time in Qatar that accessibility is considered not just on the exhibition itself but also on individual stands. AQ developed an electronic stands accessibility audit system with the DECC and Qatar Tourism Authority (now National Tourism Council), making it easy to conduct accessibility audits for the large number of stands at each exhibition. Under the Definitely Able and Accessible Qatar corporate social responsibility initiatives, Sasol has actively promoted accessibility, inclusion, and the empowerment of disabled persons in Qatar, helping to make many venues and public places in Qatar more accessible.

There are some great sources of information in Qatar to draw upon. The work of energy company Sasol, with their Definitely Able initiative and the Accessible Qatar application, demonstrates how much can be done with commitment and great leadership. Ultimately the most important thing you can do as a business and prospective employer is to engage with people with a disability. Use disability organisations as a means of inviting them to visit your company, even if you do not have a role now. Their expertise will help you recruit more easily in the future. At careers fairs encourage disabled graduates to come talk to you, make it clear you want them to visit your booth.  

Open up your business to employees with a disability – your business, your customers, and your team will all thank you for it.

Author: David Banes is Director of David Banes Access and Inclusion Services and was formerly CEO at Mada, the Qatar Assistive Technology and Accessibility Center based in Doha. Throughout his career, he has been responsible for developing services to ensure that people with a disability are digitally included, and in shaping the broad policy framework required to ensure and sustain this. As a consultant addressing all aspects of access and inclusion through disability, he has a special interest in how access will be ensured as technology and our understanding of disability shifts.

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