Employers For Change was founded in March 2021 and provides advice and guidance to employers who want to hire people with disabilities. We caught up with Christabelle Feeney, Director of Employers for Change to find out more:
How did Employers for Change begin?
Employers for Change is a project funded by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. The project was launched in March 2021 by the Open Doors Initiative. We have a strategy group made up of employer and disability stakeholders who guide our work. That group includes AsIam, Chambers Ireland, Chime, Dept of Social Protection, Enterprise Ireland, IBEC, ICTU, IDA, NDA, Open Doors Initiative, Dept of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, SFA, Sinéad Burke and Walk
What are your main services? What sets you apart?
Employers for Change is an employer disability information service. The service empowers employers with all the information and advice needed to hire inclusively and to employ, manage and retain staff with disabilities.
- Provides a dedicated helpline giving advice and information to employers about recruiting and employing people with disabilities.
- Hosts a central web-based information resource incorporating guidance and a FAQ section.
- Provides and participates in awareness raising and outreach activities.
- Maintains links with employer stakeholders and disability stakeholders.
- Promotes the positive business case for the employment of people with disabilities.
We provide one to one advice as well as training and awareness raising seminars for employers
Topics we cover include:
• Understanding disability: Examples of Disability, preferred language, and social model of disability
• Creating a more inclusive approach to recruiting employees: job spec, application, shortlisting, testing and interviews
• Devising inclusive on-boarding material and processes
• Guiding principles of disclosure
• Implementing reasonable accommodations & Reasonable accommodation passport
• Inclusive & Accessible Communications: Formats, Design & Website
• Available Grants & Supports
Our service is free and open to all employers in the Republic of Ireland both private, state and semi-state.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about employing people with disabilities in the workplace? How do you go about dispelling some of these myths?
Despite legislation on equality in the workplace, people with disabilities do not experience the same access to employment opportunities as their non disabled peers.
There are a variety of misconceptions which act as barriers to employing people with disabilities. There can be misconceptions about the ability of individuals with disabilities to carry out a job. A lack of awareness of disability or perception of what may be involved in reasonable accommodation and concerns over costs can act as a significant barrier. Sometimes there is fear of legal liability/making a mistake and ending up down a litigious route.
However, at the root of all of these misconceptions is a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding. Education is key to dispelling these myths and broadening of mindsets. Awareness is not enough in itself we must instill true understanding into organisation leaders and decision makers. We must also communicate the benefits of disability inclusion and communicate the wonderful talent organisations are missing out on by not addressing these misconceptions and opening their doors to diverse talent.
In your experience what are some of the most common misperceptions employers have about implementing reasonable accommodations in the workplace when employing people with disabilities?
One of the greatest misperceptions employers have about reasonable accommodation is cost and what constitutes a reasonable accommodation. Oftentimes employers fear that they will not be able to provide an accommodation. They assume all accommodations are related to structural changes to buildings and have a huge cost. The reality is that most accommodations have no or little cost. There is also a lack of awareness around the grants available for accommodations through the Department of Social Protection. Employers can find details of those supports on our website at https://employersforchange.ie/Grants-Schemes. Under the legislation employers must look at what funding is available before deciding that they cannot provide a reasonable accommodation.
How have you seen employers’ attitudes change towards employing people with disabilities since you began?
We have had the opportunity to work with some wonderful employers since we launched a year ago. It is clear that there is an appetite for learning and a greater degree of understanding around the importance of an inclusive culture. Disability has always struggled to get to the fore of the Diversity and Inclusion agenda but the tremendous work of many organisations like Open Doors, AsIam, WALK, Valuable 500, NDA, Chime, Irish Wheelchair Association and so many others has meant that there has been a real surge in engagement. We are seeing more and more companies approach us for disability awareness training and to seek advice on implementing reasonable accommodations. There is great progress being made but lots more work to be done.
Do you have any success stories you can share with us?
We have worked with numerous employers over the course of the year and we are lucky to have had some great success stories. These range from employees with disabilities starting work in a supportive work environment with the appropriate reasonable accommodations implemented, to employees returning to work after acquiring a disability as well as more general disability inclusion and accessibility measures being implemented. Recently we had a top law firm introduce live captioning to all of their internal and external events along with a number of other accessibility measures. These changes can have a huge impact for employees who may not feel comfortable requesting an accommodation. All of our work is focused on creating inclusive workplaces where employees feel supported to bring their whole selves to work and feel confident in requesting reasonable accommodations.
How did the pandemic affect the organisation? Are there any positives you can take from this time?
Employers for Change was launched mid-pandemic at a time when many people were working remotely for the first time. The pandemic has humanised us all in many ways and I think that it has removed some barriers while also negatively impacting social inclusion and mental wellbeing for many. You have to acknowledge the positive and the negatives of the last two years. We have had an opportunity to reach many employers through virtual calls and training sessions. Similarly, pre – Covid, remote work was a notional idea that was feared by some employers even though it had the potential to remove some barriers for disabled employees such as access to transport. Employers can now see the benefits of a remote or hybrid working model which will create greater access to employment for people with disabilities. However, it is really important that this be an option and not an alternative to providing other accommodations for employees with disabilities. It is important that we remain connected in this new hybrid world. We carried out research on the topic last year and you can find the full report at https://figshare.com/articles/online_resource/The_Future_of_Work_and_Disability_A_Remote_Opportunity/16940593
How did you go about building out your team? What would be some of your advice about hiring for businesses with a social mission?
We are very new and a small organisation working within the Open Doors Initiative umbrella. The first piece of advice I would give to any organisation about hiring is ask yourself are you inclusive, have you stated your commitment to inclusion on your career’s page, in your job post? Have you checked the accessibility of your site or where you are posting the job ad? Are you specific in your job advert, ensuring you are focused on the core functions and skills related to the role? Could you add more detail about the physical environment and what physical movement is required for the role? Are you actively inviting people from diverse backgrounds to apply? Have you stated that you will provide reasonable accommodations for candidates with disabilities and who to contact? How are you shortlisting your CVs? Are your interview panel trained in disability awareness and general diversity and inclusion? Are you asking all candidates the same competency-based questions?
These are all positive actions in the hiring process that are easily implemented and will ensure you are hiring the best person for the job. If you are an employer seeking guidance on the accessibility of your hiring process for disabled candidates, then please do contact us at email@example.com. Employers for Change is currently carrying out research with Open Doors and Sligo IT on Inclusive Recruitment Practices which will result in a toolkit for employers and recruiters being published in the coming weeks. The toolkit will be available on our website www.employersforchange.ie
Have you won any awards in recent years? What were some of the highlights?
As a relatively new project we have not won any awards yet but the true measure of success for us is the employers we engage with who are making changes that will positively impact the lives of existing and potential employees with disabilities. We have had some wonderful opportunities over the last twelve months to speak at events like the Irish Wheelchair Association and Free Now’s Access Now event. These have given us the opportunity to share the stage with truly inspirational speaker and reach a wide audience. We look forward to many more.
Are there any other organisations in Ireland that you’re a big fan of?
There are so many organisations that I don’t want to start singling any out. There are so many incredible people and organisations who have worked tirelessly for many years to improve the lives of some of the most marginalised groups in Irish society and we are very fortunate to have an opportunity to work with some of them. If there is any organisation, employer or person out there who would like to learn more about our work or who thinks we could assist them, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org