Are New Zealand businesses accessible and inclusive of employees with disabilities? There is still a lot of work to do, and Covid-19 is not helping – as NZBusiness discovered after checking in with Accessibility Tick MD Phil Turner.
According to Statistics NZ figures, in the June 2020 quarter New Zealanders with disabilities are three times less likely to be employed than their non-disabled peers. This persistent disparity in the employment rates is known as the ‘disability employment gap’.
That gap is currently just under 48 percent, and it’s not just large organisations that have the power to close it. Smaller enterprises can too.
Phil Turner is managing director of Accessibility Tick, the pan-disability social enterprise with a vision for bridging New Zealand’s accessibility and disability employment gaps. He explains that organisations have a variety of accessibility issues and a number of disability support bodies to liaise with to resolve them.
Accessibility Tick designed a way of making it easier for employers to undertake a disability inclusion journey. In delivering its Accessibility Tick programme, it partners with disability support organisations to help them to support their disabled clients in the workplace by creating a framework for interaction with each employer.
Turner says Accessibility Tick’s greatest achievement so far has been the influence it’s NZ Disability Employers’ Network is having on ensuring the employers’ voice is considered in the government’s recently released disability employment action plan ‘Working Matters’.
While the cost of the Accessibility Tick programme has meant that it has been somewhat focused on medium-to-large organisations, with only a couple of members from the small to medium category joining so far, Turner is keen to see this imbalance addressed.
“A working group of employers from the NZ Disability Employers’ Network is considering ways that access to the network can be achieved without having to undertake the full Accessibility Tick programme,” he explains. “This was being worked on actively as Covid-19 hit, but was put on hold whilst our members focused on the immediate needs of their organisations.”
Further work will likely be undertaken on this into early 2021, he says.
Covid-19 has also seriously affected members in the hospitality and travel industries, and therefore impacted on their ability to participate in the Accessibility Tick programme – so Turner says they’ve been busy helping them adjust their disability inclusion action plans to be more relevant to the new environment.
The biggest challenge delivered by the pandemic, however, has been the loss of funding to move forward Accessibility Tick’s plans of becoming fully employer owned and led. They’ve had to shelve plans to set up the network as an incorporated society, owned and operated by its members.
The benefits of an inclusive workplace
A 2018 Accenture Report entitled “Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage” found that businesses that actively seek to employ people with disabilities outperform businesses that don’t. Their revenues were 28 percent higher, net incomes two times more, and profit margins 30 percent higher.
There are other benefits for businesses too. “One of my favourite effects of it all is the increase in morale and culture within the organisation,” says Turner.
“Studies have shown that diversity supports better morale and culture, and when you have employees with disabilities and adjust for their needs you demonstrate to everyone that you care about your people.”
Turner says generally there are “pockets of great work” happening in New Zealand’s workplace accessibility space. “But there are also examples of the opposite.”
He believes that prior to Accessibility Tick, New Zealand businesses did not have the support needed for disability inclusion, and in a format that works for them.
Accessibility Tick addresses this by helping businesses and organisations understand their current state, providing them with recommendations for improvement, and then working alongside them to help make those changes.
Big plans, employer led
For Accessibility Tick the focus now is on establishing its employer working group to advance its plans to move to an employer owned model. “The goals for that will be led by the employers themselves,” says Turner.
“Meantime, we continue to ensure that the voice of the employer is heard on disability inclusion decisions that impact on them, so the best possible outcomes are realised for everyone.
“We continue to support members on their individual disability inclusion journeys, and seek out new members who can add to, and benefit from, the collective wisdom of the network.”
Champion of accessibility leadership
Ricoh New Zealand provides an excellent example of an organisation that has broadly championed accessibility and disability inclusion.
A finalist in the 2020 Attitude Awards, and a past Accessibility Tick award winner, the company has long been passionate about the Accessibility Tick brand. It’s a brand they can champion – one that allows them to build internal confidence so disabled staff can ‘shout it out’ and discuss their personal needs, allowing them to be the best staff member they can be.
“Evidence I’ve seen shows Ricoh as a truly compassionate employer, always working to support individuals,” says Accessibility Tick’s Phil Turner. “They have a strong history of supporting additional compassionate leave and developing individual return-to-work plans regardless of cause, illness or injury. That plan focuses on bringing the employee back to work in a supportive and employee-led way.”
Ricoh is a leading organisation in the Accessibility Tick Employers’ Network, he says – learning from the Accessibility Tick programme through annual reviews and planning on disability inclusion, but also contributing a lot back to help other organisations on their disability inclusion journeys.
“Ricoh have reported both a higher retention rate and low absenteeism of employees with disabilities. Their Culture of Care has developed their diversity, but more important, belonging, story.”
Photo above: A disability sector engagement meeting run by Accessibility Tick member Scentre Group New Zealand (Westfield).
Article by editor Glenn Baker. For more information about the Accessibility Tick visit www.accessibilitytick.nz