Not just accessibility awareness

Doing better for our customers means doing better for ourselves

I’ve been leading accessibility efforts at Anaplan for a year now, and it’s been an amazing journey. I’m on a product team, so my job is to help produce things — the what. Yet our work on accessibility has been such a rich experience because of the who — the diverse colleagues I am proud to work with every day, including those with disabilities. As we deliver on accessibility for our customers, we learn more about how we can make a better and more inclusive experience for ourselves.

Weve taken many opportunities across our global sites to embrace learning from others. Each May we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day, focusing on education, networking and trying out assistive technology. This year, one of our US offices learned about visual impairments to be more supportive of a colleague who is losing his sight. In the UK, a colleague shared her experiences with repetitive strain injury on a panel of speakers about dexterity issues.

In April we hosted an autism awareness event, including a session by an autistic colleague who shared his experience of being diagnosed as an adult. So many reached out during this event and said — hey, that’s me too — that we’ve now set up a neurodiverse network. I’m mum to an autistic son and I have been exploring my own neurodiversity. Having a network of colleagues I can talk with who “get it” is immeasurable.

According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 15% of the global population has some form of disability that affects their life on a daily basis. I’ve connected with colleagues across the globe who are colour blind, have visual impairments, chronic fatigue syndrome and mental health conditions. I’m lucky to work at a company that has an open and inclusive culture. Yet research by Scope found that 48% of disabled people in UK employment worry about sharing information regarding their disability at work. We must do better than this.

When we are open and talk about disabilities in the workplace, we create a safe environment for others to reach out and say — hey, me too. This also includes those who are the parents, partners or caregivers of those with disabilities, who may need time away for appointments, diagnosis and support. Employers increasingly support flexible work and wellbeing initiatives, which can help all colleagues to find balance. We all win when we can be our authentic selves at work.

From awareness to inclusion

Most businesses don’t intentionally set out to block opportunities for those with disabilities, however through lack of knowledge or understanding, they create barriers to employment or success. Unfortunately, many businesses flat out discriminate too. It’s up to us to ensure we do better and we are inclusive.

There are disabled colleagues already in our workplaces —let’s make sure they are supported, feel able to discuss their needs and are free from bullying or harassment. When a colleague tells you something about their disability and what they need, believe them. Don’t compare it with stereotypical things you think you know about disabilities. Listen to their language and how they refer to their diversity. Be open minded and supportive. If you don’t understand something, ask.

But — just listening is not good enough either. We must ensure we provide disabled colleagues the opportunity to take a leadership role in shaping decisions around inclusive company policies and initiatives. If they aren’t helping to steer the conversation, get them involved. Who better to understand these needs than someone who lives with them every day?

Our grassroots, employee-led initiatives around accessibility and neurodiversity at Anaplan are challenging us to be a more open and inclusive place for our customers, partners and ourselves. We couldn’t have gotten where we are today without executive leadership support. We’ve worked with teams across product, engineering, technical content, customer care, recruitment, human resources, legal, workforce services, training, management, procurement, marketing and events to ensure we are doing the best that we can for others. We’ve got a lot to learn, and we will most likely make mistakes along the way. But we are moving in the right direction, and our diverse colleagues will help us get there.

You can learn more about being an inclusive employer via programs such as Disability Confident in the UK or Disability:IN in the USA.

Alicia is User Research Principal at a digital consulting company and is currently HIRING a team of researchers. Follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter for more stories about building teams, strategic change and inclusive design.

Research Principal @ AND Digital currently HIRING researchers. Follow Alicia for more stories about inclusive design, building teams and strategic leadership.