Stereotypical attitudes stop progress for people with disabilities in tech

Northern Voices, Opinion, Startup stories, Newcastle

Nadina OsmaniNadina Osmani, December 13, 2017

This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.

Northern Voices participant Diane Reddell is a disabled person working as a Junior Developer in the Department of Work and Pensions.

“It saddened me to read the chancellor’s comments about disabled people in the workplace,” she said, after seeing chancellor Philip Hammond’s comments that Britain’s productivity may be on a downturn because there are more disabled people in the labour market than there used to be.

During her day job, Diane develops accessibility standards within DWP Digital Engineering department. She helps them to continually improve their diversity as part of the DWP women’s group and the PCS Disability forum.

“It was very much a stereotypical viewpoint and it is often used by some employers not to hire people with disabilities.”

“Actually,” Diane says, “the reverse of the viewpoint is more likely to happen. As many people with disabilities struggle to find employment, they will work their hardest to be the most productive employee to remain in employment.”

“People with disabilities have to do so much planning in our day to day lives. We might have to plan an everyday journey in advance, and accommodate something like a care worker or service dog. We’ll need to know how much the entire journey will cost and all the different modes. We’ll need to know the transport we might have to take and budget for everything. We’re all about process and cost, it makes us great project managers!”

diane at the student awards

Which factors hold disabled people back?

“The major issues that myself and many other people with disabilities have is increased costs, access to transportation, negotiating their environment and access to buildings such as theatres, stadiums etc. and the seating they use and available spaces for wheelchairs, assistance dogs etc.”

There are some small things that employers can do to help. Diane suggests considering whether your office spaces and buildings where meetings or events are held are accessible to all.

There are also ways that employers can help disabled people get to the office.

“Employers can support campaigns to get more accessible transport including a disabled taxi share scheme or trains which have ramps which cover the gap between train and the platform.”

There are also factors in the interview process which may prevent people with disabilities from getting into the interview stage, or progressing up management chains in their careers.

“Many people want to work up the management chain but also find barriers which they have to overcome, in particular access, recruitment and selection processes and unconscious bias from work colleagues.” Diane says.

Diane suggests that these unconscious biases require a change to a more open company culture. One way to build that new culture is to create worker forums to test recruitment and selection processes with disabled people involved.

“A useful tool to prevent issues with unconscious bias and recruitment and selection is Clear Talents. It allows all potential employees, not just disabled employees, to establish their needs during recruitment and once in a role and it helps employers understand what reasonable adjustments are and how to put them in place. There is also, Access to Work which is a government scheme available to help people get into and stay in work.”

She also recommends Abilitynet as a reliable source of information and resources.

Making the future better for disabled people in tech

Diane says the collaboration and open cultures are really key to making the future better for disabled people in tech.

“In the future, if more people with disabilities are employed in digital roles and there is a greater collaboration between policy makers, digital disruptors and people with disabilities, all these issues will disappear. This will provide parity between people with and without disabilities.”

Outside of her day job, Diane is an outspoken disability rights activist and blogger.

“In the disability digital space, we need to become tempered radicals and dream big but plan small.” She says, of her frequent work to improve rights for disabled people in the workplace.

Diane is also in the process of finishing her masters dissertation, where she is developing a prototype to help people code using their voice.

“People are getting used to using things like Alexa now and using their voice to interact with computers.”

The aim of her project is to make tech a more accessible career for people with mobility related disabilities, whether they’re working from home or in a big IT office.

“I would love to see more people with a range of disabilities especially women/transwomen working and excelling in the digital industry.”

Book Diane to speak at your event

Diane is an expert speaker on disability and accessibility in tech, but she knows more than plenty about software development and further education too. You can view her profile or book her to speak at your event.