Building a Sustainable Disability Strategy

As a bespoke consultancy supporting organisations, including schools, with all aspects of disability inclusion, CrystalEyes is delighted to be hosting a workshop at SAfE’s ‘Belonging Without Barriers’ on the 9th of February 2022. In this blog, we explore why a disability strategy is needed, the purpose of a disability strategy and some of the key areas that such a strategy should focus on.

Why should a school have a disability strategy?

Given that disability is a protected characteristic, as defined by the Equality Act 2010, it might seem tempting to include this as part of a wider EDI strategy. Although this sounds sensible in theory, it may not work in reality. Whilst 16% of the UK workforce self-report as disabled only 0.5% work in education. This means that at a time of staff shortage, schools are missing out on a talented and committed group of workers. This area, however, is a particularly complex one due to the number of disabilities that exist, meaning that any strategy has to encompass a number of areas. A bespoke strategy ensures that disability inclusion is a core element of your school’s identity.

What should a disability strategy aim to achieve?

The social model of disability provides a useful starting point. This model states that people are disabled by the barriers that society imposes on them and not by impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, such as buildings not having wheelchair ramps. Alternatively, barriers can be caused by non-disabled people’s attitude towards difference, such as the assumptions that can be made about what a disabled person can or cannot do. Whilst some may disagree with this definition of disability, the aim of a disability strategy should surely be to ensure that disabled people enjoy equality of access, opportunity and inclusion by identifying and removing potential barriers to achieving this? A second, but nonetheless important, aim should, without question, be to become members of the government’s disability confident scheme, which will increase your school’s credibility within its local community and allow you to recruit from a wider talent pool.

Key elements of a sustainable disability inclusion strategy

Infrastructure

Infrastructure is a vital part of a sustainable disability inclusion strategy. This includes some obvious things such as lifts and ramps for wheelchair users, accessible toilets and accessible parking spaces. However, there are other elements that schools should always consider. For example, is your website accessible for those who are blind, deaf or dyslexic? Does your school allow for alternative methods of communication to phone and email such as text message via Esendex or BSL via a video relay system such as Sign Live? Is your school able to provide documents in alternative formats such as large print, braille and audio?

Recruitment

Disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to non-disabled people. But one issue that occurs regularly is the inaccessibility of recruitment processes and the perception that non-disabled people make assumptions when recruiting. Given the number of disabled people in the UK, it seems such a shame for schools and other organisations to be potentially missing out on such a large talent pool, especially if issues with recruitment processes are the reason. However, there are many things that your school could implement as part of its disability strategy. For example, do you accept application forms in a range of formats? Do you offer a guaranteed interview to disabled applicants who meet the essential job criteria? Are you and your staff keeping up to date with the support available from ‘Access to Work’?

Disability awareness training

Disability awareness training is the strongest tool available to a school, as it gives staff and students the skills and confidence to interact with a disabled person, allows a school to create as inclusive an environment as possible and ensures that your students leave school with the necessary commitment to disability inclusion to be successful in the workplace. Whilst one-off sessions are welcome, their impact is likely to be short-lived. Sustained impact requires a strategic approach. How are you going to embed disability inclusion in both the curriculum and inset training?

For further information, advice and guidance please contact Callum Russell, founder CrystalEyes.

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