Diversity and Inclusivity in the Workplace: Making Learning Accessible For All

“It’s all very well and good to acknowledge the diversity that we have all around us, but we actually don’t get any value in terms of innovation, productivity or profit unless those people are feeling included – irrespective of who they are as individuals.” – Linbert Spencer (speaking at The Coaching Conversation 2018)

Overlook diversity and inclusion in your business and you risk losing workers, damaging your brand and causing a catastrophic lack of cohesion across the board. But, done right, building a diverse workforce built on a solid foundation of inclusivity can really make your workplace stand out as an attractive place to work – helping you to attract and retain the very best talent.

But what do we mean by diversity and inclusion and why is it so crucial to the ongoing success of our organisations? What does diversity have to do with innovation, productivity and profit?

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What is Diversity and Inclusion?

Diversity relates to the concept of being different. So in the context of employment, workforce diversity relates to the “similarities and differences among employees in terms of age, cultural background, physical abilities and disabilities, race, religion, sex, and sex orientation.” Inclusion, therefore, is the act of including all employees, regardless of these differences. What Linbert Spencer means when he says that “you only get value from diversity if you have inclusion” is that if people do not feel able to participate and achieve their potential, then your culture is not one of inclusivity or equality – no matter how diverse your workforce is.

This sends out a troubling message – one which could have you losing skilled workers to other organisations, as well as damaging your brand’s image.

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Why Do We Need Accessibility in Learning?

A critical aspect we need to consider in L&D is how accessible our learning is to each individual. In your organisation, do all learners, including those with disabilities or long-term health conditions, have equal opportunities to train and develop? Are your learning programmes accessible for all?

People with disabilities or long-term health conditions make up a significant proportion of the population today. According to Parliamentary figures, 7.5 million people reported that they had a disability between July–September 2018 – that’s 22% of the working population. Yet out of these, only half of them are in work. CIPD notes that this is a significant proportion of potential talent which is being overlooked, particularly in light of the fact that our population is ageing and there’s an increasing likelihood that more people will fall into this category in future. Let’s not forget about neurodivergent conditions such as autism and dyslexia, who represent more than 10% of the population. It’s statistics like these that have prompted organisations such as Microsoft, JPMorgan and Google to develop or run neurodiversity-at-work initiatives – and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. JPMorgan reported that “after three to six months of working in the Mortgage Banking Technology Division, autistic workers were doing the work of people who took three years to ramp up – and were even 50% more productive.”

The message is clear: accessibility is critical to your organisational success. It’s time to start lifting barriers.

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How Do We Improve Accessibility?

Imagine you’re delivering a training programme that involves getting your learners to watch a video, complete a group discussion activity and then answer some questions in an online quiz. One of your learners, Kate, has impaired hearing. Another one of your learners, Swaran, has a severe speech impediment. Both are extremely hardworking employees and both have special requirements. How can you make sure they both get an equal chance to learn?

Let’s start with the video. If Kate is simply presented with the video as it is, she cannot hear what is going on and misses some key information. Swaran is unaffected.

Next is the group discussion. Both Kate and Swaran face unique barriers here; Kate cannot clearly hear what is being said in her group and becomes too embarrassed to ask people to repeat themselves or ask her trainer for help. Instead, she shrinks back and remains quiet. In the group next to her, she notices that Swaran is also sitting in silence. He cannot clearly communicate his ideas through speech and also begins to feel embarrassed. He loses motivation and stops listening. Neither learner benefits from the training and so both perform poorly on their online tests.

You later learn that both Kate and Swaran have dropped out of the training course altogether and have gone on to find work elsewhere. And is it any surprise?

In his article on accessibility, ‘Disabilities: What Are They?’, Michael Osbourne, Digital Product Manager at ProfitAbility notes that “we can – and all share a common responsibility to – avoid these disabling situations. This is what is known as accessibility.” While those in HR have a responsibility to ensure that all people have equal employment opportunities, as an L&D manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that all of your staff have equal access to learning opportunities. In our blog, ‘The Changing Role of L&D: The Power of Collaboration’, we outlined the benefits of working together with your key stakeholders. Speak with line managers and HR managers – these are the people who really know your learners well. By working together as a team, you can all pull together to build the bridges that make learning accessible for all.

By fostering an inclusive environment, paying attention to your learners and ensuring that those with special requirements are always supported when they ask for help, Kate and Swaran might have felt more comfortable with disclosing their conditions and seeking assistance. Kate could have been granted access to video captioning or assistive listening devices (ALCs) and Swaran might have been able to use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device that can synthesise speech from text.

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Why Learning Technologies Matter

The learning technology you use, and how compatible it is with assistive hardware, should also be carefully considered to make sure it supports users’ individual requirements. It is no good having top-of-the range learning technology if it does not support external assistive hardware. And with WCAG standards constantly being updated, you should bear in mind that accessibility is now also a legal requirement. It’s that important. You need to really make sure that your learning technology providers have designed the product with accessibility in mind from the outset, and not treated it as an ‘add-on’ at the end (because, in most cases, working in retrospect doesn’t work).

At CDSM, we are committed to constantly developing our Thinqi platform so as many people as possible have access to our cutting-edge blended learning technology. Our values mean that our company was one of the first to explore the concept of accessible design back in 2002, and formed the basis of the work we have done with Dig Inclusion, the Shaw Trust, Welsh Government and WDA. In addition to this, we continue to test our platform not only through technical testing, but also specific user testing. The beauty of this is that we can explore how the individual needs of users appear in real-life, so that we can pinpoint exactly where problems arise and then look into resolving them.

It’s all about unique user experience.

In Summary…

“I think it’s always so important to see role models at each level in a company so people can come in and say ‘there’s someone who is like me and so there have to be opportunities for me.’” – Gordon Smith, CEO of Consumer & Community Banking (JPMorgan)

It’s important to note that while we must be aware that some learners may need additional assistance to overcome barriers to learning, we must not make the mistake of assuming that someone’s ability to learn or perform is undermined by a disability or health condition. By creating a culture of inclusivity, people can comfortably choose to discuss any special requirements they have, so that they can get the right level of support for their development.

There’s no getting around it – accessibility is critical to your business. By getting it right, we can celebrate having a diverse and inclusive workforce – and fully benefit from the innovation, productivity and profit that naturally grows from it.

If you would like to learn more about how a cutting-edge blended learning ecosystem can help you reach your organisational goals, we’ve got the tools and expertise to help you succeed. Call 01792 463865 or visit www.thinqi.co.uk to arrange to speak to one of our experts.

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