Disability awareness training is becoming more and more prevalent in Australia, which can only be seen as a good thing. People with disabilities in Australia often have difficulty interacting with businesses, through no fault of their own. In fact, the Australian Network on Disability (AND) reports that 28% of people with a disability had experienced discrimination by at least one organisation they’ve interacted with.
This figure, and in fact any figure above zero is far too high, so businesses have a key role to play in making people with disabilities feel welcomed and comfortable. Almost a third of Australians with a disability avoid situations such as going to the shops, because of their disability. However, by providing your staff with comprehensive disability awareness training, you can help promote a culture that’s inclusive and accepting of all people.
Why is disability awareness training important?
Disability awareness training in the workplace is important for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it’s about ensuring people with disabilities have the same access to services that everybody else has. Socially conscious businesses should be working hard to implement diversity and inclusion plans that make our communities a better place for all Australians.
There’s also benefits to your business, because 1 in 3 people with a disability say their customer service needs aren’t being met. That’s a huge percentage of the population who are looking for businesses who support their needs. While diversity and inclusion should never be about profits, simple mathematics say your business will perform better if you’re accessible to all people.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at the dos and don’t of implementing a disability training plan in your organisation.
Do: Seek expert advice from a training provider
All training is naturally best handled by professional trainers. However, when it comes to matters of diversity and inclusion, this need is amplified. When planning a disability awareness training program, there’s a certain level of sensitivity that needs to be kept in mind, just as there is with any training that touches on potentially difficult subject matter.
As such, it’s always recommended that you engage with an experienced, professional training company for advice and delivery of your training. Not only will the content be more engaging for staff, but you can also ensure the topic is handled with sensitivity and discretion.
Do: Consider including disability awareness training at onboarding
Disability awareness should never be an afterthought. If your staff have customer interactions early in their employment, and they have a difficult experience with a disabled customer, the damage is already done. Not only has the customer had a bad experience, but your company’s reputation could also suffer.
When onboarding new staff, consider implementing disability awareness training as part of the process. Not only does it show a commitment to good working practices, but it means your staff have the skills to serve customers with a disability from day one.
Do: Include your training as part of a wider diversity and inclusion strategy
Most businesses are now looking at ways to make their business more inclusive. This goal applies to making customers feel welcome regardless of their gender, race, sexual preference or ability. But it also applies to staff within your own workplace. That’s why many companies already have, or are working on, a diversity and inclusion strategy that covers everything.
From hiring a diverse workforce to making your business accessible to people with disabilities, an inclusion plan sets out a broad scope of goals to make your workplace more diverse and inclusive. Providing your staff with disability awareness training is a great addition to any diversity plan, as it shows a commitment to making a positive change.
Do: Release your training plan at an event to promote awareness
Promoting diversity and inclusion in your business should be par for the course. In that sense, you don’t need an enormous amount of fanfare to announce that you’re teaching staff to better serve customers with a disability. However, some kind of event to acknowledge your diversity and inclusion progress is never a bad idea.
You don’t even need to make it public, but internally it can be motivating for staff to see your commitment to diversity. If you do consider a community event, make it all about your whole approach to diversity and inclusion, rather than just your disability awareness training. Either way, it shows staff you’re serious about the training you’re asking them to complete.
Don’t: Restrict participation to only customer facing staff
A common mistake with disability awareness training is thinking it only applies to customer-facing staff. Certainly, a lot of the course content focuses on how to better serve customers with a disability. But that doesn’t preclude managers and admin staff from attending. Remember, it’s all about raising awareness and promoting a positive diversity culture, so everybody should be involved.
Many of the concepts you’ll be teaching staff can actually apply within the workplace too, particularly when you have employees with a disability. It’s important to note too, that not all disabilities are visible. You may have employees with a mental health disability, for example, that you don’t even know about. As such, training can be beneficial for everyone.
Don’t: Pressure staff with disabilities to take an active role
If you already have staff with a disability, you could probably assume they’ll be glad to see you implement this training plan. However, it’s quite dangerous to make such assumptions, because not everybody with a disability wants to be a campaigner for the cause. Many disability sufferers simply want to get on with their life and be treated like everyone else.
So, while planning a disability awareness plan, employees with a disability shouldn’t be pressured to get involved. They may not like talking about their disability, or they simply may not feel comfortable talking in large groups – just like any of your employees. You can always extend an informal invitation to be involved, however don’t apply any pressure.
Don’t: Share private disability information during the course
In some organisations, especially those that are reasonably close-knit, there can be a temptation to use real-world examples during training. While this is usually a very effective way to make course content more relatable and engaging, it’s also a trap when dealing with more sensitive subject matter.
If you’ve got staff with disabilities, the last thing they probably want is to be used as an example during training courses. If they’ve expressed an interest in being involved, and want to share their own experiences, that’s fantastic. But always keep in mind that those experiences are theirs to share, not anybody else’s. Keep any examples generic, to ensure nobody is offended by your course content.
Ultimately, every disability awareness training plan will be a little different depending on the industry you work in. You’ll want to adapt it to your unique business and your customer base, so the content for a restaurant may be quite different to a plumbing company. However, many of the concepts are universal, particularly those around communication, flexibility and being respectful. Plan your training well, and you’ll have a stronger workforce and happier customers as a result.