Hidden Talent: Ability Overrides Disability
By Walter Tsui, co-founder and CEO of CareER
  • As the primary enabler of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategies, the HR function is in a leading position to drive disability inclusion in the workplace.

  • While Hong Kong's talent pool of people with disabilities (PWDs) includes individuals holding a wide range of academic degrees, professional certifications and work experience, their skills remain underutilised. 

At a time when employers are paying more attention to their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) practices, when it comes to hiring people with disabilities, one of the biggest tendencies is to focus on the disability and not the actual ability. 

To ensure that PWD job candidates are not defined by his or her disability, CareER, established in 2014 as a registered charity, operates a free job-matching platform for employers and higher educated persons with disabilities and individuals with special educational needs. To facilitate the job-matching process between PWD job candidates and potential employers, CareER, pronounced “Care-E-R”, which stands for Care in Education and Recruitment, conducts career aspirations, skills and ability assessments with PWD job seekers, who are subsequently matched with employers’ job requirements and business needs. This means that during the interview process the conversation can focus on the nature of the work and the suitability of the candidate to perform the tasks required. 

Like the majority of professional job seekers, PWDs are looking for a career, not simply employment. Career-focused PWDs look for the opportunity to learn, develop and build purposeful careers that contribute to society. Like any job seeker, they want to feel they belong in the workplace and enjoy a healthy work-life balance with an employer that cares.

Overlooked talent pool 

Disability touches every demographic. According to the World Health Organisation, about 15%, or roughly 1.3 billion of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. This includes many types of “invisible” disabilities, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other ailments that might not be apparent, yet impact an individual’s work activities to varying degrees. In the years immediately preceding COVID-19, while Hong Kong’s overall employment was staying at a high level, the employment rates for PWDs were persistently low, according to a survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by CareER revealed that although close to 80% of surveyed organisations trust the abilities of PWDs, less than 20% have taken meaningful steps to recruit them as part of the DE&I strategies. The three main reasons cited by employers for not recruiting PWDs, include a lack of job matching knowledge, uncertainty about providing the hardware and software to ensure a safe and user-friendly workplace and not being able to identify the right channels to hire PWDs. 

While some employers might be concerned about the cost of making adaptations to the workplace to accommodate PWDs, it should be noted that many PWDs are capable of adapting to different environments. For example, people with hearing or vision impairments find little difficulty using regular toilet facilities. It is also worth keeping in mind that through necessity, PWDs are often accomplished problem-solvers with the capability to identify different ways of achieving the same goal.

Improving employment practices to be more inclusive

While a growing number of Hong Kong employers with whom CareER partners are already taking positive steps to improve  employment of PWDs through inclusive actions, one of the most common challenges for organisations looking to advance their disability inclusion initiatives is identifying where to start. To overcome this hurdle, CareER offers corporate training services to promote workplace disability inclusion and collaborates with organisations on their disability inclusion journey. Meanwhile, as organisations develop inclusion strategies to meet environmental, social and governance (ESG) obligations, CareER has compiled a Disability Inclusion Index (CareER DII), which is a comprehensive assessment tool to enable organisations to build a roadmap of measurable and tangible actions towards workplace disability inclusion.

Ensuring the recruitment process is inclusive

Recruiting PWDs does not have to be over complicated. Nevertheless, employers who want to ensure that their recruitment procedures are inclusive of people with disabilities can begin by evaluating the entire process for barriers or obstacles to inclusion. For example, while technologies and automation tools can help to optimise the hiring journey, how accessible is the organisation’s online application and career portal to those with vision impairment? Website navigation should allow both mouse and keyboard accessibility so that PWDs can easily use the site. Even better, if an applicant is unable to see the information on the site, they should be able to hear it.

When it comes to the actual recruitment process, PWDs don’t want or expect to be treated differently, but do expect to be treated fairly and equally. This includes the opportunity to take part in the interview process to determine the best candidate for the position. To eliminate possible disadvantages that a PWD applicant may encounter if required to take an on-line test, it can be helpful to inform a candidate ahead of time. If necessary, this will allow time to make preparations such as setting up a zoom magnifier or a text-to-speech programme. It should also be noted that people with invisible disabilities, such as those on the autism spectrum, can sometimes find it difficult to perform well at interviews because of the way the process is conducted. 

While PWD recruiting strategies play a prominent role in expanding DE&I initiatives, an immediate action with long-term dividends can be implemented by offering internships. Internships not only help individuals — especially students or recent graduates with disabilities to gain confidence and experience — they also benefit the organisation by creating a potential pipeline of talent for the future.

In terms of on-boarding, the HR function can take the lead to ensure processes and systems are inclusive of all needs and abilities. Forming an inclusive organisational culture doesn’t just come from HR policies; it is a long-term mission which needs to be driven from the top down. The C-suite needs to support robust policies which set out the company’s commitment to fostering an inclusive culture that is underpinned by core responsibilities and expectations. To promote an inclusive culture, the HR function can be creative in rethinking job design and remodelling how teams are built to make the most of individual and collective strengths. Through actively supporting the career progression of PWDs with opportunities to match their skills to the right roles, the HR function can demonstrate the value and success of DE&I strategies. Positive DE&I outcomes can also complement the growing need to align with environmental, social and governance (ESG) best practices.  

New world of work, opportunities and challenges 

Despite the many challenges COVID-19 has brought about, the pandemic has revealed some unexpected opportunities to try out new ways of working that may defy long held assumptions about how and where work is done. As remote and work-from-home models increasingly become an integrated part of the future of work landscape, to some extent this has democratised the working environment for PWDs. These days a wave of new text-to-speech technologies that can read aloud web pages, documents and custom content help PWDs to complete their tasks easier, whether they are in the office or working remotely.

However, as the work landscape shifts to a more flexible model, attention needs to be paid to hiring PWDs for remote work. Without clear company policies, training or HR guidance, managers may not know how to interact with PWDs, leading to some to feel isolated, not part of the team and disengaged. With the right training in place, managers will have the knowhow they require to conduct regular check-ins with their PWD colleagues to ensure they have access to the support they need to perform at their best.

As the world of work pivots to a more flexible and inclusive model, PWDs have a wealth of unique talents they can contribute to the work environment — but only if they are able to find and apply for jobs and are supported once they are on board.

For more information, please contact info@career.org.hk or visit CareER's website.

Hidden Talent: Ability Overrides Disability
PR 11 October, 2022