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Opinion piece, Research, Stat of the month

Disability: towards global best practice

Statistic: More than 1 billion people (15%) in the world have a disability.

Reflections by Rick Williams, Head of Consultancy and Brendan Roach, Global Taskforce and Partnership Development Manager 

Many countries in which our members operate have legislative and guidance frameworks giving disabled people rights with consequential obligations to the business. However, these frameworks vary widely between countries and simply attempting to follow them (the compliance approach) will create significant inconsistencies and approaches across the organisation and may expose an organisation to PR and commercial loss as well as legal risk.

Indeed, in Business Disability Forum’s recent report ‘Towards a disability-smart world: developing a global disability strategy’, the varying legal requirements between countries was the third most cited challenge experienced by global companies. A further challenge to consistency is different jurisdictions use different concepts and definitions of what might constitute a disability and how it should be assessed.

Adopting ‘best practice’ as the underpinning principle for any global strategy avoids such issues and risks. Best practice seeks to develop a barrier-free working environment, service provision and product development; in other words everything that an organisation does seeks to be fully inclusive irrespective of any access requirements someone might have; inclusion is business-as-usual. ‘Best practice’ also takes the view that if someone has an access requirement then that should be met by an adjustment or accommodation and the organisation should not be overly concerned about whether the person has a disability whatever the definition. If it is practical for someone to do something differently then why not facilitate it so long as it is reasonable?

The final strand of a best practice approach considers the impact of someone’s impairment and not the cause. For example, if someone needs to use a mobility aid that is the issue which needs addressing not what causes that individual to need to use the mobility aid in the first place. Discussing the cause is not helpful in identifying and finding a solution to the barrier; think effect not cause.

Whilst it is relatively straightforward to identify what best practice approach might look like there appear to be challenges faced in the global context. Our research suggests that whilst most multinationals recognise the importance of a best practice approach, this is far from embedded. For example, whilst 32% of participants said their organisation aims for a culture of disability-related best practice in all or most countries where they operate, 60% said this only applied in some countries.

Traditionally the way society and organisations managed disability issues was based around the ‘charity’ and ‘medical’ models. The former was about looking after disabled people and ‘protecting them’ and having low expectations of their abilities; the latter sees the individual as the person with the problem. These models are not useful when thinking about ensuring inclusion for all at a strategic level.

The limitation of the medical model is that it concentrates thinking on the conditions and its symptoms, or more likely, its stereotypical symptoms. Based on these views, judgements are made about what individuals can and can’t do.

The social model adopts the approach which says it is society or an organisation which creates the ‘disability’ by limiting access to employment, services and products  because of the way it deals with the relationship with a person who has an access requirement. If society and organisations went about their business differently, a person’s impairment would not be an issue because it developed a barrier free inclusive approach.  A good example of the social model is illustrated by access to public buildings. In many jurisdictions. They are required to be accessible and step free to everyone by law. This means making one-off adjustments such as providing temporary ramps or getting disabled people to access the building through a different entrance is not needed. Everyone accesses it the same way. Access is mainstreamed and no one really thinks about this anymore as it is just the way things are. In other words the social model seeks to deal proactively with the root cause of the barriers and not their symptoms.

Our experience is clearly showing adopting a social model approach is far more effective in developing a global approach to best practice.

To discuss these issues contact Brendan Roach or Rick Williams

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