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Making your company attractive to people with disability

Ahead’s work placement programme helps employers integrate disability into the mainstream workplace

The Central Bank on North Wall Quay in Dublin has won national and international awards for its accessibility.

The Central Bank on North Wall Quay in Dublin has won national and international awards for its accessibility.

 

More people with disabilities are moving through the mainstream Irish education system than ever before, at both graduate and post-graduate level, and across all disciplines. If Irish employers are to access this valuable talent pool, it is more important than ever to be attractive to people with a disability.

The Willing Able Mentoring (WAM) programme can help. It is a work placement programme run by Ahead, the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability that promotes access to the labour market for graduates with disabilities, while at the same time building the capacity of employers to integrate disability into the mainstream workplace.

The WAM programme is funded by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Under it, participating employers collaborate with WAM to offer mentored, paid work placements for graduates with disabilities.

To date, the Ahead WAM programme has provided more than 350 placements for graduates with disabilities in some of Ireland’s largest companies including ESB, Deloitte and Microsoft.

One of the newest participants is the Central Bank of Ireland which is participating in the initiative for the first time this year.

“The Central Bank is committed to being a diverse and inclusive employer, where all our people are valued and have the opportunity to reach their potential. This includes a focus on attracting and retaining people with disability,” explains a spokeswoman.

Sinead Kane, Ireland’s first registered blind solicitor and first visually impaired person to complete the World Marathon Challenge, at a Careers Day with Ahead, which was arranged for people with disability. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times
Sinead Kane, Ireland’s first registered blind solicitor and first visually impaired person to complete the World Marathon Challenge, at a Careers Day with Ahead, which was arranged for people with disability. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

“Understanding and removing the barriers experienced by people with disability in accessing employment creates an opportunity for employers to attract more people from this talent pool. It’s the ‘right’ thing to do, the smart thing to do, and also helps to ensure that we are representative of the people of Ireland, in line with our public service mandate,” she says.

The Central Bank is an equal opportunities employer but its commitment goes far beyond complying with legislation, she says. “Our approach includes proactively engaging people with disabilities; ensuring that we have accommodating and supportive recruitment practices that allow people to show the best version of themselves; and then making certain that our physical environment and everyday ways of working are inclusive for all our people once they come and join our team.”

Proactive engagement

The Central Bank is offering three WAM roles to graduates this year. It has also launched its graduate recruitment programme and will be working with WAM to fill roles on this programme. The Central Bank has also teamed up with the National Council for the Blind (NCBI) to facilitate six-week work placements which began in September 2018.

Physical environment

Key to the Central Bank’s success in creating an inclusive working environment is the incorporation of universal design principles in the design of its workspaces. Its new headquarters on North Wall Quay has won national and international awards for its accessibility. More than 100 specific recommendations were integrated into the design, from large “smart” lifts with good signage, clear controls, light floor finishes, contrasting handrails to half-height mirrors.

Many enhancements were achieved at zero cost through a variation in texture, colour contrast or positioning of existing design elements. Embedding universal design has created a better environment for all employees and visitors; and reduces the need for reasonable accommodations to be put in place retrospectively on a more expensive case-by-case basis.

As disability can impact anyone at any time, the Central Bank has a process in place for managing employee requirements whenever necessary. Whether it is a new starter or someone returning to work, in instances where accommodations are necessary, it provides a variety of supports including ergonomic or accessibility assessments, personal emergency evacuation planning and “buddy” training, assistive technologies such as voice-activated software and other bespoke equipment.

Raising awareness

The Central Bank has a dedicated access officer to provide a central point of contact for staff and the public, and to promote awareness across all activities and services.

As well as providing an accessible physical environment, the Central Bank runs disability awareness training programmes to assist frontline staff (working in areas such as recruitment, reception, security and catering) engage with everyone consistently and provide assistance as required.

The Central Bank also reports annually to its board (the Commission) on its accessibility focused performance and initiatives, in an Environmental, Health and Safety annual report which is published on its website.

Employee-led support

As part of its wider approach to diversity and inclusion across the Central Bank, an employee-led network called the BankAbility Network has developed in recent years. It aims to ensure that there is a strong and supportive network in place for colleagues affected by disability and to raise awareness among all staff.

The network benefits from the support and sponsorship of members of senior management, but its activities are initiated and delivered by staff.

The network is helping to deliver a truly inclusive environment. It has created two videos focused on accessibility, both of which are published on the career pages on the Central Bank website, to encourage more diverse talent to consider the Central Bank as a place to work.

Members of the network participated in a Careers Day with Ahead, which was specifically arranged for people with disability. They have also arranged inspirational talks and workshops with speakers such as Sinead Kane, “Izzy Wheels”, Paralympics medallists Katie George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal, and Adam Harris from “As I Am”.

“These sessions prove hugely popular with a wide range of colleagues and are helping to raise awareness and understanding of important issues,” says the Central Bank’s spokeswoman. “Combined with other policies and actions, these initiatives are assisting us in identifying and removing any barriers to attracting and retaining people with disabilities.”

Case study: Tony Murray

I am a senior solution architect at the Central Bank of Ireland. My career to date has primarily focused on the design, development and delivery of enterprise applications in numerous roles including solution architect, project manager, business systems analyst and lead software engineer.

Tony Murray, a senior solution architect at the Central Bank of Ireland. Tony, who lost his sight at the age of two, can confidently navigate to any location as there are uniform floor plans as well as tactile navigation-orientation surfaces.
Tony Murray, a senior solution architect at the Central Bank of Ireland. Tony, who lost his sight at the age of two, can confidently navigate to any location as there are uniform floor plans as well as tactile navigation-orientation surfaces.

When I was two years old, I lost my sight completely due to a childhood illness. Thanks to a wonderful family, progressive-minded parents, and emerging assistive technology, my disability did not hold me back significantly throughout my early life. Undoubtedly, there were many challenges along the way; digital media was largely inaccessible to me as a teenager, and what have become ubiquitous accessibility affordances were not so common in the past. However, I had the structures in place to enable me to establish myself in a fulfilling and ultimately successful career.

The idea of challenges, particularly in the context of scale, is quite subjective. I have often heard colleagues talk about how difficult it must be for me to use computers, or to get around the working environment. To me, these are quite minor challenges; I overcome them every day without thinking about it. The reason these perceived challenges have become less of an issue is primarily down to the assistive technology I am so lucky to have at my disposal, as well as the inclusivity in terms of the working culture I am a part of, and the physical office environment I occupy.

It has not all been plain sailing throughout my life. When I find myself in an environment which has not been designed with accessibility in mind, or when I don’t have assistive technology available to me, the limitations associated with my disability come crashing back and are often quite frustrating.

I have witnessed for myself how the tiny corner of the world I occupy is moving very much in the right direction though; nowadays, I don’t think about the fact that I am blind most of the time, which for me is a real gauge of general inclusivity.

As a disabled person, I am constantly focusing on the minimisation and (where possible) elimination of challenges associated with not being able to see. In my three years working at the Central Bank, I have made great strides in this regard.

Prior to starting work at the Central Bank, HR fully engaged with me regarding what assistive technology I would need to do my job comfortably. Additionally, the day I started my colleagues were very welcoming and made it clear that if I needed help finding my way around, there was always someone available.

The building at North Wall Quay significantly enhances my working life in terms of minimising and eliminating physical challenges. I can confidently navigate to any location as there are uniform floor plans as well as tactile navigation-orientation surfaces. It consists of accessibility features which seamlessly integrate with the common infrastructure such as smart lifts, accessible doors and a cashless system.

An open and non-cluttered environment persists in all areas in the building including food service or conference and meeting areas. This enables me to access independently all of the building’s functions and facilities.

The combination of the ready availability of assistive technology, the open and helpful attitudes of the people who constitute the culture, and the advanced seamless accessibility of the building combine to make working for the Central Bank an excellent experience.

The typical challenges associated with working to the highest level without sight are largely minimised for me, many of the issues around navigating independently within a busy corporate environment are absent. This allows me to continue to perform at the highest level alongside my peers.