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As well as its ethical importance, hiring people with intellectual disabilities will strengthen your organization’s culture and foster success.

People with intellectual disabilities (PWIDs) are one of the most marginalized and neglected communities across the globe. Unfortunately, they still do not enjoy equal opportunities or adequate support at schools and in the workplace. Society’s lack of acceptance and the dearth of policies that encourage inclusion of PWIDs are just a few of the many factors that continue to exacerbate the schism between the abled and our PWID community.

Hiring based on diversity and inclusion has proven to be the innovative spark needed for these current times, and I have seen firsthand how inclusive hiring can transform lives and empower individuals, especially for those with intellectual disabilities.

Yet in Singapore, only three-in-10 people with disabilities who are of working age, between 15 and 64, are actively employed. Effectively, two-thirds of people in this age group are outside the labor force, and it is an even bleaker picture in the Asia–Pacific region, with the United Nations reporting that the unemployment rate for PWIDs is double that of the general population, often as high as 80 percent or more.

PWIDs remain one of the most underserved, misunderstood and stigmatized populations in the world.

It must also be noted that PWIDs remain one of the most underserved, misunderstood and stigmatized populations in the world. According to research done by Special Olympics Asia Pacific, surveying attitudes and perceptions of the public towards PWIDs, awareness of intellectual disabilities is moderate.

Only 60 percent of Asia–Pacific respondents were aware of intellectual disabilities, and less than one-in-three respondents have personally interacted with PWIDs. Issues concerning PWIDs ranked low as a concern in the region, with environment, poverty and human rights being the key concerns.

Given this, there is a tendency for communities to isolate or keep PWIDs apart from mainstream society because of perceived differences. This amplifies misunderstandings and fear of the unknown, heightening schisms and deepening prejudice.

Breaking down barriers requires a deeper understanding of the issues that PWIDs face and being able to communicate clearly with them is the first step toward bridging the gap. Being open to employing and having authentic conversations with PWIDs in our workplace will help us in overcoming our blind spots and challenges when it comes to hiring PWIDs.

Beyond Ticking Boxes

That being said, the road to inclusion cannot be achieved in silo. This is where genuine diversity and inclusion can make a real difference.

Diversity and inclusion are vital elements for fostering a thriving workplace within every organization. The workplace ecosystem thrives on creativity, innovation, adaptability and flexibility to flourish, and a diverse workforce plays a crucial role in attaining these objectives.

Cultivating an inclusive work culture is arguably a game-changer for robust organizational performance. According to Great Place To Work, a diverse and inclusive workplace can result in higher revenue growth, greater readiness to innovate, increased ability to hire a diverse talent pool and 5.4 times higher employee retention.

To nurture a diverse workforce, leaders must wholeheartedly embrace diversity in their recruiting and hiring practices. This entails going beyond conventional methods and extending the search for talent to encompass diverse communities.

By casting a wider net and including PWIDs in the hiring process, workplaces can tap into a vast talent pool of skilled and motivated workers with different backgrounds and experiences.

The key is in ensuring meaningful employment rather than hiring to meet a diversity quota.

Although hiring PWIDs is a significant step in the direction of creating an inclusive workforce, it’s essential to recognize that true inclusion needs to extend beyond just the hiring process. The key is in ensuring meaningful employment rather than hiring to meet a diversity quota, meaning that organizations should hire PWIDs based on abilities and aptitude.

A referral-based program, for example, can unintentionally cause an imbalance in the diverse makeup of the workforce, especially if employees refer candidates of the same backgrounds.

It is, therefore, important that HR leaders use a broad variety of recruiting mediums in their search for a new hire by broadening their recruitment efforts to encompass individuals from various backgrounds. This practice can help facilitate greater inclusion in the workforce and can result in a stronger team enriched with diverse perspectives and experiences.

Specifically, through our programmatic work in Athlete Leadership, we find ways for athletes to develop foundational skills, such as presentation and communication know-how, that are also applicable to the workplace.

This allows them to contribute in ways beyond the sporting field and provides them with an opportunity to demonstrate their leadership abilities through practical experiences in roles of responsibility with appropriate training.

A Truly Inclusive Workplace

However, simply bringing PWIDs on board is not sufficient to ensure that an organization is genuinely inclusive. A truly inclusive workplace is one where PWIDs are able to learn, thrive and be respected.

At Special Olympics Asia Pacific], our core mission is to create a community-based grassroots movement for PWIDs, combining sports, healthcare, inclusion and community building that includes the continual facilitation for equal employment opportunities.

Inclusive hiring is not just the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do.

Workplaces can make a difference by investing in diversity training for all employees across the organization to ensure everyone buys into the vision and grasps the critical significance and need for a diverse workforce.

Specific to PWIDs, leaders can instill a role-based approach to inclusivity that considers the environment that PWIDs will be coming into and what working in the company would look like for them. This will help PWIDs to thrive in their roles and contribute fully to the success of the organization, just like any other employee.

Inclusive hiring is not just the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do.

Dipak Natali

Contributor Collective Member

Dipak Natali has been involved in the Special Olympics movement since 2006. He has worked with the Asia–Pacific region’s 35 programs in areas of leadership development, coach development, competition delivery, fundraising and communications. Born in the United Kingdom, Dipak developed a passion for social justice at a young age after being inspired by Live Aid and his mother’s efforts to raise money for the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. Discover more at https://www.specialolympics.org/about/leadership/dipak-natali

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