An Evolving Awareness
Attitudes toward disability have been evolving steadily over the past 4 decades. They reflect a general cultural evolution to a greater sense of inclusion and pluralism – a most welcome movement away from culturally sanctioned discrimination.
Cultures are neither uniform nor homogenous, so the process of change is uneven. Some will embrace it with enthusiasm. Others will resist with determination. The majority will adapt as need and opportunity arise. There is no absence of good will, just an absence of an imperative to act with any urgency.
What is true of the community in general is true of organisations. This presents a challenge to activists and those whose role it is to initiate or strengthen organisational change.
The Compliance Challenge
Organisational change agents (DENs/ERGs and formal internal change drivers) have the advantage of working with a discrete community of employees under an obligation to conform to legal and policy requirements. But how persistent non-compliance is handled is another matter.
Persistent non-compliance in disability inclusion arises for three main reasons:
- A failure of some staff to understand that compliance with legal and policy requirements is a core aspect of their role. This obligation may be articulated in a formal Code of Conduct, but it is rarely specifically highlighted and or regularly reviewed.
- An attitudinal disinclination to be compliant, or an intentional disagreement with the core message of the legislation or policy. This is usually the result of psychological traits that are acknowledged as problematic in a workforce generally, and which can be catastrophic in managers and leaders in their dealing with vulnerable employees.
- The reluctance of an organisation to treat non-compliance as a serious matter. The desired cultural value of tolerating non- conformity with one’s own beliefs and values is translated into what can be interpreted as an appetite for tolerating abuse in an organisational context.
Two Sides to Accountability
Staff with disability report problematic and persistent non-inclusive conduct by individuals described in point 2 above. It is this conduct that often leads to serious psychological harm and creates fear that inclusion is not an authentic organisational priority.
DEN/ERG leaders see that one of their biggest challenges is encouraging an organisation to be effectively and systematically responsive to issues raised about non-inclusive and abusive managers.
Accountability is highly valued as a trait, but it has two sides:
- Personal accountability – individuals are self-aware of their attitudes and actions, and acknowledge and act when they cause unintended harm. Where this is lacking, the next point is crucial:
- An organisation’s duty to ensure that failures in compliance with legislation and policy are promptly addressed, and persons responsible are assisted to meet and maintain compliance requirements.
Making Inclusion Work for All
Inclusion has, therefore, two challenges:
- The patient and positive delivery of the inclusion message that will be progressively absorbed and expressed through staff attitudes and behaviours;
- The addressing of persistent non-compliance with legislation and policy which expresses as exclusion; and leads to actual physical and psychological injury.
The responses to these challenges must be concurrent and part of a thought- through strategy. They cannot be separated, as the continuance of the second challenge unaddressed, injures the first’s credibility, and slows it progress.