There are 88,000 chronically ill and disabled people ‘missing’ from the tech workforce, according to the professional body for IT.
Disabled people in tech: why is the industry not recruiting them?
Disabled people comprise 16% of the UK workforce but only account for 11% of the technology specialists, according to analysis by the Chartered Institute for IT (BCS), in its Diversity Report 2023: Disability. That means for representation in IT to be equal to workplace norms there should be an additional 88,000 disabled IT specialists employed in the UK.
BCS recently published an additional report called The Experience of Neurodiverse and Disabled People in IT. It reviewed the latest government data and also sought feedback from over 50 IT experts, all of whom had additional needs, about their views on the tech sector.
The gap persists despite an increase in the number of people working in the tech sector reporting disabilities – rising from 196,000 people in 2021 to 208,000 in 2022.
Neurodiversity representation also an issue
Matthew Bellringer, Chair of the BCS Neurodiversity Specialist Group, said:
It’s clear that the IT profession itself can and should be an excellent place for disabled and neurodivergent people to work, and digital tools can be a great enabler.
We have a severe skills gap in tech, which is a massive societal cost. Helping disabled people to utilise their expertise by providing the support they need is essential to boosting the talent pipeline in tech and other sectors.
Some progress has been made. However, it’s disappointing — though not terribly surprising — that many barriers still exist.
Cyber security expert Lisa Ventura MBE, who campaigns for diversity in the tech sector, said:
More needs to be done to promote the positive side of employing people with disabilities and those who are neurodivergent – such as championing their resilience, and ability to look at issues and solve problems from a different perspective.
It’s also essential to ensure accessible products and initiatives are evaluated as fit for purpose and not just imposed regardless – one size does not fill all of us.
Introducing more inclusive practices can benefit all workers. Everyone’s physical, sensory and cognitive abilities vary, and improving matters for people with more significant requirements can help all who share that need to any extent.o
Some neurodivergent people contributing to The Experience of Neurodiverse and Disabled People in IT report appealed for better understanding. One described their anxiety in the workplace:
I feel like an alien trying to hide my neurodiversity.
Not making eye contact seems to be seen as submissiveness, not just simply that I don’t want to.
So much more needed for disabled people in tech
Some hearing impaired and Deaf people spoke about the practical issues they encountered, such as enduring vastly different audio levels in online meetings. One respondent said:
I miss much of what some people say. Being unable to keep up with the rate of speech and sometimes complete inaudibility in meeting rooms due to noisy air-conditioning means I can’t turn up my hearing aid volume.
Recommendations from the BCS report include:
- Greater education and awareness of disability in the workplace.
- Ensuring clear communication in meetings that encompasses all needs.
- Appropriate workplace adjustments.
- An inclusive recruitment process.
- Suitable assistive technology that works for the individual.
- A supportive work environment where disabled employees have a voice, are listened to and have their views respected.
- Better training for managers and coworkers to understand and rectify the barriers to work faced by disabled people.
- Fostering a culture that discourages discriminatory behaviours.
- Pro-active initiatives – for instance, consciously deploying neurodiverse individuals in teams.
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