Now is the time to Enable Greater Disability Inclusivity in the Tech Sector
Of the 12,199 registered Disability Confident companies in the UK, only 248 Information Technology (IT) and Telecom companies have signed up for the scheme as of July 2019, while the overall number of IT and Telecom companies in London is estimated to be around 1.2 million. The UK technology sector is growing in size, investment and employment opportunities, having attracted more than £1.2 billion in investment into the UK in 2019, yet they themselves fail to invest in equal opportunities for the 22% of the UK population who are disabled. The founder of the Disrupt Disability, Rachael Wallach, states that ‘disability is under-represented in the London tech scene’.
The Tech London Advocates 2016 report suggests that demand for digital skills in the UK is growing very rapidly, in fact, the number of new tech companies registered in the UK has grown by 14% since 2017, producing close to 600,000 unfilled IT vacancies. Considering the fact that Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, there is a real opportunity to decrease unemployment levels amongst disabled people by promoting training/education, if necessary, and employment opportunities in the sector.
Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer, Jenny Lay Flurrie, claims that people with impairments are more likely to catch errors and find the gaps that others may not be trained to see. Therefore, they organized an unorthodox recruitment practice to distinctly attract autistic coders. The Autistic recruitment programme included a two week ‘hang out’ at the Microsoft campus performing given tasks while being observed. Microsoft senior leaders believe that hiring more autistic employees is well-aligned with their broader goals, as autistic people have qualities that are more suited for technology jobs, such as being detail-oriented and methodical.
Similarly, a blind engineer at Apple, Jordyn Castor, claims that only people who totally understand the needs of blind people, like herself, can make technology more accessible for blind users as they can bring their personal perspective. Jordyn Castor is a driving force behind Apple’s accessible technology such as the VoiceOver feature. These examples from the top technology companies in the world clearly highlight the need to increase the representation of disabled people in the technology sector for the extensive benefits associated with it.
The demand for digital skills is growing with a prediction of almost 1 million unfilled tech vacancies by 2020. The technology sector has the scope and resources to make meaningful change by improving disability diversity practices in the workplace and employing more disabled people, contributing to a more inclusive society overall.
For guidance on improving the recruitment and retention of disabled people check out Inclusive Boards Disability in Leadership Toolkit.