Mapping out the road to accessibility for all disabilities at Solvay
Inclusion and equity for everyone
When we upped our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) commitment, we committed to levelling up inclusion and equity for every single Solvay employee. This means eliminating any barriers that hinder full participation and potential. However, that’s sometimes easier said than done, as we’re not always aware of what those barriers might be.
Case in point: accessibility for employees with disabilities. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, accessibility still remains a weak link. And if there’s no accessibility for all, then there can simply be no equity and inclusivity, which also means a lack of diversity in the long run. That’s why Solvay is stepping things up.
We spoke with Véronique Cock, Global Facility Excellence Architect in Brussels, and Michael Matthews, Infrastructure Site Service Coordinator in Houston, who have been helping to build a global accessibility road map for Solvay.
First things first, making the workplace accessible for people with disabilities goes beyond making a building physically accessible. “It’s also about the rest,” Véronique (pictured left) explains. “Sometimes you need to change the infrastructure, sometimes the tools, and sometimes the behavior and mindset of managers, colleagues and even customers.”
Michael agrees: “The workplace is every aspect, from our equipment to our facilities and administrative facilities, and our production and plant sites.” Accessibility is more than just changing up the façade of a building. The most common barriers people with disabilities still face in the workplace are attitudinal, organizational, architectural or physical, information or communications, and technology1.
What do we mean by disability?
Disability is defined as ‘any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them2. Today, 1 billion people live with a disability. That’s 15% of the global population. Despite being ‘ the world’s biggest minority’3, accessibility needs for people with disabilities in the workplace – and beyond - are still not adequately taken into account. People with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be unemployed, with lack of accessibility being a major contributing factor4, leaving significant talent and business potential untapped.
“The definition of disability in the workplace is knowing that we have and always will have individuals who are coming to work with disabilities,” Michael explains, “and that they are embraced as a part of our workplace environment and our Solvay way of working, and are not treated as an afterthought.”
Today we live in a technological environment that creates important opportunities for people with a disability. We should take advantage of all the technology out there because it allows us to hire the best possible candidates and drive bigger success at Solvay.
Setting the benchmark
So, it’s time for real action. We want to understand and address the needs of employees with disabilities, spread awareness and understanding, and make Solvay accessible for all current and future employees. And we mean all employees. A first important step is understanding that disabilities are not always ‘obvious’. Disability is an umbrella term that can include mobility/physical disabilities, visual impairments, hearing impairments, health conditions, and cognitive disabilities.
Of course, in order to improve, we have to know where and how to improve. To start, our US sites will be implementing the Disability Equality Index, a joint initiative of Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), which provides a comprehensive benchmarking tool to help us identify our areas for improvement and build a roadmap of measurable, tangible actions. Solvay sites in China, France and Belgium have also been selected to participate in the pilot program to provide an international perspective.
The goal: to eventually develop common accessibility standards across all Solvay sites globally. Easier said than done, as each country has its own specific disability acts and regulations we need to take into account. That’s why we have already started reaching out to networks of experts to gain a thorough understanding of the regulations in the Solvay regions, so we can start rolling out a common accessibility roadmap with the support of our local Solvay medical networks.
And then, there’s of course a key building block we can’t forget: our local initiatives that have already started paving the way.
Picking up the torch
At Solvay, there’s a lot of work to be done, but if our DEI Taskforce working on Accessibility can dream big, they hope to create a workplace that embraces all employees from a disability standpoint and where everyone feels valued for their strengths, instead of excluded because of their abilities. Where accessibility to braille computers, voice recognition, wheelchair facilities, etc., are not considered an exception but a given.
For Michael (pictured right), this means recognizing the digital age we live in today and the remote work we’ve been doing as huge inclusion opportunities: “Today we live in a technological environment that creates important opportunities for people with a disability. We should take advantage of all the technology out there because it allows us to hire the best possible candidates and drive bigger success at Solvay.”
Véronique adds that, of course, when it comes to workplace accessibility, it’s not just Solvay that has to put in the work, “The world also needs to change and become more inclusive. But I have no doubt that with Solvay, we can already start making big improvements. There’s a huge understanding for the need. We can already show the way.” Michael agrees: “It’s an uphill battle to get the world to embrace the idea of disability as a standard when it comes to business. We just have to do our part, carry the torch and press forward on providing not just understanding, but above all, action.”