Diane Lightfoot: Accessible wellbeing should be embedded in an inclusive culture

When designing and implementing an organisation-wide wellbeing programme, it is important that it does what it says on the tin and seeks to address the needs of all employees. This is particularly true when it comes to making wellbeing initiatives accessible to those with a disability or long-term condition, whose needs may not always be apparent.

More than 90% of all disabilities are not immediately visible, and many people are concerned about reactions from managers and fellow employees if they discuss their disability. Even if a disability is visible, employers still need to consider that someone may also have a non-visible condition.

It is, therefore, important to anticipate unseen need, as well as offering choice in how people work as widely as possible, so that a member of staff does not feel forced to identify as disabled in order to access what they need.

Flexible working is a good example. Many disabled people find this beneficial, because it allows them to rest when needed, travel outside of peak hours, or to work from home. Offering everyone the opportunity to work flexibly removes the need for an individual to have to ask for it as a specific adjustment.

Similarly, all aspects of a wellbeing programme should not only be accessible, but also inclusive. Physical health elements, such as exercise programmes, should be located in accessible premises and programme design should take into account the differing needs of a wheelchair user or an employee with autism, for example.

Language used around the wellbeing programme should also be considered, to ensure that no team member is left feeling judged or excluded. While it is important to raise awareness of the benefits of exercise and diet to physical and mental health, for example, organisations should remember that for some employees, such as those experiencing serious mental illness, this messaging may be unhelpful.

The importance of messaging also goes beyond the wellbeing programme itself. Even the best initiatives will have little impact if the wider culture of an organisation sees talking about disability or health conditions as a weakness or even a taboo.

An accessible wellbeing programme must, therefore, be embedded within a wider strategy to create and promote a positive and inclusive organisational culture, driven by senior management and informed by employees across the business.

Diane Lightfoot is chief executive officer at the Business Disability Forum