Accessibility is sometimes used as a buzz word to cover the bases of a business, education model, or everyday happenstance. However, true respect and understanding for what accessibility means for all folks seems to be the missing puzzle piece. Without understanding, implementation, and a culture of continuous learning, surface level accessibility excludes potential valuable team members and workforce opportunities. With employment accessibility changing shape in the pandemic workplace shift, London’s ATN offers a bridge between employers and employees and a chance for local businesses to truly embrace what it means to be diverse, vibrant, and fully accessible.
Founded in 1984, ATN serves and supports people with disabilities and all types of barriers. They specialize in working with diverse populations of people, as well as local employers to help them provide accessible employment opportunities for people with disabilities. With a focus on creating a community and belonging through employment, ATN provides whole person strength-based support to empower folks to realize their goals, improve their lives, and utilize their unique strengths for employment opportunities. Executive Director, Andrea Topham, creates a unity of bold thinking and inclusion, stating “We don’t just encourage people to think outside the box, we want them to throw the whole box away”.
Throwing away the box that the corporate world has built as a standard for employment, ATN has opened the doors for people with disabilities who have traditionally experienced systemic and structural barriers to employment. These barriers have led to lower labor market participation rates within these populations, and non-diverse staffing within businesses. Studies show that diverse teams lead to higher productivity, better performing teams, healthier corporate culture, and an increase in year over year growth. By encouraging employers to throw out the box, ATN can help create dynamic workplace cultures, high-performing teams, and provide access to a largely untapped pool of eager and talented potential employees, in turn allowing businesses to realize all of the benefits of hiring and accommodating a diverse workforce.
As the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic hit the working world hard, ATN found that closures and lockdowns had an increasingly negative impact on their clients. After conducting an internal review, ATN found that 40% of their clients reported anxiety as their primary or secondary disability. People with disabilities, including but not limited to anxiety, disproportionately experience financial instability, isolation, and exclusion, and the pandemic further exacerbated these issues. To respond, ATN created an online pilot program called Practical Matters. Developed by ATN’s on-staff registered psychotherapist and members of ATN’s employment and learning team, Practical Matters supported people with anxiety to develop coping techniques in a group setting and then practice what they learned in real-life situations while fully supported by ATN staff. The pilot saw promising results, with 88% of participants reporting improvements in their overall function, and 75% showing no clinically significant symptoms of anxiety upon completion of the program. Practical Matters, like many other programs that ATN facilitates, is a great example of how proper support can help both employees and employers function in a way that curates a happy and diverse workforce.
With an active hand in flipping the corporate thinking from hiring individuals that fit the current corporate culture to instead creating a culture that fits individuals, ATN’s continual focus on inclusion and accessibility will change the future of diverse hiring and employment. “The team at ATN demonstrates an intense passion for working towards a more inclusive and diverse work environment for all” says Andrew Leest, Venture Growth & Corporate Innovation Startup Advisor at TechAlliance, “Their multi-faceted focus on employers and employees allows for a whole-picture approach to implementing true accessibility and change”. With an understanding for the importance of uniqueness and equal access, Topham conveys the core message of ATN, “Adaptability creates belonging, and everyone has unique strengths that can affect positive change. As an organization, we commit to care for each other, lead with authenticity, create opportunities, and enjoy the work we do”.
Whether you’re an employer looking to activate the wonderful traits of a diverse team, or an employee looking for a helping hand in the hiring process, ATN access is one of London’s best assets for employment and diversity.