Time to re-think disability in the workplace

I had the pleasure of attending the Leonard Cheshire Employment and Inclusion Summit last week which was a fascinating opportunity to discuss the ways in which organisations can break down the barriers to employment for those with a disability in the UK.

There are 13.3 million disabled people in the UK, that’s about 1 in 5 of the population, yet only 47.9% of working age disabled people are in employment (compared to 80.1% non-disabled). If we consider that 83% of disabilities are acquired (at an average age of 53) and that 96% of disabilities are non-visible, then every organisation needs to re-think their views and policies on disabilities in the workplace. 

Diversity and inclusion are hot topics now, but what we tend to see are reports and articles where the focus is mainly on gender, age or race - ‘male, pale and stale’ frequent many comment threads on social media. Disability still feels like a taboo subject within the UK, but when 20% of the population is disabled then we must look at how we as organisations can start talking about disability without feeling uncomfortable and to identify how we can start removing the barriers to employment for those with a disability.

Consider this:

If 1 in 5 people in the UK has a disability, then the chances are that this will also reflect the make-up of your customer base. Is your own staff base, therefore, a representative cross-section of your community and your customers? Probably not.

Diverse teams are known to perform better and if your team is diverse enough to be inclusive to those with disabilities then you will be able to better understand the needs of your customers and be able to provide a wider range of services and support, which will have a positive impact on your bottom line.

It’s about talent

As organisations, we know that there is a skills gap that seems to be getting bigger. Just because someone has a disability does not mean that they do not have the skills and the talent to perform a job role to the same ability as someone without a disability. By law, job applicants do not have to tell you they are disabled but there are changes that you can make to the recruitment process that would encourage those with disabilities to apply if they have the skills and the talent that you need:

  • State on job adverts that you welcome applications from disabled people and are happy to make adjustments if needed.
  • Are the job requirements that you list on the job description really needed for the role and have you considered the language that you use to make sure it is more inclusive and not biased?
  • Before applicants attend the interview, ring ahead and ask them if they have any access needs or for adjustments to be made – it shows that you are thinking about inclusion.
  • Have you considered accessibility when posting job adverts? Screen reading software often cannot read a PDF, for example.
  • Is an interview the right format for the job role? Could you offer work trials or interactive workshops for candidates to showcase their talents?

It’s about not fearing open and honest communication

As people, we need to break down barriers around physical and mental disabilities. We should not be afraid to talk openly about disabilities and learn from each other and this communication needs to work both ways to become more normalised. Organisationally we should focus on the human first and not disability first and begin to question whether the word ‘disability’ is even appropriate in modern society.

Making workplace adjustments are not always as expensive as most people think and there are government schemes such as Access to Work that can fund these costs.

Moving the agenda forward

RWA will continue our work around diversity and inclusion and we believe that now is the time to focus on abilities and not disabilities as part of our aims to help close the skills gap. We would welcome the opportunity to have a more open dialogue with our clients and the workforce community to identify how collectively we can effect positive change.

If you would like to know more or to be put in touch with other organisations who can help you become more inclusive, then do get in touch

About the author

Tom has worked at RWA for over 12 years, starting as Operations Manager before taking on roles as Operations Director, CEO and most recently as Director leading the company into the digital age.

Before joining RWA, he was involved in helping develop the operations of one of Wales’ fastest growing utility consultancies as well as leading the Key Accounts team of a major commercial energy supplier.

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