• Emily Gibson

Proactive Inclusion for Disability

Of the 8.4 million disabled people of working age in the UK, 46.4% are unemployed. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has significantly affected disabled workers. In comparison, of all non-disabled people, just 18.3% are unemployed.

Whilst the government have been working on initiatives to improve employment opportunities for those with disabilities, businesses need to support this by making sure they are prepared to be inclusive!

Many businesses deal with disabled employees on a reactionary basis – either during recruitment or if an employee becomes unwell or has a life-changing accident. As practical as it may feel, this approach misses a crucial detail in that a reactionary approach does not support an inclusive culture.

What Does it Really Mean to be Inclusive?

To be ‘inclusive’ is to make ALL employees feel welcome. In order to feel welcome, they need to feel that their disability is understood, is not burdensome and that adjustments or support are not considered an additional benefit or charitable allowance.

You may know that ‘reasonable adjustments’ are a legal requirement for employers to make for disabled employees. However, with that vague definition sometimes we struggle to understand what might be considered ‘reasonable’.

In order to manage our own thoughts on being inclusive, perhaps first we need to anticipate what we might do if one of our existing employees became disabled. With that in mind we need to be proactive! Life-changing accidents or illnesses can happen to anyone. An employee could wake up one day unable to carry out day-to-day tasks in a way they were previously able to. If this happened to one of your team, would you assume (with a heavy heart) that they would be unable to continue working for you? Or would you make some changes to ensure they could continue working for you and sharing their unique set of skills?

It feels practical to make adjustments for someone in your business who needs it. They are a known entity, you don’t want to lose their expertise or their skills, and you already have an emotional desire to support them.

In contrast, businesses rarely make these adjustments to create opportunities for potential staff.

Why be a ‘Disability-Inclusive’ Employer?

Hiring disabled people is not an act of kindness, it’s the right thing to do if they have the skills to do the job. Making your job and your business visibly accessible to the disabled community is incredibly important.

Making a concerted effort to welcome people regardless of ANY difference, improves your employee brand making you a more attractive company to work for. That means you attract talented candidates more easily from a more diverse range of backgrounds.

In the broadest sense, a diverse workforce is more likely to understand a broad customer base and develop ideas to improve your offering as a business. Diversity in the workplace increases employee engagement and instils a sense of commitment. This means people work more effectively and efficiently, greatly increasing the productivity of your business.

By accommodating disabled employees, you also create a workplace that’s more accessible for employees who have other health issues – an employee who breaks their leg or for someone suffering with mental health problems such as anxiety.

What Can You Do Next?

1. Be Strategic

By setting your goals for accessibility and defining a longer-term view of disability-inclusion in your business you’re already on the right path. That’s because of the way you are moving away from a reactionary approach. An accessible organisation places inclusivity at the centre of their operation and builds it into the business strategy. Only then can accessibility and inclusivity become everyone’s responsibility.

2. Review Your Accessibility

Running an audit of the features of your business’s set-up and location will help you identify the ways in which you can already accommodate disabled or neuro-diverse employees. You might be surprised at the results. Some of the factors could include:

  • A ground floor location

  • A lift in reliably good working order

  • An easy-to-access workplace location with off-street parking or close to public transport links

  • An existing hearing loop

  • A flexible working hours policy

  • An on-site shower

  • A quiet room for employees to rest in

  • An easily accessible employee cafeteria or kitchenette.

This accessibility checklist will give you a good idea of the details a disabled employee may need to consider.

3. Identify the Gaps

Reviewing the gap between what you can already offer disabled employees and what you would like to be able to offer will give you an idea of how much progress you need to make.

When you review your gap, your goals may feel as if they are a challenge too far. That’s where the next step comes in – creating a step-by-step plan to implement your strategy.

4. Planning for Inclusion

As with any form of business planning, you can now draw up the steps needed to close the gap you have identified. As much as you may want to do everything as quickly as possible, prioritising your actions will help you make changes in a more sustainable fashion.

Some actions may be structural, such as relocating your kitchenette in a more accessible location, installing ramps at the entrance to the building or setting up automatic doors. Others may not be relevant immediately. For instance, a specialist desk or software may never be needed. However, researching the options and understanding the cost and turnaround time will help you become more prepared for these potential scenarios. Just by being organised in this way you demonstrate your commitment to inclusion for both existing and prospective employees.

5. Creating a Disability-Inclusive Culture

Ultimately, inclusivity is about business culture. For you to build a disability-inclusive culture, it must become everyone’s business. You could appoint someone as the inclusive lead – an office manager is often well-placed to lead on this because of their close contact with employees and existing relationship with suppliers and facilities contacts. Beyond this, incorporating accessibility training into your business’s onboarding and ensuring that managers and business leaders become aware of the ways in which they can support employees and welcome new employees will start to create a more welcoming workplace.

Consider whether there is a budget that can be allocated to making some immediate changes and what the costs of implementing both potential emergency and longer-term inclusion plans might be.

Disability-Inclusive Recruitment

To paraphrase an old Kevin Costner film – if you build it, they will come. By creating a more noticeably diverse workplace, you’ll start attracting a more diverse group of candidates. Small changes to your recruitment ads can make a big difference too. Stating that you have a ground floor location and offer a flexible working policy will automatically attract more candidates. Shout about what you can do to accommodate employees and state that you are an equal opportunities employer who supports employees with disabilities.

Organisations such as Employ-Ability and schemes such as Disability Confident can help your business in actively recruiting people with disabilities.

Costs of Becoming Disability-Inclusive

Some businesses baulk at the prospect of adapting to become disability-inclusive assuming it’s a costly investment. Fortunately, this doesn’t need to be the case.

Some adjustments will cost little. An employee who works outside and has hearing difficulties may simply need an adapted high visibility jacket which states they have a hearing difficulty on the back of the jacket. With this on, their colleagues are reminded that they need to speak face-to-face with that employee to enable them to lipread. An employee with MS may need flexibility to work from home if they have a relapse, but otherwise need access to a room they can rest in for 30 minutes each day.

For more expensive adjustments, employees can request a grant from Access to Work. This money could be used to pay for ergonomic equipment or furniture, taxis for commuting or specialist software or technology, such as a hearing loop. This removes the financial pressure of accommodating disabled employees, making working life more satisfying for them and creating an inclusive, productive culture for you.

Being a disability-inclusive workplace is less complex than many businesses fear. With support, some planning and the right contacts, you can quickly create a more welcoming, inclusive and productive workplace. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss your business situation and what improvements you might be able to make.

Disability at Work Facts

  1. Disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.

  2. The disability pay gap between disabled and non-disabled employees is at 12.2%, compared to a gender pay gap of 9.1%

  3. Disabled employees are more likely to be made redundant than their able counterparts.

  4. Disabled employees are more likely to receive unfair treatment at work.

  5. 28% of those with adjustments and 34% of those without adjustments said they did not make requests because they were worried their employer might treat them differently to how they did before they requested an adjustment.

Helpful Links

Access to Work

Disability Confident


The Business Disability Forum

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