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Rabia Lemahieu

Disability Rights UK

Disability and Skills Manager

Read more about Rabia Lemahieu

Employ disabled people: it makes sound business sense


Considering there are over 13 million disabled people and people with long-term health conditions in the UK, it makes good business sense for small and medium-sized businesses to not only tap into this consumer market – which has a spending power of over £80 billion – but also to recruit from this group, as the benefits of working in a diverse environment enriches not only the worker, but also the workplace.

It seems, however, that many employers still fail to recognise the value of disabled staff and the expertise they bring to business. According to the Disability Employment Gap report by the Work and Pensions Committee, in 2016 only 49% of disabled people aged between 16 and 64 in the UK were in work, compared with 81% of non-disabled people. Yet there is an employment pool of over 1 million disabled people who are able and willing to work.

With a widening skills gap putting pressure on business, accessing this untapped talent can no longer be ignored and could even make a big difference in helping businesses thrive and be competitive.

Why are businesses not employing disabled people?

Though it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability (Equality Act 2010), many businesses worry about hiring a disabled person.

They cite concerns about the interview process, health and safety issues, lack of resources, costs in time and money, specialist equipment, absenteeism, the person being less capable of doing the work, fear of causing offence, being misunderstood or being politically incorrect.

Workplace adjustments, which are often thought of as being expensive, need not be so.

For many disabled people, coming up against these preconceived and inaccurate ideas about disability and the capacity to work when looking for or maintaining employment is a challenge they have to deal with on a daily basis.

Encountering these types of challenges generates a wealth of experience, problem-solving capabilities, a variety of communication skills, creative thinking, high levels of concentration and flexibility. All of which are extremely valuable to possess in the current economic climate.

This is why we need a cultural change where behaviour and discussions between employers and disabled people shift from focusing on disability and problems to ability and value.

Such discourse makes economic sense as it enriches workplaces and businesses. Furthermore, with an ageing population and the reality that health issues and disability can happen to anyone at any period in their life, it’s an urgent discourse to have too.

What types of support are needed for disabled workers?

Workplace adjustments, which are often thought of as being expensive, need not be so.

Reasonable adjustments could mean moving to a different location at work, changing chairs, changing working hours or patterns, new IT equipment or doing small modifications to existing equipment.

Employers can provide training or mentoring, make information available in accessible formats and have a policy where workers can get appropriate support from their managers and talk in confidence about their work and health issues.

Research suggests that 83% of disabled consumers choose to shop with retailers that support disabled people.

Being able to disclose disability or health conditions and to find solutions to continue employment without the fear of losing their job is an issue that concerns all workers. Line management awareness and equality training on disability and health conditions is an import element in sustaining a diverse workforce.

Government support is also available through the Access to Work programme with funding offered for disabled workers ranging from taxi fares to and from work, to having a personal assistant or getting assistive technology. In addition, Remploy supports workers and apprentices with mental health conditions. But bear in mind that many disabled people already have support kits for their impairments and need little additional support in the workplace.

Benefits for all

Having an inclusive and diverse work setting in which everyone can feel supported and safe and learn from each other is advantageous for both disabled and non-disabled workers equally.

Further, having disabled employees working alongside and sharing their knowledge and expertise on disability and health issues with non-disabled colleagues raises awareness and provides valuable insight for making products and shopping environments more inclusive and accessible for disabled customers.

Consumers demand more transparency and many customers respond positively to those companies and businesses that have an inclusive culture and value diversity. Research by We Are Purple suggests that 83% of disabled consumers choose to shop with retailers that support disabled people.

This offers a clear and compelling case for businesses to not only open employment opportunities to more disabled employees, but also cater more effectively to a diverse customer market.

Want to learn more about this topic?

Visit our diversity hub featuring expert articles, interviews and opinion pieces on creating a workplace that brings together individuals from all walks of life.

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Rabia Lemahieu

Disability and Skills Manager

Read more from Rabia Lemahieu

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