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Jane Hatton

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Employing disabled people

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The subject of employing disabled people is one that is likely to raise a number of concerns amongst employers.  Unfortunately, most of these concerns are based on misinformation and prejudice. Jane Hatton, Managing Director of specialist training company The Diversity People (and who has herself become disabled) helps to put the record straight.

Recruiting and retaining good quality staff who are equipped with the right skills to do a good job and fit in with a team, takes up quite a lot of time in an HR manager’s life.  As 20% of the working population are disabled, and eight out of 10 disabled people acquired their disability during the course of their working life, the chances are that disability is an issue that HR professionals will come across quite a lot. 

However, in HR, as in society as a whole, there are misconceptions about disabled people, probably driven by the overwhelmingly negative image of them in the mainstream media.  The reality is somewhat different, and interestingly, company surveys consistently conclude that organisations who have successfully employed disabled people are keen to employ more.

Learning to understand the commercial potential of having a positive stance towards disability is always a good starting point for helping people to understand the benefits of employing disabled staff. There are more than eight million people in the UK who are disabled with spending power in excess of £40billion. That’s an awful lot of money, and by employing disabled people, understanding disability and generally having a proactive attitude towards it, it could be hugely rewarding to your company’s bottom line.   

And staying on the money side of things for a bit, it is much much cheaper to retain a staff member who has become disabled than try to recruit someone new.  The Post Office estimates that medically retiring an employee costs around £80,000.  Not to mention that if you were to become involved in litigation with regard to a disability claim, the average payout under the DDA last year at an employment tribunal was £13,000.

From a purely recruitment point of view, if you positively seek to receive applications from disabled people, then you will have a much wider choice of potential employees with a good range of skills and positive attitude towards work. Studies again show that disabled people in work tend to have better attendance records, stay with employers longer and have fewer accidents at work. Also, by showing a positive approach towards disability, it tends to foster good relations with other staff and generally enhances your reputation as a good employer. 

So all in all, it’s worth overcoming the perceived barriers to employing disabled staff – and perceptions are usually what they are – the reality is often based somewhere else. For example, 45% of employers think that they won’t be able to afford to employ a disabled person: they feel that making adjustments for them will be costly and difficult. In actual fact, only 4% of reasonable adjustments made to facilitate employing a disabled person cost money, and with grants and expert support available from a variety of agencies, including the Government, the average cost of adjustments is £184 per disabled employee.

This figure is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the sums that are paid out to headhunters, recruitment agencies, not to mention all the other elements of remuneration packages (cars, healthcare etc etc).  If the disabled person is the best one for the job, running a 4% chance of having to pay out £184 isn’t much of a risk.  In fact, ‘it’s too much of a risk’ is one of the most common objections cited to employing or retaining disabled staff when in fact studies show that they tend to have better attendance and retention records and have fewer accidents at work.

Obviously HR are looking to get the best for their organisation but studies show time and again that disabled staff are at least as productive as their able-bodied colleagues and are generally a good bet.  Shockingly, I have heard employers say that ‘disabled people have nothing to offer’ – I would say, get in touch with the facts, not the myths, and try telling that to Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell and David Blunkett…

Jane Hatton is the Managing Director of The Diversity People, www.thediversitypeople.co.uk and despite being unable to sit and barely able to stand or walk, she is able to run a successful diversity training company.

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