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Recruiting people with disabilities: Are you aware of the issues?


The following guest article presents the business, legal and ethical cases for being positive about employing disabled people. It’s written by Jean Brading of Kennetbridge Employment Specialists.

Although disabled people themselves have long held the view that they should be able to compete on an equal footing with their non-disabled peers, it is only since the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act (and subsequently the Disability Rights Commission Act) that many organisations have begun to look at the whole issue of employing disabled people. There are compelling reasons why doing so makes sense.

The business case
In the current employment market, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill vacancies. Skills shortages exist in many sectors. Wise employers cast their net as widely as possible, taking trouble to attract not only traditional applicants but also people who may not be currently well represented in the workforce. Around 18% of the working age population has some kind of disability, yet they are six times as likely as non-disabled people to be out of work. (Interestingly, some 70% of economically active disabled people acquire their disability during their working lives.) In other words, there are many people with disabilities out there, looking for work.

Studies have shown that disabled people who are in work exhibit more loyalty to their organisations, and actually tend to have less time off work (the distinction between ill-health and disability is important here: a disabled person is not necessarily an ill person!). In addition, the existence of a person with a disability in a team has been shown to increase co-operation among workers. There will also be the benefit usually associated with mixed, as opposed to homogenous, teams: that of improved creativity and new ideas.

One in every four customers has a disability, or has a close friend or relative with a disability. This means that the issue of disability touches almost everyone. It also means that attracting disabled customers and service users is an issue in itself: the market is large and eager. A wider customer base means more visibility for the organisation, with improved corporate image and the possibility of attracting ethical investors.

The legal case
Since the implementation of the DDA, and as new case law comes through the tribunal system, employers and service providers are increasingly realising the cost of non-compliance. Unlawful discrimination, and lack of provision of reasonable adjustments, have resulted in expensive and damaging cases. The ceiling on compensation awards is unlimited, and any case brought against an employer creates a bad image for the organisation, as well as tying up valuable time for the manager trying to deal with it. Well-designed application forms, thoughtful advertising, appropriate interview arrangements, justifiable rejections, a robust equal opportunities or diversity policy and procedures, knowledge of the government’s Code of Practice: these are all imperatives for any organisation. For those which provide a service, there are additional duties. Ignorance is no defence!

The ethical case
Most employers would like to feel that their procedures are just, and that their employees carry out their work with integrity. However, lack of knowledge about particular issues can lead to an unknowing and unintentioned discrimination. Valuing diversity within the organisation works best when there is involvement from all stakeholders, when there is overt commitment from the top, when workers have been consulted, when procedures and practices are monitored, and when relevant professional development is available and becomes the norm, rather than regarded as an optional extra. This way, the organisation can feel that it is not just the tasks that are being attended to, but also people’s emotions and sense of well-being. It is quickly apparent therefore that an ethical approach is likely to result in business benefits – for example: low turnover and reduced absenteeism.

There are clearly compelling arguments for ensuring that recruitment and other employment processes include disabled people, and equally strong reasons for complying with the law. There is also the issue of service provision, and of disseminating good practice generally. Routes to this latter goal might include provision of training and other resources. But the initial impetus must come from a demonstrable commitment from within the existing organisation itself.

Jean Brading is the Principal and driving force behind Kennetbridge Employment Specialist employment specialists dedicated to the provision of training and career management services.

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