Diversity in the Workplace: Disability

Diversity in the Workplace: Disability

12 June 2017

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Disability in the workplace can seem like, for both employers and employees alike, a taboo subject. No manager wants to have accidentally belittled a member of staff and no employee wants to feel like they are asking for more support than others.

Perhaps, as a result of this ‘difficult conversation’, only 45% of disabled people in the UK are economically active (i.e. in the labour market). There are currently 1.2 million disabled people in the UK who are available for – and want to – work. There goes the stereotype of disabled people always being off sick or not interested in full-time employment

Why do disabled people not make up a greater proportion of our workforce? Why is there a distinct lack of visible examples of disability in the workforce?

Employment rates vary greatly according to the type of impairment a person has. Disabled people with mental health problems have the lowest employment rates of all impairment categories at only 21%. The employment rate for people with learning disabilities is 26%. The disability pay gap still stands at 6% - even though the Equal Pay Act was passed in the 1970s.

For some disabled people, the trouble with securing work starts with a lack of access to social care. They may require help getting out of bed, having a shower, getting dressed or having breakfast. Then there is the issue with a lack of suitable public transport nearby. There are so many hurdles to overcome just to physically get to work.

Making a business disability friendly costs, on average, £75 per year according to the Glasgow Disability Alliance. Any workplace that may be dissuaded about making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate disability should be encouraged by this low cost. After all, the loyalty and hard work you would receive in return is priceless in terms of productivity and profitability.

Some businesses may not know where to start when it comes to attracting disabled talent to their workforce. Projects such as mentoring schemes, work placements or volunteering are a great place to start. The deficit is not in the talents of disabled people, but the lack of role models and supportive culture.

I have seen, first hand through The Princes’ Trust, the sheer joy in the eyes of young disabled adults who have been given a chance at employment. It restores their self-respect and confidence. It means so much more than taking home a pay cheque. It’s about being accepted for who they are and what they have to offer; it’s about being a role model for other disabled people doubting their abilities in the workplace.

The benefits of having a workforce who reflect your customer base more accurately have already been proven. Disabled people are consumers too.

Staff are more likely to be productive when they feel supported and able to be themselves. Leaders and businesses as a whole need to view disability diversity as something more than a legal obligation. Decision makers and existing staff need to want change and be willing to work towards it. All employees should be given training as to how to counter negative stereotypes and attitudes.

Diversity legislation is about making Scotland’s workplaces fairer and safer for everyone to be respected and accepted for being themselves.



Written By Barry Lee


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