Misconceptions Around Disability In The Workplace

The average cost of providing the required support for a disabled employee – or a ‘reasonable adjustment’ - is just £30

There are currently 3.5 million disabled people in employment, and recent figures show that 600,000 have moved into work over the last four years. However, despite the fact that the right to work is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the employment rate for disabled people in the UK has remained below 50% for the past decade.

If one million more disabled people were supported to work, Britain’s economy would receive a £45 billion boost. And while employment isn’t for everyone, many disabled people want a job, but struggle to secure one. In fact according to a recent survey of disabled jobseekers by the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI), 75% find their condition hampers their job hunt.

It comes down to a lack of understanding. Many employers are, in theory, open to employing disabled people – but just don’t know where to start, or are afraid of getting it ‘wrong’. Additionally, there are certain myths that persist around disability in the workplace: disabled people eat into a manager’s time, accomidating them is expensive or disabled people present a health and safety risk.

None of these are true. Evidence from Employers Disability NI, for example, shows that disabled people, in fact, take fewer sick days and have fewer accidents in the workplace.

A disability does not necessarily mean that a person will need constant attention, or an employer will need to make monumental changes to facilitate them. People with long-term or limiting conditions often have a knack of bedding into a new job quickly and finding their own solutions to challenges thanks to wealth of experience in problem solving coupled with an innate drive to succeed. In fact, according to data from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), HR leaders find that disabled employees outperform all other groups in terms of innovation and professional ambition.

The average cost of providing the required support for a disabled employee – or a ‘reasonable adjustment’ - is just £30. Many adjustments, such as a designated parking space, cost nothing at all. According to the Papworth Trust, the two most commonly requested adjustments are modified hours or reduced work hours. What’s more, the government’s Access to Work fund can help employers to cover costs of more expensive adjustments, such as software licences or wheelchair ramps.

For those who believe they don’t currently work with any disabled people, it is worth noting that official figures show that around one in eight people in the UK have a disability – yet only 8% of disabled people use a wheelchair. Many of those living with a disability have a ‘non-visible’ condition such as diabetes or a musculoskeletal disorder. The Equality Act 2010 defines as disability as any physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. And The World Health Organisation predicts that, by 2020, depression will be the leading cause of disability globally. But unless an employer fosters a culture of openness, individuals may be living with their condition in silence.

Research suggests that building a workforce which is representative of a company’s customer base has a positive impact on brand perception and profitability – and a recent survey by the Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED) found that the general public would like to see a greater presence of disabled individuals in the ‘work place and day-to-day life’.

Despite this, common misconceptions around disability mean that millions of people are unable to fulfil their professional potential. As someone who lives - and works - with a significant sight condition, I, like everyone, have a core set of skills and experiences that are unique to me and make me good at my job. Ultimately, an inclusive recruitment process should be able to assess candidates based solely on their ability to do the role they are applying for. We must bust the myths that surround disabled workers to ensure that everyone has a chance to shine.