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Saturday 16th March 2019 marks Disabled Access Day, which celebrates accessibility and inclusion across the UK. With over 3.7 million people with a disability in the UK currently in employment we look at how perceptions of disability in the workplace are drastically changing.

Under UK law, someone is defined as disabled if they have, “a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on [their] ability to do normal daily activities.”

Essentially, what this means is that if an employee has a mental or physical health issue which makes it difficult for them to do normal daily activities, and impacts part or all of their job, they could be classed as having a disability. This definition covers many people who have mental health problems, sensory impairments, mobility difficulties, learning disabilities, heart conditions, musculoskeletal conditions, epilepsy, disfigurement and more.

The Equality Act, which came into force on 1st October 2010, means that it is against the law to treat an employee or person applying for a job less favourably because they are disabled. In addition, the Act states that an employer is responsible for making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled employees are not placed at a disadvantage when compared to non-disabled staff.

Reasonable adjustments include:

  • Changing the recruitment process so a candidate can be considered for a job.
  • Consider ways of working, such as allowing someone with social anxiety disorder to have their own desk instead of hot-desking.
  • Making physical changes to the workplace, like installing a ramp for a wheelchair user or an audio-visual fire alarm for a deaf person.
  • Letting an employee work somewhere else, such as on the ground floor for a wheelchair user.
  • Changing equipment, for instance providing a special keyboard if a person had arthritis.
  • Allowing employees a phased return to work after a period of absence, including flexible hours or part-time working.
  • Offering employees training opportunities, recreation and refreshment facilities.

Between 2013 and 2018, the number of people with disabilities in employment increased by around 34% – meaning a significant change in the portion of disabled workers to non-disabled workers in the UK workforce. This demonstrates how more businesses are experiencing a shift in mindset with regards to hiring more employees with disabilities.

Employers are beginning to recognize that it’s not just about helping people with disabilities overcome disadvantage, but about seeing those with disabilities as an important source of talent, creativity and innovation. By moving the focus from a person’s disability, to the additional abilities they may have, employers can discover a range of skills they may not have considered that can help drive their business forward.

People with disabilities may have had to navigate a world that is not always easily accessible for them.

As a result, they may have had to find alternative solutions and strategies to challenges, and innovative uses for tools and technology. As well as creating resilience to overcome challenges, living with certain disabilities could also require strong planning and organisation skills which employees can utilize in their working life.

Their experiences could enhance behaviours valued in many forward-thinking workforces such as empathy and creativity and adding people with different experiences to a team can have a positive impact on company culture. Dependent on the disability, there could be other specific skills which businesses can harness, such as the ability to use British Sign Language (BSL).

Businesses also are focusing on the importance of nurturing a diverse workforce and creating teams that are more inclusive, reflecting the diverse range of customers it serves and the community in which it is based. Ensuring that workforces include those with and without disabilities can give teams a different perspective on the range of needs we must consider to better serve all types of customers.

The Government claims that 70% of the British public feel that attitudes towards disabled people have improved since the London Paralympic Games in 2012 and it appears this mindset has had a positive impact on recruitment in the UK. What might have been presumed in the past as a disadvantage, is now being recognized as an asset for companies to create awareness and understanding of diversity, harness specific skills and building strong networks that enable us to work better together.

Disabled Access Day is taking place on Saturday 16th March 2019. You can read more about the day here

Want to find out more about managing mental health in the workplace?

Read our blog post Five Ways to Improve Your Mental Health at Work to find ways of caring for your mental wellbeing.