Disabilities in the Workplace

It’s no secret disabled candidates face a diverse range of parochialistic barriers to work including false industry stigmas, unconscious biased beliefs, limited transport options, and inaccessible workplaces. However, with the help of particular government schemes, a positive shift in media attention, pro-active employee movements and forward-thinking conglomerates who are taking the lead and disrupting perceptions, it’s quite clear the employment gap is being filled and a positive employment shift is taking place.

As it currently stands, 1 in 5 people living in the UK are disabled and roughly 48% are unemployed – when that’s over one million job-seekers looking for opportunities and a disability unemployment gap of 30% (only 52% of disabled are employed vs 82% of the general working population). Fortunately, there is an increase number of companies that have surfaced in marketplace making a conscious effort to employ disabled candidates and propel them back in the mainstream working world.

CLARITY & Co., a registered charity and one of the UK's foremost social enterprises, employs, trains and supports people with disabilities – some of whom are looking to transition back into mainstream employment. Through various PR initiatives, they are actively encouraging employers to follow suit and to see “workability, not disability”.

CLARITY & Co.’s latest national disability awareness campaign - #Steal our Staff - calls on potential employers to familiarise themselves with the talent behind the social enterprise’s eco-ethical BECO. brand. The campaign objective is to disrupt perceptions of disability – it showcases some of their staff in the hope that those who want to, will go on to secure jobs outside of the organisation, freeing-up opportunities for new staff in need of employment. Staff profiles and mini CV’s are featured on the brand’s packaging in key retailers such as Boots, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op and on the BECO. website www.beco.uk

As a result, businesses from all sectors have been sending in job descriptions in the hope of finding a suitable candidate currently working at CLARITY & Co. In the first month alone #StealOurStaff accrued over 25 million social media impressions, with top-tier bloggers and influencers coming on board and supporting it.

Gillian Austen, Head of Employment Services at CLARITY & Co., offers some advice to employers who have concerns pertaining to the risks associated to employing disabled staff: “Find out what support / funding there is available e.g through access to work to help them in their job.

“Additionally, learn as much about each employee’s disability and condition so you understand the impact it has on the employee. Ensure their colleagues and team know the impact the disability has on the individual so they can be understanding and support if necessary. Be flexible where possible in terms of working hours and arrangements. Open communication at all stages of the recruitment process between applicant and employer is key.”

Furthermore, Andy Zneimer who works in communications at CLARITY & Co. adds: “I would recommend affording people with disabilities a real chance to prove themselves. With the right job, the right training and right amount of time to hit the ground running, people with disabilities are more than capable of doing a great job! Often, they will work harder and appreciate the opportunity more simply because of their disability and the obstacles they have faced in finding work.”

Though barriers may still exist, there are ways of combatting both the recruitment process and
navigating the day to day return to employment as a disabled person. It all comes down to empowering yourself through the education and resources available to you through relevant charities and schemes such as the Disability Confident Scheme. Through this, you will develop tools that equip you to communicate practical solutions to your prospective employers and manage your condition throughout the process.

Liam O’Dell, a mildly deaf campaigner and full-time employer of a well-known London based charity (he chose not to disclose this) has expressed his views on how employees can back themselves when both interviewing for job opportunities as well as when they commence a new position.

Liam encouraged those who are in the interview process to:

Firstly, educate themselves on government initiatives, and leverage accessible resources that could potentially help them in their new roles. - Secondly, Liam encouraged anyone applying for a job to go in with a case and clearly communicate the potential issues you are likely to experience with your prospective employer. Basically, present practical solutions at interview to prove that should the right actions be taken, nothing will impede you from performance! - Thirdly, providing examples of how one has effectively been able to combat the issue is a powerful way of painting the picture of success. Typically, there tends to be a “one size fits all” perception related to disabilities and disabled employees which more often than not, tends to define employees by their disability. The reality is really each condition differs and support needs to be tailored or personalized to each employee and this should be emphasized and explained right from the get-go. Be bold, be confident and be clear.

Should the interview process progress, Liam believes the responsibility should fall on both the employee and employer to establish an understanding of the support required. These initial discussions will safeguard against issues arising down the track and foster a healthy working environment, productivity levels and employee/employer satisfaction.

Sadly, there is still a general perception surrounding the competence levels, risks and costs associated to employing disabled people and the fact that they “cant” “wont” or “shouldn’t” work. This unconscious bias will only change via a mixture of internal and external discussions – both publically within the wider society and within the workplace. When it comes to “representation” and “visions of the workplace” in the wider media, disabled people are characteristically not included.

When you think of the workplace, you think of “men in suits” and it is within this form of a binary view that disabled people are excluded from the picture and therefore becomes a misconception that disabled people are “separated” or “different” from able bodied employees. Not true.

On the bright side, free government schemes and charities such as ‘Scope’ are contributing positively to the change in perception and reinforce the fact that most disabled people are competent, want the pleasure of having a rewarding job, appreciate the opportunity and are valued. They are proactively highlighting what support there is available, the questions that should be asked and what trailed and tested practical solutions there are to offer. Great job guys. Additionally, media outlets are beginning to change their tune and deliver important and much needed messaging pertaining to this issue. Clever and encouraging campaigns such as the Power Olympics coined as “Super Humans” produced by Channel Four are changing the debate and presenting disabilities as an “inspiration” rather than a burden. This campaign included both disabled public facing employees as well as behind the scenes production crew who are disabled which is an important reminder that disabled people have all types of skills. Thankfully, these type of coverage, support and awareness are all contributing towards a positive shift.

When it comes to managing the disability within the workplace, there are certain ways of managing the process from the initial hire through to the day to day management whilst at work. A well-known and respected medical practitioner based in West London has had profound experience with dealing with numerous patients who suffer both mentally and physically that sadly fail to disclose their conditions out of fear. Fear of missing out on the opportunity, fear of being perceived as being problematic, fear of being judged. The list goes on. The Doctor (who has asked to remain anonymous) advises patients to be fully open and transparent about the condition, be aware of your rights and workplace modifications and communicate consistently with internal resources such as in-house councellors and human resources. This will allow for proper planning to help the person stay at work, deliver efficiently and manage their disability effectively.

As a professional working in central London, I have collaborated with a handful of employees who have either a mental or physical disability. These candidates who have come in to see me have wholeheartedly wanted a chance to prove themselves and to the world they are good enough. They have all have one thing in common: low expectations of ever being considered by prospective employers. This has both saddened and disappointed me as more often than not, their determination, transferable skills, education and other positive attributes are unfortunately

I feel recruitment professionals and the industry as a whole should be playing a bigger part in filling the employment gap and I urge agencies and independent consultants to help create a new market by welcoming the disabled community via their social and professional platforms, as well as their company messaging.

Let’s work together and make a conscious effort to implement a symbiotic process with both clients and candidates in order to position the industry as progressive and create social good.


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