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How to make your organisation more welcoming for staff with disabilities

by Sellick Partnership | 16 September 2021

Making your company more inclusive and welcoming for staff with disabilities benefits both your business and your workforce. By taking the right steps to help these employees thrive, you will be able to take full advantage of their considerable talents.

Modern recruitment is about more than simply looking for the most qualified candidates with the strongest CVs and proven professional credentials. With equality, diversity and inclusion becoming such major talking points within the corporate world, it is now equally important to be looking for talent in traditionally marginalised communities, and cultivate a company culture that provides every employee with an equal chance to succeed.

As part of this movement, more and more companies are waking up to the importance of making their workplaces more welcoming to staff with disabilities in recent years. Not only does this mark a company out as socially responsible, but also provides them with access to a sorely underutilised source of talent.

According to a recent House of Commons parliamentary report, a total of 8.4 million people of working age identified as disabled in October to December 2020, representing 20% of the working-age population. During this time, only 52.3% of disabled people were in employment - down from 54.1% a year previously, and much lower than the 81.1% employment rate for people without disabilities.

This shows there is a real opportunity for businesses to mark themselves out as disability-friendly employers, by working to provide staff with mental and physical disabilities with the right support measures and incentives they need to join. Not only will this allow your organisation to access significant untapped potential within the labour market, but will also help to visibly demonstrate that your commitment to inclusivity is real and substantial.

What are your legal requirements for supporting staff with disabilities?

When considering the steps that should be taken to accommodate staff with disabilities, the first and most important step is to make sure your organisation is fulfilling all the necessary legal requirements.

If an employee has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to do normal daily activities, the Equality Act 2010 states that you have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to support them in doing their jobs and progressing in work - many of which can be done at little or no cost.

Here are some of the most common examples of reasonable adjustments you may need to make:

  • Introducing changes to their working patterns to make it easier for them to complete the work.
  • Providing training or mentoring to help them overcome specific challenges and hurdles.
  • Making alterations to your premises to improve accessibility and mobility.
  • Ensuring that business-critical information is provided in accessible formats.
  • Modifying or acquiring work-related equipment to make sure all members of staff are able to complete their work.
  • Providing extra time during tests or tasks to account for people’s specific needs.

Additionally, your business may wish to take advantage of the Access to Work scheme - a government grant programme that provides disabled professionals with resources to cover the cost of practical aids for the workplace or for home working. These grants can be used to cover a variety of different support measures, including:

  • Special aids and equipment.
  • Accessibility-focused adaptations to existing equipment.
  • Subsidised costs for travel to and from work.
  • Communication support during the interview stage.
  • Assistance from a wide variety of support workers, depending on the person’s needs.

This scheme also includes a Mental Health Support Service, offering advice and guidance for employers to help them understand and offer better support for mental health issues, as well as providing eligible workers with a formal assessment to find out their needs and develop a support plan in conjunction with employers.

How can you go above and beyond in your support for staff with disabilities?

For an employer to stand out as offering a truly welcoming environment for staff with disabilities, they must go beyond the basic requirements and find ways to show they are making active efforts to make disabled employees and candidates feel valued and sought after.

Here are examples of some of the most impactful steps a business can take to achieve this:

Make your recruitment process as accessible as possible

Paying attention to accessibility throughout your recruitment processes is the best way of making sure you are gaining access to the widest possible pool of talent when hiring. Taking potential disabilities into account when designing your job adverts and interview processes should be a key part of this.

This means using a font for your adverts that is large and easy to read, or at least making it available in a variety of formats. It also means avoiding potentially exclusionary language, making it clear that applications are welcomed from all sections of the community, and proactively stating that you are willing to make adjustments and allowances for disabilities.

At the interview stage, you should make sure to find out whether they need any reasonable adjustments during the process, such as a change to the lighting or room layout, or switching to a remote interview. However, at the same time, you must remember that you are not permitted to ask too much about a candidate’s health status, other than to ascertain whether they can carry out the role or if they need extra support.

The aim is not to provide special treatment, or single anyone out; instead, the focus should be on taking the steps needed to provide everyone with an equal opportunity to succeed.

Join the Disability Confident employer scheme

Joining the government’s Disability Confident employer scheme is another way of quickly demonstrating your organisation’s welcoming approach to people with disabilities. This programme encourages companies to challenge attitudes towards disability, while removing barriers that prevent people with long-term health conditions from reaching their potential.

There are three levels to the Disability Confident employer initiative, each demonstrating a higher level of excellence on various key metrics of inclusion. These include being able to demonstrate that your company is actively advertising vacancies to people with disabilities, making adjustments for employees and offering interviews to people with health conditions.

Qualifying for this status allows your company to display a badge that will be taken as a recognised sign of your high standards in this area.

Show your recognition of ‘invisible’ disabilities

Taking an educated and progressive approach to supporting people with disabilities in the workplace means recognising that not every disability manifests in the same way. There are numerous so-called ‘invisible’ disabilities that are not immediately obvious to the outside observer, but can nevertheless have a major impact on a worker’s experiences.

Examples of this include autistic spectrum conditions and learning disabilities, as well as conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that can significantly affect the way a person processes information. These individuals may be extremely capable and talented, but may nevertheless require some additional support and work adjustments to do their best work.

Introduce a Mental Health First Aider scheme

Mental health first aiders can be a vital addition to any inclusive workplace. These are employees who have received mental health first aid training through Mental Health First Aid England, giving them key skills that allow them to act as a first point of contact for staff members who are experiencing mental health issues or emotional distress.

These team members also play a key role in fielding concerns someone may have about a colleague's mental wellbeing, meaning they can make a significant difference in ensuring that everyone within your organisation has someone to turn to if they are experiencing a mental health issue.

The government is currently looking to make it essential for mental health first aiders to be present in offices, similar to the laws around physical first aiders and fire marshals. By introducing this measure before it becomes legally mandatory, you can demonstrate your organisation’s commitment to going above and beyond.

Normalise flexible working arrangements

Flexible working and home working arrangements are often hugely beneficial for people with disabilities that mean they cannot operate successfully in a traditional office environment, or who are simply able to work more efficiently from their own homes.

In the past, these kinds of flexible arrangements may have been stigmatised or seen as difficult to arrange, but for many organisations the pandemic has acted as an unforeseen crash course in the basics of arranging productive alternative working arrangements. The last 18 months has also underlined the importance of organising work to accommodate different people’s health needs - and this is a lesson that businesses should look to remember as they look to support their disabled staff members in the future.

Consider accessibility when organising events and functions

Organising accessible arrangements and support for your employees within your own workplaces and premises should always be a key priority, but it is equally important to remember to consider these matters when organising off-site events, functions and social engagements.

These off-site functions are often organised to mark prestigious moments or achievements for the organisation, or to provide employees with a chance to socialise, unwind and bond as a team. By failing to take accessibility into account when planning these events, you risk sending the signal that employees with disabilities are an afterthought on these occasions.

As such, you should make sure to avoid this by considering the health needs of every attendee - something that can be achieved by consulting with these individuals as early as possible in the planning process.

Take issues of discrimination seriously

Fostering an inclusive working culture is not just about taking positive steps to support people with disabilities, but also to act quickly when someone has a reason to feel they have been mistreated.

If a staff member with a disability feels that they have been the target of discrimination or exclusionary language, it is essential to take this seriously, investigating the claim and taking swift action to repair the situation. You should be fully transparent in the way you go about this, so that everyone working at the company can see and understand the actions you have taken.

By being proactive about combating workplace discrimination, you can turn negative incidents into teachable moments, ultimately supporting your goal of creating an inclusive workplace.

Offer the right support for each individual

Above all else, creating a welcoming environment for workers with disabilities means remembering that every person needs something different in order to feel that their needs are being met. Each individual is different, so you must make sure you are offering the right support in every case.

This can only be achieved by communicating openly and honestly, not just in terms of finding out each individual’s preferences and personal circumstances, but also speaking to each member of the workforce candidly to identify potential barriers within your working culture and how to address them. When you have found this out, you can develop individualised solutions and tailored support that will bring the desired outcome for each person.

By taking these steps, your organisation will be able to mark itself out as a truly welcoming workplace for people with disabilities and specific health requirements. In achieving this, you will be able to draw from the widest possible pool of talent, improve your staff morale, enhance your reputation and know that all of your employees have all they need to produce their best work.

To learn more about how your organisation can support staff with disabilities, get in touch with the specialist recruitment consultants at Sellick Partnership. We can advise you on the steps you need to take to access the very best talent available.