According to the Office of National Statistics, almost half of all disabled people in the UK are unemployed (46 per cent). Considering that there is thought to be nearly 8 million people in the country with some type of disability, that is a massive number of undervalued and underutilised people.
It, therefore, seems logical to ask ‘Why are so many disabled people unemployed?’ The answer is, unfortunately, because there is still a certain amount of stigma around disabled people. Many businesses and hiring managers are likely to think of a disabled employee as an inconvenience at best, and an unnecessary expense at worst.
But thankfully, such stigmas and mentalities are starting to fade away. Especially because of the — as studies have shown — tangible economic benefits that are enjoyed by companies that have already invested in disabled talent.
While there is some truth that a disabled candidate may need some adjustments to help them in a typical workplace, most of these adjustments are inexpensive and very minor. And this could make all the difference between hiring a disabled person with the relevant skills and the right attitude, or just another able-bodied candidate.
In the engineering sector, the company Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure came to that realisation back in 2016. So they reformed their hiring policies in the hopes of building what we would now commonly call a “culture of access”. According to Dawn Moore, the company’s HR director, the reforms have benefited progress immensely. Wins include an increase in recommendations from 50 – 95 per cent; greater feelings of respect and inclusivity from line managers, and a near total agreement amongst employees that the company has their wellbeing as number one priority.
The company is now seeking ‘Leader’ status. That is, an official recognition by the UK government that a company is committing itself to building a culture of access within its walls.
The ‘Leader’ status is part of a hierarchy of status-levels recognised by the UK government’s Disability Confident scheme. When it was first implemented, Disability Confident openly sought to encourage employers to recruit workers with disabilities.
Initially, a lot of questions were asked about how the scheme could ever hope to be reasonably successful. After all, many businesses feared major adjustments would be necessary to their workplaces. There were also misgivings about the different approaches that would need to be adopted more generally to promote inclusivity.
These are legitimate obstacles for businesses that won’t go away overnight, but that hasn’t deterred the more-than 16,000 British companies that have already signed up to the ‘Committed’ level. At this level, companies have declared a promise that they will take active measures to recruit and hold on to disabled workers.
Committed is the lowest form of recognition by Disability Confident. After that is ‘Employer’ status followed by Leader status — the final level. In order to become a Leader, a business must prove that it has demonstrated a positive influence on having recruited disabled people into its workforce.
The benefits of a culture of access don’t stop with helping disabled people into the world of work. They reach every employee in the business. Once the mentality of inclusivity is introduced into a workplace, people tend to become more aware of the needs of others, full stop. It encourages greater levels of support for all employees and a greater sensitivity to others who may be undergoing changing family or health situations.
Lastly, as more people are waking up to the fact that disabled people, much like the general population, come with incredible individual talents and strengths of their own, the untapped disabled workforce may be a lifeline to many key industries at home.
The British engineering sector, for example, has been in a free-fall recruitment crisis since before 2016. With the curtain suddenly lifted on a standing army of nearly 4 million people, it becomes obvious that such skills shortages and recruitment problems only have to be an issue if we, as a society, let them be.
At the moment none of the Leader-status businesses under Disability Confident are in the construction and industry sector — in fact, very few of them have anything to do with technology. This attitude will have to change soon for these businesses to avoid a deep crisis. But the key to success remains remarkably simple: it is all about creating a workspace where everyone — including disabled people — can work, thrive, and most importantly stay, with a business.
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