Workplace disability - are you confident?

By Dianah Worman OBE, CIPD Diversity Adviser @DianahWorman

 Government continues to try to get employers to up their game on improving employment chances for people with disabilities.


 Because progress over the last few decades has been painfully slow. This is bad news because it is not good for people, the country or business.

 Even the introduction of enabling legislation to challenge unfair discrimination and support practical and necessary change to help employers get their act together in ways that both make business sense has not succeeded in achieving significant improvement.

 Law on its own cannot trigger the important changes that need to happen. It remains the case that members of this labour market group are seriously disadvantaged in the stakes to be economically independent. People with disabilities find it much harder to get jobs than their able -bodied contemporaries even four years after the introduction of the Equality Act 2010.

 The result is a serious waste of talent, continued serious unfairness and growing frustration.

 So how can we help to make the much needed difference?

 Government thinks - along with other stakeholders interested in progress being made - that promoting the mounting business case evidence from vanguard employers who have pioneered progress, as well as the good practices they find that work, need to be heralded loudly and shared.

 Evidence shows that employer testimonies help to engage wider employer commitment. So a smart national communication strategy has been designed based on quick and impactful ways of getting these messages across through a series of conferences backed up by web- based information resources. The conferences focus opportunities for employers to learn from each other and network with providers with know-how.

 In July 2013 the inaugural conference in London marked the launch of a high profile two year campaign: Disability Confident. This pivotal event was addressed by the Prime Minister who is personal supporter of the campaign. He said:

"Employing disabled people makes business sense too. When on average 20% of customers are disabled, why wouldn’t you want your business to have the perspective and insights of disabled people? In fact, disabled people, together with their friends and family, they have a combined spending power of £80 billion a year. One insurer recently found that upgrading its website to make it fully accessible increased online sales by a staggering 90%."

It is being followed by a series of free regional events aimed at employers who are not disability confident, as it is recognised from research evidence that it is fear that stops employers from taking the action that is needed to trigger the changes they need to make. Changes that are often easier to make than expected. And certainly for much lower costs and with the added unexpected benefits.

 In my view, in comparison with what is done in other highly developed economies, what we do in the UK is often more advanced. However, challenges remain and we need to tackle them.

 There is much more awareness and activity in progressing inclusive practices for people with disabilities than there was when the Institute published guidance - Getting on with disabilities: An employer’s guide (Ken Birkett and Dianah Worman) well over two decades ago as a way of engaging employers to be more proactive in employing disabled people.

 For example, there was no anti- discrimination legislation then, but there was a quota system attached to employment law introduced after the end of World War II. This placed a duty on employers to have 3% of their employees to be people registered as disabled. It was a Government intervention to help injured war veterans get jobs. But it did not work and it no longer exists. In fact, data showed that there were too few registered disabled people available to help employers meet the target number.

Now law protects people with disabilities against unfair discrimination, but now as then fear and ignorance continues to hold employers back. Lack of confidence and know-how stops progress. Let’s hope the Disability confident campaign will help to overcome this.

 While challenges persist, working together will help to make the difference in overcoming them. It will wake employers up to the reasons why they should take time to understand how to manage disability and inclusion better and how to integrate ways of doing this into everyday operational activity so it becomes business as usual.

 We did it for the amazingly successful Paralympic Games in London 2012.

 Let’s hope UK employers can build on the learning that made them the most inclusive Games ever.

 As the population ages and more and more of us acquire a disability in our later years, the need for efficiency and effectiveness in managing disability and inclusion will become even more important than it is now.

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