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The proactive employment of disabled staff is far more than a diversity box-ticking exercise

In last year’s manifesto the Conservative Party set out the goal to halve the disability employment gap. But a recent study by the Learning and Work Institute shows that this would actually take more than 200 years to fulfil.

However, the Kingston Centre for Independent Living has seen from its activities in Richmond and Kingston that more and more companies, especially from the retail sector, are making good progress to employ more disabled people.

Martin Chitty, partner at Gowling WLG, says that the proactive employment of disabled staff is far more than a diversity box-ticking exercise.

‘As well as increasing the pool of high-calibre candidates within a business, mirroring the diversity of a customer base within the workforce can help in maintaining a long-term proposition that people buy into more readily,’ he adds.

Overcoming recruitment concerns

CEO of the Kingston Centre for Independent Living Lisa Ehlers says, ’We are finding that with new adaptive technology, disability awareness and flexibility employers are overcoming the concerns that they have had in regards to employing disabled people.

They are now benefitting from tapping into this wide talent pool and reflecting the wider community in their workforce. John Lewis and Marks and Spencer’s are good examples of employers that are seeing the benefits of hiring disabled staff.’

While there are efforts in some quarters to cater more for disabled workers, there are improvements still to be made.

For example, nine out of ten (91 per cent) UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) say their business does not currently have a lift if there is more than one floor, while four fifths (83 per cent) say their products and services are not designed to be accessible to all customers, including those with sensory or mobility disabilities, according to Barclays research.

A further 81 per cent of UK businesses do not have car parking spaces for people with disabilities, while 74 per cent do not have a ramp, and a further 74 per cent do not have toilets that are easily accessible.

The study also finds that only one in ten UK businesses currently provides written communications in braille (10 per cent), one in ten in audio (11 per cent), while only a third (31 per cent) have signs that are easy to read, in high contrast and in large type.

This is despite the fact that provision of accessible formats is required under the Equality Act (2010).

At 11 million and with a spending power estimated to be worth £212 billion, people with disabilities make up a significant proportion of UK consumers and their number is predicted to grow over the coming years.

Yet almost one in five (18 per cent) business owners are not sure what the benefit of making their business more inclusive would be, while a similar number (17 per cent) say they would not know where to start or what adjustments would need to be made.

For 23 per cent, the costs of making their company accessible is too high and about 10 per cent say it would be too much hassle.

However, while the majority of UK companies are not currently applying ‘inclusive design’; the process of making something more accessible and inclusive, to their business, over three quarters (77 per cent) would if they had the right guidance.

Making workplace adjustments for disabled people

Although there are obvious advantages to employing disabled people, business owners should not forget their legal obligation to make reasonable workplace adjustments in line with their needs, Chitty says.

This can range from modifying equipment through to mentoring, training and implementing customised emergency evacuation procedures. ‘It is worth remembering that the government’s Access to Work programme offers potential financial support for businesses finding it hard to bear the full cost of these adjustments,’ he adds.

Chitty says that discriminating against a candidate on the basis of their disability is unlawful. ‘However, business owners should remember that this applies to every stage of the recruitment process, for example, job adverts should be accessible to all those able to do the job, whether they have a disability or not.

For the employment of disabled people to rise, investment must start with employers. Thanks to companies like Channel 4, training schemes are becoming more accessible to disabled employees, notes disability resource, Able Magazine.

‘Due to a lack of representation in the industry, Channel 4 has started a scheme which provides a 12-month contract to work at one of the independent production companies.

Not only is this a source of employment but a training package is provided to ensure each participant is well prepared for a continuing career in the industry. This is a positive move within the media industry, however there must be more sustainable training schemes like this for disabled people,’ says the magazine.

Boost Capital can provide funding to help small businesses cover the costs of recruitment, training staff, and adapting their premises to suit a more diverse workforce with different needs.


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