Is there a business case for employing disabled people?

It’s a cliché, but still true that for most businesses their people are not only their most important asset, but also their most expensive. Recruiting and retaining the best people who are equipped with the right skills needed to do the job is crucial for any employer. As 20% of the working population are disabled, and eight out of 10 disabled people acquired their disability during the course of their working life, it’s as difficult issue to avoid.

In business, as in society as a whole, there are many misconceptions about disabled people, probably driven by the overwhelmingly negative image of them in the mainstream media. Private, public and third sector organisations are all concerned about saving money in these very uncertain economic times, and employing disabled people can feel like an expensive luxury we can no longer afford. However, the reality is somewhat different, and interestingly, company surveys consistently conclude that organisations who have successfully employed disabled people are keen to employ more.

sales graph with piles of moneyUnderstanding the commercial potential of employing disabled people is always a good starting point for exploring the business case. There are more than ten million disabled people in the UK with spending power estimated to be in excess of £80 billion a year. That’s an awful lot of money, and employing disabled people, understanding disability and generally having a proactive attitude towards disabled customers or service-users could be hugely rewarding to your organisation’s bottom line.

And staying on the money side of things for a bit, it is much, much cheaper to retain a staff member who has become disabled than try to recruit someone new. The Post Office estimates that medically retiring an employee can cost around £80,000. Not to mention that if you were to become involved in litigation with regard to a disability claim under the Equality Act 2010 there is currently no ceiling to the compensation that can be awarded at tribunal. In addition, consider the time, hassle and damage to your reputation that a court case would involve.

From purely a recruitment point of view, if you positively seek to attract applications from disabled people you will have a much wider choice of potential employees with a good range of skills and a positive attitude towards work. Studies show that on average disabled employees are just as productive as their non-disabled colleagues (sometimes more so), have less time off sick, fewer workplace accidents and stay with their employers longer, increasing retention and saving money on recruiting and training new staff. Showing a positive approach towards disability also tends to foster good relations with other staff and generally enhances your reputation as an employer of choice.

So all in all, it’s worth overcoming the perceived barriers to employing disabled staff – and perceptions are usually all they are. For example, 45% of employers think that they won’t be able to afford to employ a disabled person – they feel that making reasonable adjustments for them will be costly and difficult. In reality, most disabled employees don’t need any adjustments at all. Of those that do only 4% cost money, and the average cost of adjustments is £184 per disabled employee. With grants and expert support available from a variety of agencies such as Access to Work, even this is usually paid for.

Obviously employers are looking to get the best people for their organisation, and yet some will automatically exclude disabled applicants, who may have just the skills they are looking for. Shockingly, some employers still think that disabled people have nothing to offer – perhaps they should try telling that to Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill, David Blunkett and Richard Branson.

Do you have examples of benefits that employing disabled people have brought to your company?

5 thoughts on “Is there a business case for employing disabled people?

    1. Some of my comments may have been posted already, but are important and need to be reiterated.People who live in residential care are there for a reason and often may not be able to speak out or voice their opinion fully; almost certainly not to the extent that they probably wish. I’m quite sure that many would much prefer an ordinary life, with choices and opportunities that most of us take for granted every day. Simple things like being able to choose what to eat, who to spend time with, where to go, with whom and for how long; a meaningful role in society, a loving relationship, their own house even their own bank account are luxuries that so many people are unable to enjoy and probably never will.As if life has not been made painful and utterly difficult enough for many of these people (which in most cases is no-one’s fault, but is no easier to bare), repeated indignities only compound these struggles and it is shameful.Free money will never take away their struggles but it does help, in some small way, to open up just a few opportunities that otherwise would be simply unattainable.The social care system in this country is going through some major changes, but is still woefully underfunded, under resourced and often completely misunderstood. The proposed cuts will ruin people’s lives this is a fact and cannot be argued otherwise, however eloquant the government makes their statements. It is shocking how a blind eye can be turned to the super-rich and their greedy actions, whilst those living on so little face having even that taken away.Not that I need to validate my comments, I will nevertheless add that I work with profoundly disabled people every day and I have multiple sclerosis. I have experienced everything written above first hand for a very long time and I am very scared for the future of these people and for myself, in Britain.It is a good place to live if you do nothing for yourself and need financial help.It is set to become a dreadful place to live if you cannot do anything for yourself and need financial help.To anyone who feels that vulnerable and physically or learning disabled people do not deserve financial assistance; you must hope that you never find yourself in their situation.


      1. As an architect, I have taken dleibiiatiss to heart. I spent two years between ’92 -’94 petitioning the National Architects Licensing Board (NCARB) to recognize the Americans with Disabilities Act since I could not hold a pencil for 12 hours in the test to design a building. I experienced a brain tumor, which paralyzed me for 4 1/2 years. When the tumor was removed in ’96, I thought all was fine. I did experience an allergic reaction to Dilantin and Tegretol, which nearly killed me. I have since learned that this reaction triggered another disorder, Systemic Mastocytosis.I suffer severe reactions to various toxins. I go into anaphylaxis with formaldehyde(s), VOC’s, Second Hand Smoke, as well as some foods.As such, I work to make sure affordable housing projects funded with public dollars meet green sustainable criteria including indoor air quality. As an architect and construction coordinator with the city of Portland, Oregon, I co-authored Greening Affordable Housing in 2000. I also created a section 504 checklist for our clients recieving federal HUD dollars since there was not a readily accessible form available.I have worked to make sure our office workspace has good air quality as well. However, twice now, I have been removed from the planning process. First, when I discovered that the building our city office was moving to had high quantities of lead dust in the ductwork. It took my stay in the I.C.U. and assistance from some co-workers to expose the lead levels being up to 63 times above EPA Action level in the continuous elevated ductwork and 2 1/2 times above action levels on all of the existing interior columns. Since the office is not a residence and does not regularly have children in it, city management felt it was not important enough to address.Next, last year, our housing department was moving into another office. I was once again removed from the planning team when I expressed concern over the existing capacity of the HVAC system. When we moved in last November, I experienced three episodes of anaphylaxis. After petioning for reasonable accomodations, I now work from home.Unfortunately, the city will not provide regular telconferencing nor a video conferencing service for me to communicate with my co-workers. Also, since my home is not the same distance to various job sites where I must visit, the city is now unwilling to fully cover my mileage reimbursement.Since the lead and the carbon dioxide/formaldehyde levels have permanently impacted my systemic mast cell count to such a degree that I now must undergo monitoring for various forms of cancer on a regular basis. My medicine costs are upwards of $1,800 / month. I need to maintain employment for my insurance and health costs, yet the city has made efforts insisting I return to the office space. They have further made requests that I quit because my working from home is a burden on the work I must provide. My physician(s) have repeatedly stated the condition warrants me to stay out of the office unless measures are made to protect my health. Where do I go from here?


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