Is employer ignorance the biggest barrier to disability equality in the workplace?

Evenbreak employer PageGroup polled 1,000 business leaders to try and understand the perceived barriers they face when employing disabled people. The results show an astounding level of ignorance, and a major cause of the long-standing employment gap of 30% between non-disabled people in work (approx. 80%) and disabled people in work (approx. 50%).

Their research highlighted the five perceived barriers business leaders worried about most. Let’s look at each in turn.

Having the right internal support in place to accommodate the needs of disabled staff members

23% of business leaders cited this as a concern. Really? Can you imagine any business leader saying, “we can’t employ Black people/women/gay people/whoever because we might not have the internal support to meet their needs”? Well, OK, there are probably still a few around who think like this, but you would hope they would be very much in the minority in 2021. 

What happens when existing employees become disabled or acquire a long-term health condition? I say ‘when’, not ‘if’, because this happens to 2% of people of working age every year. Getting rid of those staff is not only illegal (see Equality Acy 2010), but would be a huge loss of existing talent.

Most disabled people have very few ‘needs’ over and above the things employers should be doing anyway – offering flexible working hours, perhaps hybrid or remote working, keeping walkways clear to avoid tripping hazards etc. And the reality is that these business leaders will already be employing disabled people; they just don’t know it. 80 to 90% of disabled people aren’t visibly disabled. 

The cost of modifying equipment / technology for disabled employees

23% also cited this as a concern. I assume the same 23% who were worried about the previous issue. I also assume they haven’t heard of Access to Work, which will support disabled employees identify the support they might need, whether travel, support workers, assistive technology, and will pay some or all of the associated costs.

Concerns around legal proceedings if disabled hires don’t work out

20% of business leaders were worried about this. I wonder if they also worry about the legal proceedings which would happen if they put things into place to prevent or discourage disabled people from joining their company?

Additional resource commitment to onboard disabled workers

20% cited this as a concern. My response would be as for the previous three. If you have a good onboarding process, finding out what every new recruit needs in order to thrive in your workplace, then this will work for most disabled employees. If you do need additional support, Access to Work can help, as aforementioned.

A perception that disabled people may lack the right skills

20% were worried about this. Just to say that no employer is expected to employ someone who doesn’t have the skills for the job. And that disabled people tend not to apply for jobs they don’t have the skills to do (much like non-disabled people, but more so, because of the experience of being discriminated against even when going for a job they could metaphorically do standing on their head with their eyes closed).

Disabled people, of course, have the same range and diversity of skills as everyone else. Plus a good few more, gained from navigating around a world not designed for them. Every day. Skills like creative thinking. Project management. Problem solving. Resilience. Really useful skills for employers.

The encouraging thing is that the five main concerns that these business leaders worry about, are really based on myths rather than reality. So hopefully, with a bit of education, the doors to employment opportunities should be opened much more willingly to talented disabled candidates.

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