In the UK, only 49.6% of disabled people have a job, compared to 80.4% of non-disabled people. That’s a huge gap. There’s been great progress in recent years – in the last year alone over 300,000 disabled people moved into work – but there’s clearly still a long way to go.
Recruitment is one issue – recent research shows that over a single year, only 8% of UK firms employed a disabled person. One reason for this could be a lack of confidence in how to support them. But often it just takes a few adjustments. SoloProtect, a Sheffield company that provides security and support to lone workers, made a conscious decision to change its recruitment process to attract more disabled candidates.
One employee who benefitted from this is Keli Ashby, who has a visual impairment. She says, ‘I was ecstatic to join the team. I didn’t think I’d find somewhere where I really enjoyed working. I’m going nowhere.’ Sarah Mackie, HR manager at SoloProtect, says, ‘By giving just a little bit of extra support to our disabled employees, we get more of a work ethic, and increased loyalty and retention, which means the company benefits by bigger profits. I would thoroughly encourage employers to take on disabled staff – it’s much simpler than you may think.’
The government, in running their Disability Confident scheme, hopes to make all businesses as positive about recruiting disabled staff as SoloProtect, but recognises that employers may have misconceptions about what it would mean for them. The scheme aims to encourage employers to open up their workforce and to ensure that disabled people have the same opportunities in their workplace as non-disabled people.
Challenging misconceptions is a large part of that. Disability is a wide-ranging term; fewer than 10% of disabled people are in wheelchairs, and many disabilities are ‘invisible’ – mental health conditions, for instance.
Steve Loft, a manager at Transport for London, was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder after suffering a traumatic life event. He took three months off work and his line manager, Ian Buswell, gave him all the help and support he needed. ‘I realised that this could happen to anyone,’ says Buswell. ‘If it were me, I’d want someone to give me the chance to pull through.’ Loft appreciated Buswell keeping in contact: ‘He had faith in me even when I didn’t myself. Now I’m back, the only way I can repay him is to work hard for him.’
Over 7 million people of working age in the UK are disabled or have a health condition. Any one of us could be affected by disability tomorrow – in fact, 83% of people acquire their disability while at work. If employers want to retain loyal, hardworking staff – and improve their talent pool and brand reputation while they’re at it – now is the time to create an inclusive workplace.