Why and how you should employ disabled people

As an employer, what do you see when you look at a disabled job applicant? Being totally honest with yourself, do you see the person’s abilities, or just their disability?

According to the charity Scope, 17% of working age adults in the UK are disabled, of which over 3.4 million are in employment. Those with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be unemployed compared to their non-disabled counterparts. And yet even a 10 percentage point rise in their employment rate would contribute an additional £12 billion to the Treasury by 2030.

It goes without saying that people with disabilities should have the same job opportunities as everyone else. And particularly in view of skills shortages in some industry sectors, including hotel and catering businesses, looking at the contributions that disabled employees can make is a sensible strategy for employers.

Benefits of employing someone with a disability

Whether the person has learning difficulties, a hearing or sight impairment, or is confined to a wheelchair, employers need to be open minded and look beyond the ‘problem’ to see the very real benefits of employing a disabled person, including

  • Increasing the number of first class candidates applying for a post in your business.
  • Retaining and accommodating fully trained and experienced employees who may have acquired an impairment recently, which is often more cost effective than hiring new staff.
  • Creating a workforce that accurately reflects the demographics and needs of your customer base as well as the community in which you work.
  • Adding new customer skills to your business, such as employees who are skilled in British Sign Language (BSL) and can help provide a better service for customers with hearing loss.

Disability friendly recruitment practices

Having decided that employing disabled people is good for business, how to you make sure you don’t miss out on talent by inadvertently excluding people with disabilities from the recruitment process?

When there’s a vacancy you are advertising to fill in your business, you must make sure you don’t discriminate against people with disabilities, according to the Equality Act 2010. This means that you should make job adverts accessible to anyone who may be able to do the job.

In practice, this means being careful when writing job briefs, making use of the best HR software and avoiding sweeping statement that could preclude disabled people from applying.

  • Make sure you use a typeface that is easy on the eye and large enough to read throughout the applications documentation.
  • Ensure that alternative job application formats are provided for, such as online applications, paper based forms etc.
  • Clearly state your company’s equal opportunities policy in the job advert.
  • Double check that no section of the community has inadvertently been excluded from the job criteria, for example by not asking for a driving licence unless the job actually requires the use of a car.
  • Make sure that the person specification only mentions those skills and experience that are essential to the advertised position.

Interviewing a disabled person can also be tricky unless you’re an experienced HR practitioner or are well informed about the law. Many business managers struggle with the topic of disability, worried they won’t know how to ask the right questions, could offend someone or be dragged into an Employment Tribunal.

There’s a useful Government booklet available to download here, which can form the basis for the questions you may wish to ask during the recruitment process. Acas can also provide training and business support.

Reasonable adjustments for disabled employees

According to legislation, employers are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that the disabled employee isn’t substantially disadvantaged while carrying out their duties. Some adjustments may involve little or no cost at all to the business, however you may be able to claim back expenses for support or adaptations via the Access to Work scheme.

General adjustments for disabilities and impairments can include:

  • Accommodating changes to a disabled person’s working patterns.
  • Offering additional training or mentoring.
  • Allowing extra time for performance testing.
  • Making alterations to business premises, e.g. for wheelchair users.
  • Providing suitable office and computing equipment.
  • Ensuring all information is accessible in the appropriate format.

Specific adjustments for disabilities and impairments can include:

Employees with a physical impairment

  • Ensure that the office layout is suitable and the working environment is not obstructed.
  • Provide accessible IT equipment with hardware and/or software modifications.
  • Have an agreed exit procedure in place, if assistance is needed to get out of the building in an emergency.

Employees with sight loss

  • Make all information and documents available in large print format, Braille or in audio, and install appropriate software to achieve this.
  • Carry out a risk assessment of the workplace.
  • Train other staff in visual impairment issues and assign a work colleague to assist where necessary.

Employees with hearing loss

  • Provide assistive telephone and IT devices.
  • Make all documents and information available in an accessible format.
  • Seat the employee in a quiet area, away from distracting noises.

Employees with a mental health condition

  • Accommodate the need for flexible working patterns, including time off work for health appointments.
  • Provide a quiet place to work, away from usual distractions.
  • Work together to create a plan to support their health condition.