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Making UK workplaces a level playing field for disabled people

The employment landscape for disabled people in the UK is a bleak one.

Their chances of getting a job are 31% less than their non-disabled peers, and if they are lucky enough to get a job, they are paid 14.6% less than their non-disabled peers and have limited opportunities for progression.

This is despite many efforts from government, industry and the third sector to tackle this issue independently.

The time is now for collaboration and a cohesive approach if we are ever going to ensure that disabled people can have the same opportunities to have a rich, rewarding and fulfilling career like I do.

As the only blind female CEO in the UK, with ADHD to boot, I have certainly experienced my share of discrimination when both seeking a job and in employment. I have been made to feel all sorts of things that I am not — lesser, stupid, invalid, incapable, and incompetent — to name a few.

The folks who made me feel that way were all well intentioned.

But they still saw my entirety as being disabled, rather than understanding the fact that I can’t see and my executive functions work differently to other people’s. That is all.

My other abilities, skills, knowledge, experience, expertise, qualifications, views and approaches all remain intact.

Disabled people will work the rest of the year for free

Where the gap begins

The statistics around disabled people and employment in the UK have not improved for over a decade, with 82% of people of working age in employment, whereas that statistic for disabled people is 52%.

This is called the disability employment gap. The disability pay gap, where disabled people in work earn less than colleagues who don’t have a disability is equally disheartening.

In a survey of senior managers and executives in FTSE 100 companies, not a single leader disclosed a disability, supporting the knowledge that progression opportunities for disabled people are few and far between.

Those who were born with a disability, or who acquired a disability in childhood are considerably less likely to have attended further or higher education.

In fact, only 26% achieving A* to C grades at GCSE level, as compared to 67% of non-disabled people.

The issues contributing to these statistics are complex, with inadequate support for disabled children in education and socio-economic factors playing a big role.

As adults, many of these people are furthest from the labour market. For any significant change, employers are going to have to start thinking differently about how to access this talent pool.

There are many options, whether this be through apprenticeships, internships, or working with disability charities that support disabled people into work.

Inclusive interaction addressing awkwardness around disability

For those who acquired their disability during their working lives, where educational attainment is not linked to their disability, the resolution should be different.

Focus should be on the practical and emotional aspects of adapting to the changes imposed by the disability.

Many people leave the workforce and struggle to find a new path and a way to reengage with work.

When an employee acquires a disability whilst at work, employers can get support from internal or external diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) practitioners, disability organisations or the Access to Work scheme.

As such, this can help ensure that their disabled employee has the reasonable adjustments that they need so that they can continue to thrive.

See people as individuals

It’s vital that DEI best practices, along with the culture, strategy and leadership to support them, are in place.

Then, all aspects of the employee life-cycle — recruitment, on-boarding, retention, progression and even off-boarding— must be designed to be fully inclusive.

Finally, pay, along with development and progression opportunities, should only ever be equal for all employees.

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The business benefits of having a diverse workforce with an inclusive culture are well known — from more creativity and innovation through to increased productivity and profits — and with 23% of people of working age are disabled, with 50% of those being an employment.

That’s 9.58 million people of working age being disabled and 4.79 million. Employers should view this untapped talent pool as an incredible resource for their organisations.

It’s incumbent on everyone involved in a disabled person’s life, whether this be in education, extracurricular activities, healthcare, work and their social, cultural and community lives, to play their part.

We need to make sure that disabled people have the same life and career opportunities as non-disabled people do. At the end of the day, disabled people are just people, trying to get on with their lives and be happy, just like everybody else.

If employers can just look beyond the disability and see the individual, that would be a great start.

Sandi Wassmer is CEO of the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion