· 2 min read · Features

Going for gold – recruiting disabled employees

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The Paralympics gave us a wonderful opening ceremony and delivered some great performances, as well as gold medals for Team GB.

The feats of the Paralympians inspired audiences round the world and saluted them twice over for their achievements.  London 2012 helped many disability organisations raise the profile of their work, challenge existing ideas about disability and offered a more positive image.

But the Paralympics came when recent research suggests that there has been an increase in discrimination in the past year. Almost half of the disabled respondents in a survey carried out by disability charity Scope (46%) said people's attitudes towards them have got worse over the past year. Many reported that more and more they were accosted by strangers questioning their right to support. The respondents identified the small number of people dishonestly claiming disability benefits and suggested the way their actions are reported are major causes of public hostility.

Life can be tough for everyone at times. Having a disability can make things that much tougher. In the UK, the income of disabled people is, on average, less than half of that earned by the non-disabled. It's a national disgrace. So what should the role of business be when it comes to inclusion?

We have a moral – as well as a legal – duty to look at the whole workforce and that means trying to support people who may have some condition or disadvantage that causes difficulties. A Lewis Harris survey suggests that it's in a business's interests to do so for a number of reasons:

  • 80% of people employing or working with disabled workers think that they are as productive as any other employee.
  • 80% of people employing and working with disabled people say that adjustments made for disabled employees can be beneficial for other people: other employees and disabled customers.
  • The majority of employers who had made adjustments reported that they had found these easy to make (75% for those making adjustments for new recruits and 55% for those making adjustments for existing employees). For both new and existing employees, a significant number of employers did not know the cost of the adjustments that they had made and were unable to even make an estimate.
  • 77% of the people employing or working with disabled workers don't notice additional workload

In the UK it has been unlawful for employers (or potential employers) to discriminate against a person for a reason related to their disability since 1995. If, but for the disability, a person would be a good match for a job role, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate him or her. This starts during the recruitment process, extends all the way through the employment life cycle taking in terms of employment, promotion and training opportunities and also includes activities post-employment.

The adjustment will depend on a variety of factors, for example, the nature of the disability, the type of work and the resources of the company. Typically "reasonable adjustments" might include a change or reduction in hours, change of duties, light duties, transfer to another job role, change of place of work, equipment, training or re-training, time off for treatment or to recover. Each case will turn on its own facts. There are a number of Government schemes, offering financial support to help disabled workers operate successfully, for example, Access to Work and Work Choice.

Many organisations are seeing the advantages of taking positive action as regards workers with disabilities, for example, Disneyland Paris, which focuses on the worker's skills, rather than the disability. Wendy Crudele, Disneyland vice-director of human resources, said: "The ethical dimension of our firm, perceptible by our employees, must also be felt by our guests."

There is some evidence that disabled employees make particularly loyal and reliable workers. Great workers do not grow on trees. Let's work with what they have to offer positively and make 2012 a win-win year, not just at the Paralympics, but more broadly.

Kate Russell (pictured) is MD at Russell HR Consulting