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Disability needs to be higher on the D&I agenda

HR has a unique opportunity post-pandemic to drive the importance of disability inclusion in the workplace, says Business Disability Forum's CEO, Diane Lightfoot.

Lightfoot told HR magazine, before the return to the workplace, HR must re-think what the workplace looks like for people with disabilities.

She said: “Work can now be reframed as something you do rather than somewhere you go, and this will help open up many more opportunities for disabled people.”

In March, the Centre for Social Justice’s Disability Commission published its Now Is The Time report that explored ways the UK could address the country’s disability employment gap, such as introducing mandatory workforce reporting and increasing supported routes into employment.

Commission chair Kevin Shinkwin said it is time disability inclusion is accorded equal weight to other parts of the diversity spectrum.

Shinkwin, who was born with brittle bone disease Osteogenesis Imperfecta, added: “Sadly, it is still the case today that we have major firms beating themselves across the chest and saying 'hey, look at us, we are really committed to D&I' and then not addressing disability at all.

“I know that there are some very large firms, I won't name them, who still produce standalone annual D&I reports that don’t even mention disability.”

Lightfoot said disability is still overlooked compared to other parts of the D&I agenda.

"Some organisations still park disability in the ‘too difficult’ box, but it really doesn’t have to be. Simple adjustments and awareness can make a huge difference.

“It’s also important to remember that none of us sit in just one box and that a focus on one diversity strand to the exclusion of others misses the real human experience, women who are disabled for example,” she said.

If disability inclusion isn’t a prominent part of the D&I agenda, HR risks discriminating against disabled employees.

Julie Dennis, head of diversity and inclusion at Acas, told HR magazine failure to make reasonable adjustments is one of the most common types of disability discrimination.

She said: “Employers, senior managers, line managers, HR personnel, employees and their employee and trade union representatives should make sure they understand what disability discrimination is and how it can happen.

“This could include providing additional support in the workplace.”

Dennis added that cost should not be a barrier to providing these adjustments.

She said: “Most employers can apply for the government's Access to Work scheme which is a publicly funded employment support grant scheme that aims to support disabled people start or stay in work.

“It can provide practical and financial support for people who have a disability or long-term physical or mental health condition.”

The importance of disability inclusion in the workplace:

Employers should publish disability pay gaps, says TUC

Three in five UK employees experienced disability bias 

DWP 'shocked' by own disability tribunal record