It’s time for change: Why disability shouldn’t be a barrier to accessing the world of work

6 min read | Rachael Richards | Article | DE&I

why disability shouldnt be a barrier to work

Did you know that disabled people are almost TWICE as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, despite often being completely capable of delivering the same quality of work? In fact, the employment rate of those with disabilities just 53% – a shocking statistic, when you consider that the employment rate of is able-bodied people is 82%. But why is this?

There are many reasons why those with disabilities or a long-term health condition aren’t employed as frequently as those without. While sometimes it might genuinely be that their conditions limit them from being able to work, it’s often the case that the workplace simply isn’t accommodating of their needs, or that our societal views of what these individuals are capable of are simply incorrect – both of which need to change.

In fact, times are changing: earlier this year, the Department for Work and Pensions published a report that set out government proposals to help those with a disability or long-term condition access fulfilling work. Here, we’re focusing on some of the limitations that individuals can face, while helping organisations to accommodate them.

Not only is it the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, but as the skills-shortage crisis continues across almost all sectors, ensuring workplaces are welcoming to all demographics means that employers are far more likely to be able to get access to much-needed staff.

So, what can be done to make the workplace more inclusive?


Shout about your values

Unfortunately, some people with disabilities or long-term health conditions have been discriminated against during the hiring process and in their workplaces, so it’s imperative that you make it clear your organisation will not do this. In fact, 72% of disabled people say they have experienced negative attitudes or behaviour in the past five years.

If your organisation strives to be diverse, equitable and inclusive, it’s important that you explain your commitment to this on your website, social media and other materials. Putting a clear statement out there demonstrates to people that you take DE&I issues seriously, and that you’re proud to be a workplace that accepts individuals from all demographics. Not only does this remind internal stakeholders of your dedication to inclusion, but it tells potential candidates that they will be welcome and not penalised.


Implement assistive resources

Looking at your surroundings through a different lens may make you realise that what you thought was inclusive, really isn’t. 

You might think your workplace is welcoming to all, but have you ever looked at the facilities and queried how accessible they truly are? It’s all well and good to ensure that you have disabled bathrooms and large enough lifts, for example, but think about how these are used. Is there a heavy door in the way? Could you install buttons to open them automatically? Do you have emergency red cords in the toilets? 

Similarly, think about the resources you offer staff during their work days. If you have a hearing or visually impaired colleague, for example, are you providing appropriate supportive equipment to enable them to carry out their work comfortably? Do you have an allocated budget for purchasing tools and systems that can make their lives easier?

These are just some examples of difficulties people can face in the workplace. We’d recommend you consider investing in tools and technology like wheelchair ramps, adjustable workstations, screen readers, braille displays and captioning services, but you should always check with each individual to make sure their needs are being met.

By breaking down barriers and offering equal opportunities, these technologies can empower individuals with disabilities to feel valued and supported, leading to increased job satisfaction and overall wellbeing.


Create supportive spaces

Having support systems like internal networks and anonymous support channels can provide a safe space for employees to seek assistance, free from the fear of judgement. Within these outlets, individuals can openly share their experiences and request help, knowing that their voices will be heard and respected. 

Groups such as these create a sense of belonging and community within an organisation, as employees can connect with colleagues who may share similar experiences. More than providing emotional support, they can also advocate for positive change, pushing for policies and practices that strengthen inclusivity in the workplace. 


Prioritise education and learning

Surprisingly, the biggest obstacle that employees face is not architectural or technological, but deeply rooted in attitudes. Research shows that people with disabilities continue to face discrimination in the workplace, with only 37% feeling as though their employer genuinely wants to remove all barriers for disabled workers.

Encouraging staff and leaders to take part in discussions about disabilities can help break down the stigma, provide opportunities for education, and work towards creating an open and welcoming culture where everyone can thrive.


Learn more about how you can make your workplace a more diverse, equitable and inclusive place to be by checking out the dedicated resources on our website.

About this author

Rachael Richards, Business Director, Hays

Rachael is a business director at Hays based in Northumberland, and is the public services client engagement lead in the North East and Yorkshire, with specific expertise in senior finance recruitment. She is also a network lead for Hays’ disability ERG, REACH (Recognising and Enabling All Colleagues and conditions at Hays), a regional DE&I representative and board member for WISH North East (Women in Social Housing).

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