Supporting disabled people into employment and to thrive in the workplace
London is home to around 1.2 million disabled people, and 15% of all working age (16 – 64) people in London meet the requirements set out in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), meaning they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities. However, according to Trust for London, only 46.5% of disabled Londoners are currently in work, showing a clear disability employment gap.
On 5th December, BusinessLDN held a roundtable, kindly hosted by City Lit, Europe’s largest adult education college, to discuss what businesses can do to support disabled people in the workplace and thrive in the labour market. Action towards these goals does not only benefit the disabled community by giving them the confidence and skills to succeed professionally, but also allows businesses access to a more diverse array of talent.
Too often businesses are fearful that they don’t have everything right and so shy away from action in case they get something wrong. Nobody has all the answers, but that shouldn’t stop companies taking steps to become more disability confident in the way they support staff.
It’s important to recognise that disability is a diverse term. It applies to those who are physically disabled, those who are neurodiverse, those with learning disabilities, and many more. As a result, there is no one solution to ensuring disabled people feel supported in the workplace. There are, however, various examples of steps that can be taken to improve the experiences of disabled employees.
Attendees of the roundtable expressed a desire for employers to engage with experts in accessibility and inclusivity to ensure that office spaces are made fit for disabled employees to be able to do their jobs as well as engage with other members of staff. For example, Arcadis consults with experts to create a wide range of reasonable adjustments that employees are made aware of during their onboarding. From there, if an employee requests these adjustments they can be readily made available so that there is no barrier to engaging with both their work and their colleagues once they are in employment. Arcadis also works with an ‘Arcadis GPT’ – which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to tailor solutions for disabled employees. Removal of barriers they face was seen as a small but vital step towards improving the support available for disabled employees and improve their participation in the labour market.
The call for reasonable adjustments to be provided was not limited to current employees but was also highlighted as essential in the recruitment practices of employers. For example, ‘excellent communication skills’, something so widely used on job adverts, may be interpreted as ‘verbal skills’ and thus present as a barrier to people who have disabilities that impact on their speaking, such as those with stammers and other speech impediments.
Another key focus of the discussion was the need for employers to educate themselves and their employees on disabilities, not just on an superficial level but ensure provisions are there for continuous education. For example, City Lit has mandatory British Sign Language education for all of their staff.. Arcadis has also developed a neurodiversity guidebook that seeks to make employees more aware of neurodiverse conditions Interventions such as these helps to ensure all employees can communicate with each other much more effectively, improving mutual understanding. Educating employees is vital for ensuring those with disabilities remain engaged in the labour market as according to the charity Scope, disabled people are nearly twice as likely to leave their jobs as non-disabled people due to negative attitudes and discrimination. Employers have a pivotal role to play in educating their employees to ensure a positive work environment for all their employees, which has a positive impact on the mental health of disabled employees as well as retaining their participation in the labour market.
Finally, there was a call for employers to drive inclusion by design, or in other words start each project on day one with inclusivity at the forefront. This prevents ‘afterthought’ additions that do not work in practice for people with disabilities. This includes integrating provisions for a wide range of disabilities both physically in the development of an office space, but also by providing resources that are continually updated for all employees to access and become more educated with. It is especially important that these provisions are consistently monitored to ensure that they keep up with the needs of disabled people in the workplace and provide a functional support system.
At BusinessLDN, we are keen to promote good practice for Inclusion and Diversity in businesses. See our Inclusion and Diversity Hub to read about what our members are doing to drive change in their industries. Please don’t hesitate to get contact Edward Richardson if you would like to contribute to our work on inclusion and diversity.