photo shows anonymous disabled young person in wheelchair

Disability and Work

“The number of people living with disabilities around the globe is large and growing, and the ways in which they are classified, perceived and handled by employers vary substantially.” So says the Financial Times in a special report just published on employment and disability. 3SC has long known of the problems facing disabled people trying to find work, but the fact that a paper like the FT is starting to pay attention means that employers may be waking up to the fact too.

Globally, about one in seven people are reckoned to have a disability, and as people live longer this figure is likely to increase. Physical or mental impairments only increase as we get older and around a third of people 50 and older – well within working age – will find themselves with some kind of impairment. 3SC already delivers programmes designed to help people living with disabilities to find work but much more can be done.

There’s a moral case to be made for helping the disabled to find a job, but it’s also a matter of sound economics. The FT quotes Susan Scott-Parker, founder and head of Business Disability International as saying “it’s inefficient to deny people the chance of work that they can do.”

The facts about employment and disability are stark. According to a House of Commons research briefing from January this year there are 3.5 million people of working age, defined as 16-64, with disabilities and in employment. That’s an employment rate of 49.2%, against a rate of 80.6% for those without disabilities.

The 2017 manifesto by the Conservative Party promised to get one million more people with disabilities into jobs over the next decade. That’s a 29% growth over the current level a tall order by anyone’s standards.

The employments rights of disabled people are clear – it’s against the law for employers to discriminate against you because of a disability. And the UK signed up to the UN convention on disabled people’s rights as far back as 2007. But the law is one thing, practice another.

Things are changing. More large employers are showing an awareness of and sensitivity to the needs of disabled employees – and are customising their recruitment practices and workplace set-ups to individual requirements. They also are showing an awareness of the need to educate non-disabled staff to unconscious bias, a big problem: every manager in Fujitsu, for example, has to go through training in unconscious bias; Microsoft has a chief accessibility officer, who is herself deaf. Some firms have developed a niche whereby they positively recruit people with autism – for example Auticon, which deals with IT.

It’s impossible to generalise – individuals with disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. But things are slowly moving in the right direction. It’s like an avalanche: imperceptible small movements to start with and then wallop – all the snow comes down at once. Probably the key word in all this is flexibility: disabled job-seekers need to be flexible about what they want, and employers need to be flexible about how they can accommodate that. Why turn down a good applicant who has a few challenges?