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How to make your Workplace Disability Friendly

Last updated on 20th December 2023

Did you know that 18% of the working-age population are classified as disabled, in accordance with the Equality Act 2010? The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that disabled people are over a third less likely to be employed, compared to non-disabled people.

However, this disparity is decreasing; between 2013 and 2016 the number of disabled people in employment increased by 1.3 million. One of the possible reasons for the increase in the number is the push to make workplaces in the UK more disability friendly.

Today, we are going to look at the workplace disability adjustments that must be made in order to accommodate individuals with disabilities.

Workplaces have a legal obligation to ensure that they do not discriminate against people with disabilities. As part of this obligation, employers must ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to job opportunities. They must also ensure that effective support is provided, reasonable workplace adjustments are made, and a positive workplace culture exists.

Creating a disability friendly workplace

Making your workplace disability friendly ensures that your company or business reflects the diversity found in the UK. It also helps to build your company’s reputation, as it shows the value that is placed on inclusivity and equality. Employees and customers are more likely to be loyal to companies and businesses that demonstrate good values.

Disability friendly workplaces are more likely to ensure that their recruitment process has made reasonable adjustments for candidates with disabilities. Not only will these encourage more individuals with disabilities to apply, but it also increases your candidate pool. Not having a disability friendly recruitment process could mean you are missing out on hiring talented individuals who would be an asset to your business.

There are currently more than 4.4 million people with disabilities in employment in the UK, according to Scope. This is nearly 14% of the entire UK workforce. If you do not currently have any employees with disabilities in your workforce, this is likely to change in the future. By making your workplace disability friendly, you are also protecting the health and safety of employees with disabilities. A disability friendly workplace reduces risk, makes the workplace safer and improves access.

However, disability inclusion doesn’t just involve hiring individuals with disabilities and protecting their physical health, it also involves valuing all employees equally and offering employees with any form of disability the opportunity to succeed and be treated fairly. A strong disability inclusion programme is paramount.

Disability friendly workplace

How to make the workplace disability friendly

Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure the workplace is disability friendly. This includes taking reasonable steps to remove any disadvantages employees with disabilities may face in the workplace.

Some ways employers can make the workplace disability friendly include:

  • Educating themselves and other employees – This helps employers to be aware of any barriers that disabled people may encounter and helps to create an inclusive, supportive culture.
  • Providing equipment or additional devices if required.
  • Changing working hours or responsibilities.
  • Recording disability-related absences separately to sick leave or other absences.
  • Making the workplace more physically accessible, for example, installing ramps, accessible toilets, or modified furniture.
  • Providing a support worker or forming a support group.
  • Providing an allocated parking space – This could be a space that is closer to the entrance or that is wider.
  • Allowing more flexible working hours, additional breaks, or the opportunity to work from home, if possible.
  • Providing information in an alternative or more accessible way.
  • Offering specialist training or support.
  • Revising policies.

In most cases, making the workplace disability friendly will be low cost, or have no associated cost. If any changes that need to be made are likely to be costly, employers or employees may be able to apply for an Access to Work grant. This is a grant that was created to help individuals with disabilities stay in work. It is designed for individuals with disabilities or physical or mental health conditions.

Employers are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Part of that responsibility may require them to conduct risk assessments. Employers are not required to conduct a separate risk assessment for any employee with a disability. It is, however, recommended that employers review their existing risk assessments to ensure it covers any potential risks that might exist for employees with disabilities.

Disability awareness training

Disability awareness training, although recommended, is not yet mandatory in the UK. Disability awareness training can help to ensure that employers have a deeper understanding of disabilities in the workplace, are aware of their legal requirements under the Equality Act 2010 and understand the adjustments that can be made.

Disability awareness training usually includes:

  • General and more specific information about a range of disabilities.
  • Information about the disability employment gap.
  • An overview of all relevant legislation, including the Equality Act 2010 and other legislation relevant to anti-discrimination and equal opportunities.
  • Negative or damaging language and behaviour that may be used in relation to individuals with disabilities.
  • Information about some of the barriers individuals with disabilities may face in the workplace and how these barriers can be removed.
  • How employers can deal with mental health issues in the workplace.
  • Information on potential challenges that may occur when communicating with people with certain disabilities and how these challenges can be overcome.
  • Health and safety requirements for employees with disabilities, such as risk assessments and fire safety plans.
  • How to provide a barrier-free recruitment experience for applicants with disabilities.
  • How to communicate and work in an inclusive way.
  • How to provide disability friendly customer service to customers or members of the public who have a disability.
  • How to create an inclusive, understanding and positive culture within the workplace. This includes training other employees.

There are endless potential benefits to employers and staff undertaking disability awareness training.

Some examples include:

1. Ensures you are complying with the Equality Act 2010 and any other relevant legislation.

2. Helps you gain a better understanding of the barriers that people with disabilities face in the workplace.

3. It encourages openness and acceptance from all employees.

4. Increases your candidate pool when recruiting new employees.

5. Encourages empathy and understanding in the workplace.

6. Shows your company’s commitment to inclusion.

7. Helps you and your employees to learn the acceptable language, behaviours and practices regarding individuals with disabilities.

Colleagues learning sign langauge to ensure inclusion of deaf team member

What is the main act covering disability in the workplace?

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act was created to protect people with disabilities from experiencing discriminatory treatment. The Act makes all types of disability discrimination in the workplace illegal.

It also promotes equal rights, equal opportunities and equal access for individuals with disabilities.

Under the Equality Act, a person is considered as disabled if:

  • They have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial or long-term negative effect.
  • The impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
  • The impairment has lasted or is likely to last more than 12 months. If the condition is fluctuating, it is still considered long-term if the effects reoccur for at least 12 months.

In order to qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010, you must meet the above criteria.

All areas of employment are covered by the Equality Act.

It makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person with disabilities in the following areas:

  • Recruitment – Including application forms, interview arrangements, and aptitude and proficiency tests.
  • Staff selection.
  • Conditions of employment, Including pay.
  • Opportunities for training, promotion and transfers.
  • Performance reviews.
  • The handling of any absences.
  • Dismissal or redundancy – You cannot be made redundant as a result of your disability.
  • Discipline and grievances.
  • Trade or professional registration.
  • Membership of unions or other professional associations.

Employers must make reasonable adjustments to avoid people with disabilities experiencing any disadvantages in the workplace.

Employers who are recruiting are only able to make limited enquiries about a prospective employee’s health or disability.

Questions can only be asked about a person’s disability in the following circumstances:

1. To determine whether they are able to carry out a task that is an essential part of the job.

2. To determine if they are able to take part in an interview.

3. To determine whether reasonable adjustments need to be made as part of the selection process.

4. To assist in monitoring.

5. If the employer wants to increase the number of people with disabilities in their workplace.

6. If the information is necessary for national security checks.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person worse than a non-disabled person. It is also unlawful for an employer to treat a person with disabilities in a negative way because of something arising from their disability.

If this situation occurs, the employer must be able to justify the treatment by showing that there is a good reason for it and that it was proportionate. This means that there was a no less discriminatory way for the employer to achieve the outcome and that all reasonable adjustments had been made.

Man who is blind using braille to read at work

How to deal with disability in the workplace

Now you know how to make the workplace disability friendly and your responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010, we are going to look at how to more effectively manage or work with people with disabilities.

Treating individuals with disabilities appropriately and fairly is of the utmost importance. Below are some tips on how to successfully manage or work with a person with disabilities in your workplace.

1. Build awareness and ensure all employees are aware of the difficulties or barriers an employee with a disability may face

This includes being aware of any conscious and unconscious biases. It may be recommended to provide unconscious bias training to staff. You should also be aware of any physical or mental barriers in the workplace and damaging language and behaviours.

2. Ensure good communication

Aim to communicate in the most appropriate way. Some individuals with disabilities may require you to alter your methods of communication to account for any communicative difficulties or mental health difficulties they may face. Others will require you to communicate with them in the same way you would communicate with other members of the workforce.

3. Employ any specialist equipment or assistive technology that is required

This can help employees with disabilities to carry out their responsibilities more independently and with fewer difficulties. Examples include specialist desks or chairs, a colour-coded keyboard, assistive listening devices, noise-cancelling headphones and screen readers.

4. Listen to your employees and respond to their requests

Ask employees directly if they require any adjustments and do what you can to implement these adjustments. Employees with disabilities are the best-qualified people to tell you how to improve your workplace’s accessibility or the attitudes to disabilities. Collaborating with people with disabilities can be beneficial to everyone.

5. Focus on training and awareness

We have already looked at the importance of disability awareness training. This can result in a more successful workplace and make it easier for employees and managers who have disabilities and those who do not to work together more effectively.

6. Make sure all events and situations are accessible

This includes informal events or socialising events outside of the workplace. You should avoid venues that are not accessible and ensure that the person with a disability has appropriate transport.

7. Allow the disabled employee to decide the level of disclosure

It should be the choice of the individual whether to disclose their disability to other employees. Ensure their confidentiality is respected and allow them to make their own decisions about disclosure.

Woman in disability friendly workplace

How to avoid disability discrimination in the workplace

Employers should aim for a culture of zero tolerance of disability discrimination.

There are steps that employers can take to avoid disability discrimination from occurring in the workplace, including:

  • Employ individuals with disabilities to ensure they have representation, and your workforce is more diverse.
  • Ensure all employees are aware of the Equality Act 2010 and their responsibilities in relation to the Act.
  • Train employees on how to recognise disability discrimination.
  • Create a system for reporting disability discrimination safely and confidentially. Ensure all employees are aware of how to report discrimination.
  • Make sure all policies are inclusive and take into account the needs and requirements of any employees with a disability.
  • Make the workplace more physically accessible.
  • Ensure all employees use inclusive language and make it clear that language that is ableist, offensive, discriminatory, or negative will not be tolerated.
  • Ensure your workplace has an equality and diversity policy and a bullying, discrimination, and harassment policy.
  • Provide mental health first aiders to support employees and reduce the stigma around mental health.
  • Provide disability awareness training as well as training on discrimination and equality.
  • Encourage inclusion.
  • Refrain from asking prospective applicants unnecessary questions relating to their disability.
  • Be prepared to make any reasonable adjustments, allow more flexible working hours, or change an employee’s responsibilities if necessary.
  • Be prepared to make any physical changes to the workplace to make it more accessible.
  • Refrain from making any negative assumptions about the abilities of an employee with a disability.
  • Make sure employees with disabilities have fair access to training and promotions.
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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.

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