By Mary-Jane Gunn, Support Manager at CABA, a wellbeing charity
For many disabled people, it’s easy to feel as though the workplace isn’t built to support them. Often there are limited options for access, narrow spaces and questionable judgements to navigate. But with 2.6k Google searches a month for ‘workplace disability’, there’s clearly still a lot of unanswered question about how best to support disabled workers.
There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, but the fact that they are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people suggests that they are often ignored or unsupported by businesses. And yet, it’s argued that employing people with disabilities means attracting more high-skilled candidates, increasing your talent pool, enhancing team performance, boosting productivity and becoming an employer of choice.
Whilst the Equality Act states that businesses must make reasonable adjustments for disabled job applicants and employees, these needs are often overlooked – despite the fact that they can be incredibly easy to meet.
So here are a few ways workplaces can better support their disabled employees:
- Offer true flexibility
For many of us, working from home was our only option throughout the pandemic, and for the majority of companies, business continued almost as usual. Therefore, employers know that hybrid or even fully remote roles can work and have little reason not to offer employees the flexibility they may need. The option to work from home is a welcome benefit, especially for disabled employees, who are likely to find it easier to manage their illnesses or negotiate a working environment that isn’t as disability friendly as it could be.
- Ensure line managers are prepared
Line managers are an employee’s first port of call in times of need, and often help to implement people management policies. Therefore, they need to understand how these policies might affect workers with disabilities or health conditions. It’s also essential that they are able to approach these situations confidently and sensitively, in order to build trust. Employers should consider investing in specific training and development for their managers to be able to do this well.
- Increase your digital accessibility
Digital accessibility means increased access and better communication all around, making it likely that everyone can feel more empowered to collaborate. Most people have realised, either long before or during the pandemic, that in-person meetings aren’t always the productive and collaborative sessions they aim to be. With many now being replaced by digital platforms, it’s vital that they’re as accessible as possible.
Unlike traditional meetings, online calls can be made even more accessible for your disabled colleagues. Utilising close-captioned Zoom meetings for those who are hearing impaired, alt-text and image descriptions for co-workers who are visually impaired, or emailed summaries of a project’s progress and next steps are often the most important adaptions.
- Listen to the needs of each employee
The phrase ‘Disability’ covers a huge spectrum of illnesses and conditions. Some are visible, others aren’t. Some require adaptions for mobility, others are complex and ever-changing. Therefore, it’s impossible to implement a single approach that supports all of your disabled employees individual needs. Each person’s situation needs to be assessed independently and shared with the wider team at the individual’s discretion. We all know that no two people are the same, so apply that logic to disabilities too.
With changes to structures or procedures thoughts immediately turn to the question of cost. However, it’s a common misconception that implementing reasonable adjustments will be a financial burden. More often than not, any adjustments that are required by a disabled employee can be taken care of in house. These don’t need to be extravagant, costly changes, but could be as simple as moving a desk to a more convenient position, a parking bay closer to the entrance or an extended lunch break. These tweaks will cost relatively little and go a long way towards reassuring the employee that they are supported.
As we build our post-pandemic workplaces, we’re in a unique situation, whereby we can ensure these newer, more flexible workplaces are suitable for all, and where every employee can thrive.
For more information, and for help and support visit caba.org.uk