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Countering disability stereotyping

During UK Disability History Month (UKDHM) (22 November to 22 December 2015), awareness is being raised about how strong stereotypes rooted in past attitudes and cultures persist and reinforce negative treatment of disabled people.

In the world of employment, recent research backs this up. More than two in five disabled people looking for a job say the biggest barrier for them getting into work are misconceptions about their capabilities in the workplace.

Making uninformed assumptions about the capability or suitability of job candidates and employees for certain roles on the basis of a disability could very well be discriminatory.

For one thing, disability is a term that encompasses many conditions or situations - more than many employers might realise - such that it's impossible to make easy generalisations.


Making such assumptions or generalisations is stereotyping - assuming that an individual shares the same characteristics as everyone in a group.

Whether stereotyping has come from past experiences or prejudices, it usually conveys a negative impression and results in negative repercussions.

For example, a recruiting manager making an off-hand comment that disabled people 'all need wheelchair ramps' and 'cost money' is likely to cause offence and constitute discrimination.

Perception and association

Disability discrimination legislation also protects individuals who are perceived to have a disability, even if they don't actually have one. This is known as direct discrimination by perception.

The same is true for those people who care for disabled friends, family or relatives outside the workplace.

Making assumptions about how their caring responsibilities might negatively affect their job could amount to direct discrimination by association.

Strength in diversity

UKDHM supports shifting perceptions away from the view of disability 'as an individual deficit/burden' towards a recognition that it's 'social and attitudinal barriers' that 'disable the rich diversity of humanity with a wide range of impairments'.

'Disability is a complex area of employment law that can encompass many conditions or situations that employers may not be aware of,' Steve Williams, Acas Head of Equality, said.

'HIV, cancer, depression, phobias, diabetes or an impairment caused by obesity are all conditions that could be considered as a disability.

'Research shows that employers with a diverse workforce can reap many business benefits as they can tap into the knowledge and skills of staff from a wide range of backgrounds.

'Our new guidance covers the different types of disability and practical steps on how to prevent discrimination and deal with it if it happens.'

Acas publications and services

The new Acas guide pdf icon Disability discrimination: key points for the workplace [601kb] helps employers and managers identify, tackle and prevent disability discrimination in the workplace.

General advice on Disability discrimination and Equality and discrimination is also available, which includes the information you need to honour your legal obligations.

Acas experts can visit your organisation to review existing equality and diversity procedures and help you ensure that they are legally compliant. See Equality and diversity: how Acas can help for more information.

Practical training is also available on Disability discrimination, Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010, Employment law update and Recruitment.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

This news content or feature has been generated by a third party. Commentary, opinion and content do not necessarily represent the opinion of Acas.
We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules visit Helpline Online.
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