How to support disability at work

Jennifer Williams, senior diversity and inclusion business partner

Jen has over 20 years' experience of working with Acas internally and with external customers. She advises on a wide range of employment matters specialising in diversity and inclusion.

Disabilities can come in many different forms, some clearly visible but many also hidden and, of course, some develop over time. Disability is therefore not one size fits all and supporting disabled people at work should be treated no differently. The danger is the risk of unintentionally discriminating against disabled staff or applicants if their individual circumstances are not taken into consideration.

Approaching disability in the workplace

Addressing the subject of disability at work can be difficult and a sensitive matter to many in the workplace, even to those without a disability themselves. But remember, if an individual discloses that they have a disability, or the employer could have reasonably known that they have a disability, there is a legal duty to support that disabled person.

I've seen many employers recognise the benefits of creating an inclusive working environment for disabled applicants and staff. They put recruitment and working policies and practices into place with good intentions but do not consider additional barriers that can exist. Those barriers will not be known without consulting disabled people about their needs or taking action to ensure that the good intentions in the policy actually work.

It's key for employers to consult with disabled staff and train managers to raise knowledge and confidence in creating an environment where disabled staff can fully contribute all their skills at work. Regularly evaluating policies, practices and adjustments with disabled staff will highlight any changes needed to create full accessibility to benefits and services for staff and, in some cases, customers.

Benefits of diversity and inclusion

Many employers are realising the value that disabled staff bring to their organisations, including a variety of different skill sets and valuable life experiences. Wider knowledge enables improved innovation, better problem solving and a greater understanding of customer needs.

This can clearly be seen within small to medium organisations, as closer and more intimate working environments can be more accessible and accommodating to the needs of their disabled staff, including:

  • creating an environment where people feel that they can discuss their needs
  • involving disabled people when writing or reviewing policies and practices
  • ensuring a disabled voice is considered during all decision-making processes in the business
  • considering flexible or hybrid working policies
  • giving training to managers so they feel confident in discussing adjustments that may be needed

A recent Federation of Small Businesses report on Business without Barriers shows 51% of small organisation employers have employed someone with a disability or health condition in the last 3 years. The report highlights that 97% of small organisation employers offer flexible work to staff with a disability or health condition. However, the report also showed that 52% of staff have faced barriers due to their disability or health condition, so clearly there is still further work needed to make the workplace more accessible and inclusive.

Acas has advice on how employers can support their disabled staff at work and on accessibility at work. By making workplaces more accessible, we can remove the barriers to ensure that everyone can be involved in taking an active part in working life.