Disabled people are now more likely to be employed than they were in 2002 but remain significantly less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people, by a margin of more than 2 million people (source: Office For Disability Issues). Although it is a widely-known fact that there is a social stigma with regard to disability in the workplace, it is significantly not widely acted upon.
It is often forgotten that along with a physical condition, there exists a meaning for that condition also – consistent with the medical model of disability (which analyses the body as a machine to be fixed to conform to normative values) rather than the social model (which recognises exclusion by society). Employers tend to have reservations about hiring people with disabilities, citing reasons such as increased training costs, and tend to give these reasons weight to “outweigh” the positives, which are often overlooked. But consider this: those with disabilities can affect your workforce positively.
Those with disabilities are statistically more reliable than those without. This can be put down to a greater feeling of the urge to consistently perform well, or more simply, a good work ethic. This in turn creates an appreciation for one’s work, and it is often found that more effort is put in to keep being able to do that work. In many cases, disabled people take less days off per year than non-disabled people, and can state exactly when they will be absent months in advance due to regular appointments, without the need to make exceptions for punctuality.
One of the main concerns from companies is financial loss. The government assists companies by providing financial help towards the extra costs faced by disabled people at work, such as travel costs, specially adapted equipment and support workers. Esther McVey, the Minister for Disabled People, describes the Access to Work programme: “Work is more than a job – it’s one of the best ways to increase independence, life fulfilment, social engagement and is central to someone’s identity. And although the disability employment rate has increased over recent years, there is still more we need to do to close the gap with non-disabled people…that is why we are now making these changes to Access to Work, to widen the scope of those who can benefit from this support, because disabled people aspire to the same jobs as everyone else…by opening up the Access to Work programme it will give disabled people more opportunities to have the same choice of jobs as everyone else, in every sector from hairdressing to engineering, and at every level” (source: Department for Work & Pensions).
Giving disabled people the opportunities that the non-disabled have helps to ameliorate this issue of social stigma and the ignored social meaning of disability. With full integration comes diversity, the break-down of barriers and a better social acceptance for those who are just as willing to work as anyone else in the job market. For some businesses, there may even be the added incentive of insights on how to better facilitate customers with disabilities by using experience and feedback from disabled employees.
As with many good ideas, it takes a few pioneers to get the ball rolling; hiring people with disabilities is not an inherently negative phenomenon, as held by some. There are positive aspects that have the habit of being overlooked. The sooner employers say ‘yes’ to diversity, the sooner we can break down those barriers, and – hopefully – eliminate the need for articles like this.
by Harry Lawrence | 02 April 2013