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Disability discrimination in the workplace: the gruelling reality for many UK workers

Put simply, being mistreated by your employer or colleagues due to a disability, whether visible or hidden, is disability discrimination.

Disability discrimination isn’t always intentional; it could be something that some businesses don’t even consider, like not having accessible office features or car parking.

Not only is it naïve to assume everyone who looks able-bodied is able-bodied, but many workers also don’t disclose their disabilities due to fear of being judged or being treated differently.

Approximately 1 in 5 people of working age in the UK have a disability.

It would be easy to make the assumption that 20% of your workforce could be living with a hidden or known disability, but over half of disabled adults in the UK are unemployed.

The unemployment rate for disabled adults is double compared to those who are not disabled.

Although these statistics are upsetting, they still suggest that some of your employees have a disability that you might not know about.

Many disabilities won’t be immediately obvious to some. Hidden disabilities account for a huge amount of disabilities in the workplace, and of course, unless you’re told, you’re not aware.

Some hidden disabilities and chronic medical conditions that may go unnoticed:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Endometriosis
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Visual and auditory impairment

Many people feel if they’re not seen to be putting 120% into their work, they may be penalised. Although this factually isn’t possible, there is a ‘culture of fear’ that many businesses perpetuate, making it even harder for employees to be honest, and not show their true selves.

Disabilities are a part of being human, and with so many people in the UK living with a disability, employers must make conscious decisions to enable disabled people to work with them.

Take some time to reflect on your business:

  • Do you have suitable facilities and systems to support employees with disabilities?
  • Do you encourage open communication for employees to disclose their disability?
  • If you had a physically disabled new hire, would you have the correct tools to help them from day dot?

75% of young disabled people feel physical access to the workplace is a major barrier to finding a job.

Many disabled people may already be facing disability discrimination pre-employment. Not only is this a massive hindrance to securing a job, but this distressing statistic is a colossal blow to their confidence and overall mental health.

1 in 10 employers do not feel confident that their organisation would be able to support an employee with a disability.

By law, employers must consider reasonable adjustments when they have a disabled employee finding their job difficult or asking for adjustments.

‘Reasonable adjustments’ can mean many different things and completely depend on the individual circumstances, but as a minimum your business should reduce or remove specific disadvantages for workers with disabilities.

This can include:

  • Adjusting desks or working space
  • Providing extra or more appropriate equipment
  • Adding accessible car parking spaces or assigning closer parking spaces ‘disabled parking only’
  • Implementing flexible working hours
  • Creating accessible job application forms
  • Making sure resources and work materials are accessible in different formats, such as braille, large print and adding closed-captions to videos

31% of employers are worried that disabled people will claim discrimination if the job does not work out.

As of 2020, only 52.3% of disabled people were in employment. Compared to 81.1% of non-disabled people in employment. This is a 28.8% difference, thus creating the disability employment gap.

The unfair opinion that disabled employees will be immediately disgruntled not only encourages the disability employment gap to widen but also implies that there is simply not enough leadership training around how adopting a diverse workforce can actually boost your organisation and possibly, how to treat workers in general.

According to People Management, once disabled people are in work, they are more likely to be in a lower-paid occupation than non-disabled people and may have less access to career progression opportunities.

The employment reality for many disabled workers is harsh. With so many employers not open to making the office more accessible, not actively recruiting disabled people or even aware of the myriad of disabilities, the disability employment gap is not decreasing like it should be.

It’s critical employers are aware of the importance of supporting disabled employees, how to offer appropriate support and how to encourage open dialogue for those employees that are yet to disclose any hidden disabilities.

Learn how to create a genuinely inclusive and accessible workplace for all with the help of our eBook

Discover how to support neurodiverse employees, make quick, easy workplace adjustments for disabled workers, and learn even more hard-hitting facts about discrimination at work and how to fight it.

Written by Mara Swann

Mara has a passion for promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion across global workplaces and hopes to inspire learners to focus on their own careers with self-directed learning content.

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