Although employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure workers with physical or mental health conditions or disabilities are not substantially disadvantaged, research suggests that many disabled people feel that this is not necessarily reflected in workplace provision.

  • People are typically uncomfortable talking about disability in the workplace
  • Employees with disabilities encounter routine challenges
  • Employers can improve the way they support people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.

Typically, people are generally uneasy talking about disabilities – and more specifically in the workplace – according to a survey by Samsung UK.

However, in light of an aging population, employers will only have to support and manage increasing numbers of people with long-term health conditions and disabilities, an issue which will grow over time.

The results of the poll showed that around 45% of people with disabilities try to hide the challenges they face from colleagues due to concerns regarding a negative impact on promotion or career progression. Around 40% feel that they are less valued amongst colleagues when they become aware of the disability, and in general, close to half of the people surveyed felt that saying the words ‘disability’ or ‘disabled’ makes them feel uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, there are more than seven million people of working age with a disability or long-term health condition in the UK. This means that roughly 20% people have a visible or hidden disability. Unsurprisingly, 65% of people in the workplace do not want embarrassment or awkwardness when discussing their challenges at work, and according to the survey it is exactly this lack of openness that reinforces people’s feelings of facing obstacles and being judged.

Given that 1 in 5 people of working age in the UK have a disability or long-term health condition with only half of them in work, it suggests there is a significant talent pool of potential employees that businesses are likely missing out on. What’s more, it makes sense for businesses to reflect their consumer base in their staff as disabled customers and their families have a spending power worth around £250 billion. In fact, a recent research study conducted by Accenture found a strong correlation between well-developed disability-inclusion practices and financial performance.

So, what are the challenges facing people with disabilities at work according to the poll?

29% of people said access into their workplace building; 30% said availability of and access to bathroom facilities; 31% said lack of support; 32% said poor accessibility within the building such as inadequate space or stair access; 33% said the absence of specific quiet zones; 34% said judgement or stereotyping by co-workers and around 70% felt that the technology necessary to provide greater accessibility for people with disabilities was lacking.

How, therefore, can businesses overhaul their thinking and strategies to benefit from the talent, experience and hiring opportunities they are missing out on?

They can consider accurately representing the number of people with disabilities throughout the organisation in line with the 20% of working-age people with disabilities.

They can recognise that hiring people with disabilities does not necessarily cost any more than hiring someone without a disability as accommodations for most people with disabilities cost nothing.

They can consider training for all employees with and without disabilities to build a culture in which people better understand and empathise with the challenges their colleagues may face and reduce stereotyping, judgement, and lack of support to create a mutually supportive organisation.

They can address the discomfort that people feel when discussing disability so that conversations about barriers and solutions become mainstream and the discomfort diminishes. The results of these discussions should lead to the highlighting of priorities from which plans can be developed and actions taken.

They can reflect on the need for awareness of and access to accessible technology features for all employees.

The advantages for organisations fostering a positive and inclusive approach to managing disability include strengthened commitment and loyalty, the recruitment and retention of high-quality staff, and the benefits of access to different perspectives and skills which can boost company performance.

If the number of people with disabilities entering the workforce rises it should benefit people with disabilities, their employers, and the economy.