Is your workplace equipped to adapt to the needs of disabled employees and help them thrive? Disability comes in many different forms. To create an inclusive and accessible culture, it’s important to understand how different abilities require different adjustments.
How is disability defined?
The Equality Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.” This covers a lot of different circumstances, from mobility or sensory issues to learning disabilities to chronic illnesses.
Impairments can be visible or invisible; they can be present from birth or acquired later in life; and they can have very different impacts depending on the context. It is also worth noting that some people who don’t personally identify as disabled may still be legally protected under this category.
Disability activists often talk about the social model of disability, which argues that people are disabled less by their individual impairments and more by the systemic social barriers that limit them.
By taking physical and neurological differences into account and making our workplaces more accessible, the playing field can be levelled so that all employees are able to fulfil their full potential.
What is disability discrimination in the workplace?
Disability discrimination can involve unfair treatment during the hiring process or as an employee. Examples include withdrawing a job offer after a disability is disclosed, denying a disabled employee opportunities based on assumptions about what they can or can’t do, and ableist bullying or harassment by colleagues.
Discrimination can also occur indirectly when company policies or practices unfairly disadvantage disabled employees – for example, when buildings aren’t physically accessible or training materials aren’t available in different formats. It’s also against the law to discriminate against someone because of their association with a disabled person (such as a child, parent or partner).
As an employer, you have a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled candidates and employees, and any actions you take (for example, disciplinary procedures or changes to roles) must take an employee’s disabilities into account. The best way to do this is to listen and be empathetic towards individual needs.