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Inclusivity in the Workplace Q3 2023

Disability inclusion at work: how to adjust to employee needs effectively

Diverse Group People Working Together Concept
Diverse Group People Working Together Concept
iStock / Getty Images Plus / Rawpixel

Diane Lightfoot

CEO, Business Disability Forum

More than one in five people in the UK has a disability, yet disability is still often parked in the ‘too difficult’ box when it comes to workplace inclusion.

Sometimes, the language we use doesn’t help. Terms such as ‘reasonable adjustments’ (the UK Equality Act 2010 terminology) can be confusing and make disability inclusion seem more complicated than it needs to be. The US wording — accommodations — goes further with its connotations of doing someone a ‘favour,’ but why wouldn’t you want to give everyone the tools and environment they need to do a brilliant job for you?

Workplace adjustments for disability inclusion

Workplace adjustments are often very simple changes that disabled people may need. They can reduce or remove the barriers disabled people experience in their jobs. Adjustments can be the difference between a disabled employee thriving, just surviving at work or falling out of the workplace altogether.

These include everything from flexibility over hours and location to time off for medical appointments, as well as ergonomic equipment and assistive technology. It’s worth remembering that pre-Covid-19, home working was the most frequently requested workplace adjustment. It enabled people to manage fatigue, pain or an inaccessible or stressful commute, for instance.

Inclusion should not be the responsibility
of just one department or team.

People with disabilities need workplaces to adjust

Making adjustments is the right thing to do, but Business Disability Forum’s recent ‘Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023’ shows that only 10% of disabled people find it easy to get the adjustments they need.

For one in eight, getting adjustments takes over a year; and half of disabled employees still experience disability-related barriers even after adjustments are made. These include harassment and bullying, inaccessible spaces and limited promotion opportunities.

What can we do to create truly inclusive workplaces?

Rethink what disability inclusion at work looks like. Inclusion should not be the responsibility of just one department or team. It must be built into every aspect of an organisation’s culture, policies and premises design — and driven from the top.

Making adjustments to someone’s discrete job is important, but can you really say your workplace is inclusive if your career development programme is not accessible — or if people cannot move around the building without assistance because the keypad on the lift is too high? Employers need the skills and knowledge that disabled employees have to offer. Disabled employees need inclusive organisations. Getting it right really is a win–win.

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