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Disabilities in the workplace: Removing the stigma

Written by Liz Johnson on Monday, 02 December 2019. Posted in HR, People

As the UK celebrates record-low unemployment rates, with over 81% of people in work, we mustn’t forget that hiring isn’t at the level needed for all professionals.

Disabilities in the workplace: Removing the stigma

As the UK celebrates record-low unemployment rates, with over 81% of people in work, we mustn’t forget that hiring isn’t at the level needed for all professionals. Despite growing discourse on the importance of diversity in business, only around half of people with disabilities are in jobs compared to over 80% of non-disabled people. That’s why The Ability People (TAP) was created — to close this disability employment gap and improve disability awareness within businesses and the wider recruitment industry.

I first got the idea for TAP when I was watching a news feature on the disability employment gap one night. Not only was the gap enormous, but more shockingly, it hadn’t improved in over a decade. There’s still the myth that disabled people can’t work, or don’t want to work: society has yet to fully realise that the reason this gap exists is because employment simply isn’t accessible for us.

How the candidate experience is different for disabled people

If we truly want to create diversity in the workplace and decrease the disability employment gap, then we must understand how the candidate experience differs for disabled individuals and other applicants.

If a non-disabled person applies for a role, neither the recruiter nor the person interviewing the candidate makes a judgement on whether or not the individual is physically able to do the job. They assume the candidate can be a success because they’ve submitted their application and their CV is up to scratch.

But for a person of difference, hiring managers make subconscious judgements and consequently negative assumptions may develop at the forefront of their mind. While they probably don’t realise it's happening, more often than not, hiring managers will end up employing non-disabled people who align with their inherent biases.

What problems do employers face when attempting to be more inclusive?

My work at TAP has highlighted many interesting facts about the issues recruiters and employers experience when engaging with disabled candidates. For businesses, hiring people with disabilities is seen not only as a bold step but also one that is extremely difficult.

Understanding and recognising unconscious bias isn’t simple and overriding years of disability misconceptions is easier said than done.

As Karina Townley, Managing Director of Client Services at Guidant Global and executive board member of the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI), explains, in her experience, one of the biggest challenges for organisations is actually setting the wheels in motion.

“While most are open to starting the discussion on diversity and inclusion, not many have the resources to make this happen or know what the next step is. This is when having a specialist consultancy team at hand, that understands diverse talent pools, can really help. 

There’s no doubt that recruiters are fantastic at finding people, but often they fall into the same trap of hiring from the same talent pools. What they need assistance with is discovering more diverse talent, and, more importantly, understanding their needs.”

How the disability employment gap can be closed

It’s the world’s idea of what normal should be that creates negative perceptions of disability. If we can change people’s ideas of what “normal” is and help them get remove their bias, we can increase the percentage of disabled people in work and close the disability employment gap. Of course, this will be a challenge.

The reason I have been as successful as I have in life, both as a Paralympian and in my work as TAP’s co-founder and Managing Director, is that every job has been driven by my own volition. I have been in control of the parameters of when and how I work. This is also reflected in the way we encourage our team to work – everyone can choose how, when and where they like.

From personal experience, these factors don’t impact how successful people are at their job. At TAP, we want to expand this reasoning and educate businesses of this approach, changing their focus on what they want someone to do, not how they do it. We also help organisations identify and remove the barriers disabled people face when applying for and undertaking work with them.

Closing the disability employment gap is no mean feat, as it’s created and reinforced by a wide range of complex factors. However, with the help of organisations like RIDI, I’m hopeful that in the future we will be seeing more disability confident recruiters who will all play a part in closing that gap for good.

About the Author

Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson

Former Paralympian and founder of The Ability People (TAP), an organisation with the goal of improving disability awareness within businesses and the wider recruitment industry.

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