The definitive guide to disability inclusion in the workplace
What is disability inclusion?
In short, disability inclusion provides people with disabilities the same opportunities to participate in society as others. This goes beyond encouraging people – ideally, inclusion should be a key part of policies and practices in the workplace.
Disability inclusion allows everyone to have equal rights in society – including in the workplace. Having a job or career is a standard part of life for many people, but there can be barriers that make it difficult for a person with disabilities to find and retain employment. Taking an inclusive stance can increase workplace opportunities.
To further understand the topic, it can be helpful to define disability and inclusion as separate terms.
What is inclusion?
The definition of inclusion most relevant to the topic of disability in the workplace is as follows:
“The fact or policy of providing equal opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise not get them, for example people who are disabled or belong to minority groups”— Oxford
Disability in the workplace: what the statistics show
According to the most recent report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS):
While it’s clear that the number of disabled people in employment has increased, the disability employment gap suggests there’s still inequality in the workplace. Let’s explore this gap further to find out why.
Creating a more inclusive culture at work
It takes time and commitment to create a more inclusive workplace culture, but it’s worth it in order to ensure all employees are comfortable, confident, and happy at work.
It will also benefit your company in the long-run. Employee retention is likely to be higher if your team is happy and supported.
As defined by the charity Scope, flexible working is “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs.” This could be flexible start and finish times, the option to work from home, condensing work days, taking more breaks, or not having to travel during peak commuter hours.
Flexible working has become more commonplace in the last few years in industries where it is possible. There are a number of benefits, which we’ll explore below.
“It’s in no one’s interests to have overstretched workforces. People who experience high anxiety are less productive and are more likely to take time off.”
- It can reduce stress by providing a better work-life balance
More and more people expect some form of flexible working as standard when searching for jobs. Lack of flexibility has even been cited as one of the triggers of what’s being referred to as The Great Resignation. The Great Resignation, also known as The Big Quit, is a trend whereby employees voluntarily leave their jobs because they are dissatisfied. The pandemic showed them working from home and other flexibility measures are possible, and they are now more likely to seek employment elsewhere if this is not an option in the post-pandemic world.
Legally, all employees have the right to request flexible working (referred to as ‘making a statutory application’), if they have worked for their employer for 26 weeks or more. The employer should discuss this request in more depth with the employee privately soon after receiving it, in order to better understand their proposal and address any concerns. You must then consider the request and make a decision without discriminating against the employee.Acceptable reasons for turning down a flexible working request include:
- Additional costs
- Being unable to meet customer demand
- Being unable to recruit additional employees
- Being unable to reorganise work amongst other employees
- Impact on performance and/or quality
- A planned change to the business structure
There’s a lot that employers can do to be more inclusive in the workplace, from providing unconscious bias training to improving office accessibility. It will require some additional work and a willingness to change some policies and practices, but results in more employment opportunities for disabled people and overall a more happy, supported and loyal team in the long-run.