Are you Disability Confident?

By Beth Lazzarato, Public Affairs Assistant, CIPD, @BethLazzarato

Yesterday was only my fourth day of working for the CIPD.  However, it was also a day in which I had the exciting opportunity to attend a CIPD Network event with representatives from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), public and private sector employers, and a number of disability charities.  So what was the aim of the event?  For attendees to explore whether or not they could call themselves ‘disability confident.’


In a 2013, a DWP survey found that 42% of disabled jobseekers felt ‘employer attitude’ was the biggest barrier to them obtaining employment.  In response to these results, the Government established the Disability Confident campaign.  The campaign aims to dispel prejudice, teach employers the benefits of a diverse workforce, and provide support for them in their efforts to recruit and retain disabled employees.  Initially, it focused on forming partnerships with employers and other organisations in order to spread awareness of the basic issues.  Now, however, the campaign has to develop with an ambitious new target in mind; the Conservatives’ pledge to halve the disability employment gap (currently standing at approximately 30%).


Yvonne O’Hara, Deputy Director of Communications at the DWP, gave an indication of how the campaign will grow.  One objective will be to enlist MPs to hold ‘Disability Confident’ events in their constituency, thereby involving smaller, regional employers in the campaign.  Another will be persuading every employer who pledged to become ‘disability confident’ to ‘do one thing’ towards the achievement of that goal.  Ms O’Hara cited examples of actions employers have already taken as indications of best practice; for instance, the introduction of a ‘reasonable adjustments passport’, allowing an employee to progress through an organisation without having to explain the support they require at each stage.


It was then time to hear from the charities and associations – what would help the people they support to obtain jobs and remain with an organisation?  The insight they offered was particularly compelling due to a uniting characteristic – they all worked with people with ‘invisible’ disabilities.  The support that most people might imagine employers offering – ramps, lifts, appropriate furniture – were irrelevant to those they supported.  Often the individuals concerned would not consider their difficulties to amount to a ‘disability’, or might not even be aware that their problems made them eligible for support.  What might being ‘disability confident’ mean when it came to recruiting and retaining employees with autism, learning difficulties or stammering?


A common theme which emerged was the need for organisations to have appropriately trained and supported line managers.  It was recommended that, where possible, an organisation should have a centralised, written procedure for the request of support, not only to remove pressure from line managers but also to ensure a consistent and normalised process for applicants.  It was also highlighted that where disabilities can be immensely complex and vary in nature, it was important to signpost line managers to expert advice such as that available through Research Autism’s online portal or the British Dyslexia Association’s telephone helpline.  Line managers cannot know everything, but they should be confident that they can draw on reliable information when needed.


Consensus also developed as to the need to create a workplace culture in which being open about disability would be viewed as normal and positive.  During focus group discussions, various suggestions were made as to how this might be achieved.  One idea involved inviting senior employees with disabilities to make their disability ‘visible’, potentially through the use of a badge or other article of clothing.  Another suggestion was to making screening for learning difficulties a normal part of the hiring process, regardless of each candidate’s history. 


However, perhaps the most important point made during the event was the value of simply asking employees what can be done to help them.  If an employee states, for instance, that it would help them to work in low level lighting, this statement should be trusted without lengthy investigations or requests for medical evidence.   


Learning from each charity’s ambassador was, for me, extremely valuable.  I found I had many misconceptions about several of the disabilities discussed – for instance, I believed that stammering developed as the result of childhood trauma, which is not the case.  It also highlighted to me the importance of the change the Disability Confident campaign is trying to produce.  In this day and age, it cannot be acceptable that 85% of people with autism are unemployed, and we must look forward to the day when such statistics are a simply a relic.


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  • Anonymous

    I have epilepsy which is largely controlled-rare episodes around 1 every 18 months-but suffer side effects from the medication which make it difficult to work-I work in a hospital lab.The hospital has no specialist epilepsy staff and I have to go to Sheffield to visit my neurologist.

    My line manager understands my condition and trusts my judgement.

    However the Trust has policies which they obey to the letter when it comes to attendance management completely ignoring other poicies on disability such as the reasonable adjustment policy and the concept of disability leave-not linked to attendance management!

    This causes great stress and in my view it is caused by total ignorance of managers about disability and a complete failure to try and understand the disabled.This is endemic in NHS management and causes great damage to the disabled workforce.

  • No mention of the DWP's Access to Work Scheme here - did Ms O'Hara mention this or is the official line still to maintain secrecy. I previously served as a Member of one of the Statutory Advisory Committees on Employment and Disability and the challenges that disabled people face in gaining access to the workplace is much the same today as ever it was. I am also mindful of my 20 years plus direct experience as a Director and Vice President of a national Disability Charity - the lack of understanding and even fear that employers harbour has always created barriers that many disabled people cannot overcome. The concept of 'disability confidence' sounds like something dreamt up by a civil servant who has no understanding of what disability discrimination in the workplace really means.

  • Anonymous

    There has been amazing progress with medicines over the last 10 years. The research done about people who suffer from epilepsy show that the percentage of people who have this condition who are in employment is extremely low; less than 5 per cent. Yet over 80 per cent of these people on medication never have a seizure. Why are we not considering these people for employment? We are behind socially.