HR Blog: Recruiting and retaining disabled employees

The disability employment rate, which shows the number of disabled people in employment, has sat somewhere around 52% for the last three years. Whilst it’s slowly increasing, it still shows that almost half of people with disabilities are unemployed.

Many disabled people can and want to work, and advancements in technology have come a long way in facilitating this. Still, though, they can encounter barriers to employment.

As an employer you may not realise you already have disabled employees, as some people don’t like to be labelled.

A person is considered disabled if they have a long-term physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. That might seem frightening but there is support available that can help to clarify obligations and assess any reasonable adjustments that might need to be considered when employing a disabled person.

It’s worth noting too that disability can happen to anyone at any point in their life. So awareness of how to manage and support a disabled employee is a useful skill for employers to have. Even more so considering the Great Resignation.

Hiring disabled people with more inclusive recruitment

To eliminate disadvantages that a disabled applicant may encounter, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their recruitment process. For example, if someone tells you they have a problem with certain lighting, ensuring the room for the interview is suitable would be a reasonable adjustment.

Since you won’t know that an applicant is disabled unless they tell you, and many won’t disclose this so early on, focusing on making your recruitment more inclusive for everyone is the best approach.

Examples of how to achieve this include: being clear on required skills in the job description – are they essential for the role? Accepting applications in various formats, considering accessibility for interviews, and changing your expectations on matters such as employment gaps in CVs or eye contact during interviews.

Not all disabilities are obvious and so assessing your interview questions to make sure that they don’t disadvantage neurodivergent applicants is also a good idea.

A disabled applicant must not be treated less favourably than an applicant without a disability. Doing so can lead to disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Making employment more inclusive

Some disabilities will require reasonable adjustments to be considered to support a disabled person in their role. For a small business, this might seem challenging at first, but these don’t always mean big structural changes. For example, it could be that this is achieved through adjusted hardware, for which financial support might be available, or flexible working.

Beyond this, an inclusive company culture can help to retain disabled employees. For example, considering any adjustments that might be needed for everyone to participate in and enjoy work socials.

Examples of disability inclusion done well

Some employers are already taking positive steps to improve disability employment through their inclusive actions.

For example, Lyft, an American ride share company, sent a passenger resources for basic sign language to help them better communicate with their driver who was hard of hearing. When sharing their experience with an online community, the passenger described how the driver had lit up at the positive interaction.

Closer to home, Sainsbury’s encourages managers to have meaningful conversations with employees to build a better inclusive environment. They also seek input from disabled workers to help improve the customer experience for people with disabilities, showing their commitment to employee voice and accessibility.

Whilst Network Rail celebrated disability awareness with events and activities to encourage staff to think about all types of disabilities and how they can support their colleagues.

These are just some examples as to how disability inclusion can be achieved across various businesses.

Support for your small business

Access to Work is an employment support grant scheme which supports the hiring of disabled people. This can include paying for practical support as well as advice on hiring and retaining people with disabilities.

If you have HR questions about how you can make your business more inclusive, don’t forget that your local HR Dept is also here to help.