There are more than 11 million disabled people in the UK, and shockingly, just 6% of those who are able to work are in employment. Even today, there is so much stigma around people with disabilities and how they fit into the workplace. According to statistics published by the charity Leonard Cheshire, 1 in 6 of us will be affected by disability at some point in our lives and for many of us, it will be the hardest thing we ever have to face.
8 out of 10 people with a disability weren’t born with it – the vast majority become disabled through an injury, accident, heart attack, stroke or conditions like MS and motor neurone disease. Sadly, people living with disabilities are far less likely to be employed than non-disabled people due to a number of factors, one of them being that disabled people are around three times as likely not to hold any qualifications compared to non-disabled people.
Fewer than 50% of working-age disabled people are in work, compared to 75% of non-disabled people, but disabled people’s day to day living costs are 25% higher than those of non-disabled people. These figures help highlight the problems many disabled people face day to day and may give an insight into why there may still be stigma attached to disability in general, but also in the workplace.
This stigma can lead to individuals feeling isolated and separate from society, as they don’t see themselves moving in the same direction as their non disabled siblings and friends. It can be hard for the individual but also the families due to the available social circle decreasing drastically after leaving government funded education.
One problem the disabled community face is the fact that non-disabled people aren’t taught and exposed to disabilities very often. This creates ignorance and the social stigma of there being ‘us’ and ‘them’, which is something that needs to change. Things like Channel 4’s critically acclaimed show The Undateables focuses on adults with disabilities finding love. While this is not strictly to do with disabled people in the workplace, it does open up and expose the normality of disability to the general population – something that employing disabled people also does.
Working life helps introduce everyone to a wide variety of new people. There are a few schemes, like Mencap’s Employ Me scheme and the US based company Opportunity Works, that aims to put more people with disabilities into work. These schemes provide appropriate training to develop the skills needed to get a paid job, experience in a real working environment, CV writing and interview preparation, help to learn new skills and cope with change and the schemes work with businesses employing people with a learning disability, so they can provide the right support and benefit from having a diverse workforce.
These kind of schemes are increasingly important to people living with a disability, as it instils so much more confidence, a strong sense of independence and initiates a bridge between people with disabilities and those without. On one hand, the person with a disability has the chance and opportunity to make friends and build relationships with people other than their carers or family members. On the other hand, research performed by Mencap states that disability employment helps teach and familiarise non disabled people with disabilities and helps change attitudes and challenge misconceptions around all forms of disabilities in the UK.
In a Forbes article written in 2012 by Opportunity Works’ co-founder and COO Judy Owen, she states that “Employers reported that providing [work] resulted in such benefits as retaining valuable employees, improving productivity and morale, reducing workers’ compensation and training costs, and improving company diversity.” These positives highlight that including a disabled person in the workforce increases the moral of the workforce as a whole and benefits employers to get involved in these schemes too.
Disability in the workplace should be celebrated and utilised as much as possible. There are so many positives, such as improving current employee satisfaction, improving company diversity and creating new possibilities and opportunities for those who may not be able to do it for themselves. Many employers have stated that disabled employees have a higher job satisfaction, have less sick days and are late less, hardworking, friendly honest and dependable. In the individual, it helps create confidence and a sense of independence that so many people, whether they were born disabled or have become so, unfortunately lack. This gives disabled people the chance to earn their own money to be able to pay for things like holidays and days out themselves without having to rely on family members, carers or the government – a priceless feeling that you cannot get from anything else. One of Mencap’s Employ Me scheme clients stated that it “feels good to be earning money, it helps me do new things and gives me a sense of achievement”. This solidifies that including disabilities in the workplace is successful for both employer, but more importantly the employee.
Article written by Rosie Sanderson.