Actions will make all the difference to disabled staff

The
Disability Rights Commission wants big businesses to sign up to its campaign.
So what’s in it for them?

Next week
the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) is launching its first major campaign,
Actions Speak Louder Than Words (News, 28 November). The intention is to
encourage influential figures across the worlds of business, sport, politics
and entertainment to take personal action to achieve equality for disabled
people.

Having big
businesses and key opinion-formers at the launch is one indication that
disability is moving up the national agenda.

And the
agenda has changed. The key disability issues are no longer just the “care”
services needed by people presumed “dependent”. Disability instead is
recognised as a key strand in the drive to establish a genuinely diverse
society.

The DRC,
whose goal is ‘a society where all disabled people can participate fully as
equal citizens’, plans to make a major contribution to diversity practices
across Britain.

Disability
is on the map as never before. Major companies pioneering disability equality
have been winning not only equality awards, but also mainstream business
prizes. B&Q, which has trained all 23,000 staff in disability equality, won
an Innovations award for the long-term impact on staff morale and retention, as
well as sales to disabled people. And many smaller businesses are finding that
the keys to making reasonable adjustments for disabled employees are
flexibility and creative thinking.

Yet four
years after the employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act came
into force, overall changes in employment participation have been relatively
slow. Only 40 per cent of disabled people of working age are in employment; the
rate for people with some specific impairments, such as learning difficulties,
is far lower. And for those employees who become disabled, one in six lose
their job within a year. Many never return to work.

Taking
active steps to retain employees who become disabled makes sense for many
reasons:

·       
The
difficulty of recruiting replacements in the context of the high vacancy rates
across many sectors.

·       
The
cost of recruiting and training new staff.

·       
The
potential loss of knowledge to the organisation.

·       
The
cost to the nation of a waste of talent.

The
relatively low costs of most reasonable adjustments that can enable people to
stay.

A recent
DfEE survey asked employers the cost of adjustments per disabled employee. In
61 per cent of cases there was no cost; in a further 10 per cent, the cost was
less than £100. 

When
employers adopt well-planned retention policies, results in terms of reductions
in ill-health retirement can be marked.

When the
DRC came into being in April 2000, we saw a country that was beginning to
recognise the importance of disability equality as never before, and yet best
practice was not being generalised. Actions Speak Louder Than Words is designed
to create a snowball effect, as actions by those in power inspire others to
take initiative. It is actions that will, in time, lead to the fulfilment of
the DRC’s mission and the goal of a truly diverse British society.    

 

By Liz
Sayce, director of communications and change at the Disability Rights
Commission, which offers advice to disabled people, employers and service
providers. www.drc-gb.org

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