When the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act1 (DDA) came into force, employers were dealing with the first legal document to acknowledge the existence of discrimination towards disabled people. The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 19442 had been repealed, and the 3 per cent quota and reserved occupations were no more. Disability issues in the workplace now needed to be addressed in a positive way. In 1996, following extensive consultation, the Department for Education and Employment published a Code of Practice for the Elimination of Discrimination in the field of employment against disabled persons or persons who have a disability.3 This document required employers to consider providing reasonable adjustments for disabled people at work.
In 1997, as part of a MSc in Disability Management in Work and Rehabilitation, I wrote a paper in which I drew up guidelines for employing organisations who wish to carry out an internal review of their ability to implement the ‘reasonable adjustment’ requirement of the DDA. For my dissertation I took those guidelines and created an assessment tool, which would enable an employing organisation to assess its approach to disability management and its ability to provide reasonable adjustments. My intention was to research how useful the tool would be in the real world of employment and, as a result, set the parameters for its future use.
This tool was used for two reasons. No other tool with the focus of reasonable adjustments had been found. The nearest example was law firm Eversheds in 1996,4 which describes a tool for assessing issues prior to the development of a disability policy. The issues addressed by it are important issues which need to be considered if effective disability management and implementation of reasonable adjustments is to be achieved. Research undertaken by Doyle in the late 1980s5 (specifically relating to employees who had become disabled during their working lives) indicated what type of adjustments disabled employees might ask for.
-training and retraining
-changes to equipment or furniture
-adaptation of premises
-extra time off or shorter working day
-flexible working hours.
A leaflet handed out at the Employers Forum on Disability in 1997 – Americans With Disabilities Act 19906 – confirmed the importance to disability management of the following if disability discrimination is to be effectively addressed:
-educating employees and managers,
– training supervisors
-offering a fair opportunity for applicants.
Doyle also cites the important aspects of “meaningful access to… training” and “consultation between employee and employer”. The New Zealand Department for Education and Employment code also gives specific examples of the variety of ways reasonable adjustments can be provided and paragraph 4.62 mentions confidentiality. The tool seeks information on a number of organisational processes which relate to the management of HR:
-development and training
There are also a number which relate to disability management:
-access to premises.
The review of the literature had indicated that the tool was comprehensive in dealing with the major issues relating to the reduction of disability discrimination in the workplace and the creation of an environment where reasonable adjustment can be provided.
It was decided that the HR function of each employing organisation would be the place to test the tool because HR departments take the lead in the development of policies and procedures relating to the workforce. The Employment Service Code of Good Practice on the Employment of Disabled People (1993)7 places responsibility for policy firmly with directors and senior managers, and procedures with personnel (HR) and other managers. The disability policies of two employing organisations were reviewed (Nat West Group 19918 and Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust 19989), and both indicated that the HR function was the appropriate place to target the tool.
The tool seeks information in relation to the most pertinent issues relating to disability management and these issues are led by HR. Any changes with regard to policies, awareness, training, recruitment, etc, would be implemented by HR. It was hoped that the project would also bring attention to “the hidden organisational barriers that result in unintentional indirect discrimination” (Floyd 1998).10
A form of data collection was needed which would enable the personal responses of the subjects, both verbal and written, to be analysed, so the case study research model was chosen. Yin (1994),11 the accepted authority on case study research, provided the guidance in designing the research methodology.
The following three propositions were made:
1. That the HR function is the appropriate starting point for an assessment of the ability to implement reasonable adjustments
2. That the tool will assist employing organisations to assess their current ability to implement reasonable adjustments
3. That by undertaking an internal review the employing organisation will feel able to improve on the current ability to implement reasonable adjustments.
The researcher, by means of briefing notes and guidance, would ask the employing organisation to examine its ability to implement reasonable adjustments through the administration of the tool. Feedback from the employing organisation, gained through an examination of the results of the assessment and a semi-structured interview, would reveal whether the study propositions were correct. To validate the research, it was acknowledged that at least three employing organisations would need to complete an assessment.
The following evidence would need to be analysed for the evaluation to be effective and for the cases to be examined from different perspectives:
1. A comparison of the representatives of each employing organisation ie, the person who undertook the internal review, and their position within the organisation, plus a comparison of the people who provided the answers to each question
2. A review of the representatives’ comments on usability, language, layout, clarity and relevance. This would be the functional assessment of the tool
3. A comparison of the feedback from the employing organisations to see whether the tool had assisted the employing organisation in its assessment of its ability to provide reasonable adjustments
4. A comparison of the three priorities for further action. This being an indication that the employing organisation has been able to identify a means of improving on its current ability to implement reasonable adjustments and an indication of the utility and effectiveness of the tool.
The method of data collection
To facilitate effective data collection and use of the tool, briefing notes were composed to offer written guidance to the employing organisations so that they could have a point of reference if they experienced any problems. An introduction was drafted with guidelines and references to assist the organisation in understanding the background to the tool. The essay guidelines were redesigned into a format conducive to completion. A feedback sheet was provided for the organisation to give details of who provided the answers to each question.
The first implementation of the tool would be used as a pilot study so that any problems regarding the design of the tool, communication issues and research design faults could be identified. It would also identify other information which would be useful to the other organisations taking part in the research, eg, time commitments, personnel involvement, and so on. The pilot study was undertaken within the researcher’s (then) current employing organisation. The following process was used to collect the data.
The pilot study collection process
For the pilot, the researcher planned to meet with the representative of the employing organisation three times during the research process:
– To brief the representative regarding the research process and to discuss a timeframe for completion of the internal review, collection of results and feedback. This took into account other work pressures and the time it would take to gather the information for the completion of the assessment. The Briefing Pack was given to the representative, the tool reviewed and any questions answered
– To work through the tool together
-To review and discuss the results of the assessment and then consider the utility of the tool and evaluation data collection.
Results of the Pilot Study
The pilot study indicated that the HR function was able to provide all the information, except in relation to access to the premises – question three on the internal review – so the head of the estates department completed this. The representative found the tool to be informative and communicative in that the layout was conducive to completion and provided for ease of review at the end of the data collection period. There were no difficulties in answering the questions as they were all considered to be relevant to the issue of reasonable adjustment. The language was judged to be easily understood. It took 30 minutes to brief the representative; 60 minutes to complete the tool; 15 minutes to get the answer to Q3; 60 minutes to review the results and collect the feedback. Overall, this took just two-and-a-half hours.
This completed the pilot study and I was ready to go ahead to test the tool on a number of other organisations. In the November issue of Occupational Health, I will discuss the sample group, review the results and analyse the outcome of the research.
Annie Tyldesley completed her occupational health diploma at the RCN in 1990, and has worked for a number of large UK organisations. In 1999, she took a Masters in Disability Management in Work and Rehabilitation at London’s City University.
1. HMSO (1995) Disability Discrimination Act 1995. HMSO:London
2. HMSO (1944) The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944.
3. Department for Education and Employment (1996) Code of Practice for the Elimination of Discrimination in the field of employment against disabled persons or persons who have a disability. Specifically, chapter 9 ‘Accommodating Difference’. HMSO:London
4. Eversheds (1996) CCH Disability Manual. CCH Editions: London
5. Doyle B (1995) Disability Discrimination and Equal Opportunities: A Comparative Study of the Employment Rights of Disabled Persons. Mansell:London
6. England M, Kirchner A, Makowski A, Young S M & Mancuso L L (no date) ADA Information Brief Vol 1 No 2 (handout at an Employers Forum on Disability Seminar October 1997)
7. Employment Service (1993 reprint) Code of Good Practice on the Employment of Disabled People. HMSO:London
8. Nat West Group (1991) Staff With Disabilities Policy
9. Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust (1996) Disabled Staff Policy
10. Floyd M (1998), ‘Vocational Rehabilitation Services and the DDA’, Occupational Health Review, January/February 1997, pp29-32
11. Yin R (1994) Case Study Research Design and Methods, 2nd edition, Sage, California
Suggestions for further reading
Bell J (1993) Doing your research project 2nd edition Open University Press, Bury St Edmunds
Bordens K S and Abbott BB, (1996) Research Design and Methods: A Process Approach: 3rd Edition, Mayfield, California
Bradley D, ‘When Illness Becomes a Disability’, Occupational Health September 1997 pp11-12
Cunningham, ‘Managing Disability in the Workplace’, Occupational Health Review November/December 1997, pp14-18
Department for Education and Employment (1995), The Disability Discrimination Act 1995: what employees and job applicants need to know, HMSO, London
Employers Forum on Disability (1997), A Practical Guide to Employment Adjustments for People with Disabilities Forum Briefing Paper 2
Gooding C (1996), Blackstone’s Guide to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 – Blackstone, London
Holland-Elliott K (1997), A Challenge Not a Problem Occupational Health Safety and Environment October 1997, pp19-21
Kearns D (1998), ‘Sustainability’, People Management January pp40-43
Oliver M (1996) Understanding Disability: From theory to practice, Macmillan, Basingstoke
Robson C (1993), Real World Research, Blackwell, Oxford
Scott V (1994) Lessons from America: A Study of the Americans with Disabilities Act, The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, London
The Disability in Business Partnership (no date), Good Practice; Great Business, factsheets relating to the Good Practice and Disability Discrimination Act
Warnock O (1997) ‘The First Successful Disability Discrimination Cases’, Disability Newsletter, issue 8
Young S M (no date) ADA Information Brief Vol 1 No 3 (handout at Employment Forum on Disability Seminar October 1997)
GUIDELINES FOR AN INTERNAL REVIEW
Although the Code of Practice (Department for Education and Employment 1996)7 gives a range of adjustments that an employer might have to make, the following key guidance is presented to assist the employing organisation to consider all angles:
-Process Re-engineering: under this title consider other ways of doing the job; keep an open mind; lateral thinking; question current practices
-Reallocation: give minor or subsidiary duties to other employees
-Alteration: in relation to hours of work, eg, annualised hours, flexitime, time off for treatment or rehabilitation, disability leave, etc, and/or in relation to premises, place of work either in the building or geographically
-Redeployment: moving an employee into another post using existing vacancies; can be temporary or permanent – can mean a move to another workplace
-Systems support: acquiring or modifying equipment; using alternative communication media, eg, audio cassettes, video, Braille; training of any kind and allowing more time to train; providing supervision; providing translations of training material and communications to staff including job descriptions, application forms and health questionnaires
When you have reached the end of the internal review and are considering your responses, it is worthwhile remembering that any current practice that places a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage – ie, not minor or trivial – would be considered discrimination against that person