Employing the disabled – the business Case: a 10-minute tutorial

Organisations are becoming increasingly
aware of their obligations to disabled people as employees, customers and
members of the public. Nevertheless, many businesses see their obligations
under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) as an ‘on-cost’ with little
direct benefit. However, experience and research shows there are significant
direct and indirect business advantages in taking a positive and proactive
approach to employing disabled people. Rick Williams reports

The
story so far

Many
employers appear to believe that employing disabled people will be disruptive
and less productive than employing non-disabled people – the
figures
speak for themselves.

The Labour Market Survey of 1999 shows there
are currently about 3.1 million disabled people in employment (12 per cent of
the total workforce). However, there are 6.6 million disabled people of working
age (approx. 20 per cent of
the total workforce). Disabled people are nearly seven times as likely as
non-disabled people to be out of work and claiming benefits; currently the
figure stands at over 2.6 million. Given these basic statistics it can be seen
there is some way to go before employment equality reaches disabled people.

The 2001
Managing Disability At Work
survey of more than 200 employers found that
few went beyond simple approaches to disability issues. For example, 72 per
cent had a policy on disability equality, but only 40 per cent had a system to monitor its
implementation.

There
also appeared to be a gap between the attitudes of HR professionals and line
managers with the former introducing policies on employing disabled people but
the latter often resisting them. This is despite research
that shows
disabled employees’ performance compares well with their colleagues. Research
in Dupont compared disabled employees’ performance with their colleagues
against the criteria of attendance, performance and safety and they found it
was typically more effective – 79 per cent, 91 per cent and 96 per cent
respectively.

Organisations
show similar attitudes in dealing with disabled customers. For example, a
recent UK retailer access survey found that 54 per cent of disabled customers
felt that the staff had not received disability equality training; 83 per cent
of companies were unable to provide information in alternative formats and 40
per cent of wheelchair users had difficulty entering buildings. All the above
are regarded as reasonable adjustments by the Code of Practice on Rights of
Access to Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises (Feb 2002).

The
promise

While
the law can force employers, at least over time, to change the way they deal
with disabled people it is only when the underlying negative attitudes are
changed that a long-term self-sustaining improvement will be achieved. For
businesses perhaps the start of attitude change could come with a better
understanding of the business case. Some of the compelling business facts are:

– More than 8 million people in the UK are
disabled with a spending potential in excess of £40bn

– Making a business’s goods and services
accessible to disabled people increases income and encourages repeat business –
a US survey found that for every $1 spent there was an overall return of $30

– Adjustments, making a business’s goods,
facilities and services accessible to disabled customers, are typically
inexpensive and straightforward

– Proactively seeking applications from
disabled people gives a wider choice of potential employees with a good range
of skills and a positive attitude towards work.

– Keeping an employee who becomes disabled
generally costs less than recruiting and training someone new – the Post Office
estimates that medically retiring an employee costs around £80,000

– Only 4 per cent of reasonable adjustments
made to facilitate employing a disabled person cost money, with grants and
expert support available from Government and voluntary agencies

– Showing a positive approach towards
disability issues helps foster good relations with all employees

– A positive and proactive approach helps
develop a good image and reduces the risk of potentially costly litigation and
adverse publicity – last year the average payment for a claim under the DDA at
an Employment Tribunal was £13,000

Pros
and cons

There are undoubted
business benefits to employing disabled people, however, maximising them will
require organisations to deal with the underlying issues by developing and
implementing effective policies.

Many organisations
have such policies – the trick is to make sure they work. The
2001
Managing Disability At Work survey highlighted this as a problem and the
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) 2001 report It wasn’t that difficult after all,
which said that 60 per cent of personnel managers found changing the attitudes
of managers to be the most difficult area and the one where least progress had
been made.

Who’s
on board?

Some
major companies in the UK have signed up to a positive and proactive approach
to disabled employees and customers. These include Marks & Spencer, Rolls-Royce,
the Open University and Bupa. Also the Government has made diversity (including
disability) one of the key pillars of its Modernising Government agenda.

The
verdict

It
is apparent that employers need to be convinced of the business advantages in employing
disabled people before they will embrace not only the letter of the law, but
also its spirit. This will become more critical by 2004 when the remaining
access provisions of the DDA come into force, 
especially when coupled with the flagged removal of the DDA’s current
employment exemption for small businesses.

Key
players

The
Employers’ Forum on Disability is the UK’s leading employers’ organisation
focused on disability as it affects business. Also the CIPD, as the leading HR
professional’s organisation, is continually highlighting disability as a major
issue for organisations.

The
HR contribution

The
CIPD report highlighted the role of attitudes. It is inevitable, therefore, that HR specialists will need to take
the lead, not only in addressing the legal and good practice issues arising
from the legislation, but also in driving forward attitude change. Without this
many initiatives will not get past the policy stage in an organisation’s
culture. The Disability Rights Commission recognises this and advocates
initiatives such as disability equality/awareness training and effective
monitoring regimes with in-built challenge functions.

Essential
reading

Unlocking the Evidence by Simon Zadek and Susan
Scott-Parker ISBN 1 903894 01-8

Promoting Change by Employers Forum on Disability

Websites

www.RJW-Consultancy.co.uk

Chartered
Institute of Personnel and Development www.cipd.co.uk

Disability
on the Agenda www.disability.gov.uk

Disability
Rights Commission www.drc-gb.org.uk

Rick
Williams (
mailto:
rick@rjw-consultancy.co.uk
) is a consultant on disability equality. He is
a Fellow of the CIPD and prior to becoming a consultant worked as a senior manager
in the Health and Safety Executive. Rick works as a visiting lecturer in
disability equality at the universities of Brighton and South Bank. He is blind
and the unusual combination of his disability, work experience and professional
qualifications has allowed him to develop a high level of expertise in
disability equality issues.

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