According to Scope, a charity for those with a disability, there were 13.3 million disabled people living in the UK in 2016 – at least 18% of whom were adults of working age. However, just 3.4 million disabled people are currently in employment. This is not purely down to choice or the nature of each disability; for some disabled people, it’s the barriers they face in a working environment that prevent them from having a job.
Scope also state that disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. However, it is not just disabled people in the UK who are struggling to get into employment.
As an employer, it is your responsibility to provide a safe and comfortable environment for your staff to work in – and this also applies to employees who have disabilities. But not all work premises are disability friendly, meaning people with disabilities are facing extra barriers leading to further unemployment.
The main barriers for employment for disabled people are difficulty with transport (29%) and a lack of job opportunities (43%). However, as an employer, you can implement systems into the workplace to overcome some of the barriers those with disabilities might face. DCS Multiserve, specialists in facilities management in Newcastle, investigates what you can do to ensure your work environment is disability friendly.
The ‘Access to Work’ programme
The government offers a publicly funded programme to help disabled people start or remain in work – Access to Work. The programme helps to support an employee who needs practical support to stay in work in the form of a grant which can cover workplace adaptions, transport costs, assistive technology and equipment. The aim is to help disabled people stay in employment and help you, as an employer, ensure your workplace is a safe and comfortable environment for disabled employees.
Between April 2015 and March 2016, the programme helped 36,470 individuals, of which 11,860 were newcomers to the programme. At the end of the financial year, 7,460 individuals were still continuing to benefit from Access to Work.
Whilst you might have the facilities inside the premises for a disabled employee to do their job, without easy access into and around the building, a disabled person is likely to face barriers before they even enter the building. Offering disabled parking spaces close to the entrance and a ramp into the building is a great start; giving wheelchair users freedom to enter and leave the premises without difficulty.
When stairs can’t be used, elevators or ramps will be required if your company works across multiple floors. Elevators should also be fitted with braille signs for the visually impaired, as well as wall signs to provide directions around the office.
You’ll need to ensure you have the correct support framework in place for both non-disabled and disabled employees.
Braille signs are a relatively small adaptation you can make to the workplace to assist the visually impaired. These can be used to help direct staff around the workplace, help them use lifts, make phone calls and use digital technology and computers. Small changes like these can dramatically change the working experience for disabled employees, and break down the barriers.
In some cases, something as simple as providing an employee with an alternative chair or desk can make a huge difference in making them comfortable in the workplace and helping them reach their potential.
Providing training facilities to educate yourself and all your employees, both disabled and non-disabled, about the challenges people face in the workplace on a day-to-day basis is important. Whilst non-disabled employees must be aware of the barriers their disabled colleagues face every day, it’s important to reverse this too so that everyone can behave sensitively in the workplace with an awareness of those around them.
According to Papworth Trust, 53% of working-age adults with impairments experienced barriers to work compared with 30% of adults without impairments. Nowadays, the majority of job roles require engagement with some kind of technology and assistive technologies can help break the barriers that disabled employees face on a daily basis. Whether it’s braille keyboards, screen readers or listening devices, assistive technologies and devices are a great way to ensure that all of your staff can perform their job to the best of their ability.