culture of access
© Robert Kneschke |

Here, Jonathan Moore of Webster Wheelchairs, discusses the benefits of creating a culture of access for employees with disabilities in the workplace

According to the Office of National Statistics, nearly half of all disabled people (46 per cent) are unemployed. Given that there is an estimated 7.6 million working age people in the UK, that is a lot of — in many cases — undervalued and underutilised human capital.

The unfortunate reality is that many people still view those with disabilities as either an unnecessary expense or as an inconvenience. But recruiting disabled talent is not and does not have to be an act of charity. Thankfully, there is now a growing awareness of the benefits that a diverse workforce of abled and disabled bodies can bring to the business world.

Disabled workers as a lifeline

As most people are coming to the realisation that disabled people, like the general population, are incredibly talented and come with great strengths of their own, they are proving to be a lifeline for ailing industries. One such industry is UK engineering, which has been in a crisis freefall of recruitment since at least 2016.

True, in some circumstances a disabled candidate may need some adjustments to help them thrive in the workplace. But these adjustments are mostly very minor and inexpensive — and this can make all the difference between hiring another abled-bodied person and potentially one very valuable employee.

This is exactly the mindset that Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure had. Starting in 2016, the construction company changed its hiring policies to help create a better culture of access. Morgan’s director of human resources, Dawn Moore, believes that the new hiring policy has benefited the company immensely, and it is now looking to achieve ‘Leader’ status. That is, a certain level of recognition by the government that a company is working hard to create a culture of access for disabled workers.

Encouraging inclusivity — the government’s ‘Disability Confident’

Disability Confident is a scheme that supports employers who openly try to recruit disabled workers. At first, a lot of questions were raised as to how successful such a scheme could be. After all, it might require some workplaces to set up or readjust their sites in a certain way. There were also worries about what different approaches would have to be adopted in general to aid inclusivity.

These are somewhat demanding changes that won’t occur in all UK businesses overnight, but Disability Confident has already managed to persuade more than 16,000 businesses to sign up to the ‘Committed’ level. This means, active measures to recruit and retain disabled workers.

From the ‘Committed level’ is ‘Employer’ level, and finally there is ‘Leader’ status — in which a business has to prove to the government and its employees and customers that it has demonstrated a positive influence on having disabled people as part of its diverse workforce.

How a culture of access benefits everyone

Creating a culture of access doesn’t just benefit disabled people. It also means developing a more supportive role for employees who may have changing family or health situations in general.

Going back to the example of Morgan Sindall Construction & Infrastructure, polling by their HR department found that employee satisfaction had skyrocketed. With almost 100 per cent of employees believing that the company had their well-being prioritised front and centre. They also witnessed huge increases in staff who would “recommend” them as an employer.

With the lid suddenly lifted on a standing army workforce of nearly 4 million people, it is clear that the well-publicised skills shortage does not have to be simply accepted lying down. There is only really a skills shortage if we as a society let there be one.

Currently, none of the businesses recognised as ‘Leaders’ belong to the construction and heavy industry sector — and only a few actually have anything to do with technology. That all needs to change, and soon. If hypothetically, 4 million disabled workers entered the engineering sector tomorrow, the skills shortage would soon be a distant memory. It is all about creating the conditions where disabled workers can thrive, and encouraging them to come and work — and stay — with your business.


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