people with disabilities

Companies need to change how they engage with people with disabilities: here’s how

There are more than eight million working-age disabled people in the UK. Yet only 54% of them are in employment compared with 82% of non-disabled people. “A lot of UK businesses don’t realise that people with disabilities can bring a lot of value to their organisation”, commented Pippa Stacey, Communications Consultant for Astriid, a charity that helps people with long-term health conditions find employment.

How employing people with disabilities can boost productivity and profitability

Research has revealed that organisations that recruit from a wider talent pool will often outperform their competitors. According to research company Gartner, organisations that actively employ people with disabilities experience 89% higher retention rates, a 72% increase in employee productivity, and a 29% increase in profitability.

Despite these benefits, both employers and colleagues often underestimate the contribution of people with disabilities within the workplace. Nearly a third of the UK population believes disabled people are less productive than non-disabled people, according to a study by Scope, a charity that campaigns for equality for disabled people.

“Corporate UK needs to sharpen up its act”, said Tarek Anwar, founder of FinVelo, a coaching and mentoring consultancy. “Organisations need to train their people to be more inclusive; there’s a lot of conscious and unconscious bias happening in our workplaces”. 

Improving awareness through training is just the tip of the iceberg. Employment contracts need to change. Workplace cultures need to change. And employee behaviours need to change. “To improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace, there needs to be a mass positive movement”, added Tarek, a trustee for Astriid. “Everyone can make a difference and everyone needs to be encouraged to call out non-inclusive attitudes”.

Attract a wider talent pool with more inclusive job adverts

As well as boosting diversity and efficiency in the workplace, employing more people with disabilities and chronic illnesses can open up new business opportunities and revenue streams. According to Scope, there are more than 14 million disabled people in the UK with an estimated spending power of £274 billion a year.

“Disabled people are not just your employees, they are your customers”, said Tarek. “To offer products and services to all of society, an organisation’s workforce needs to reflect the different groups and communities. It unlocks new ideas and opinions, which results in a more sustainable and profitable business”.

To attract more people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to apply for vacant positions, organisations need to change how they phrase and publicise job adverts. “Candidates will look for specific things, such as references to flexible working or home working”, said Pippa, who suffers from ME and blogs on chronic illness issues. “Employers should also state in adverts that they welcome applications from disabled people and are willing to discuss reasonable adjustments”.

By sharing job vacancies with disability networks, organisations will be able to tap into a hidden talent pool of highly skilled individuals. For example, Astriid helps employers find suitable candidates by offering a free matching service via an online platform. “The pandemic has actually made it easier for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to apply for jobs as they no longer need to travel to interviews”, added Pippa.

People with disabilities and chronic illnesses don’t just struggle to find employment, they also struggle to earn a fair wage. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, people with disabilities faced a pay gap of 15% in the UK.

“Shaming or penalising employers is not the way forward; we need to showcase how greater equality, diversity, and inclusion are helping organisations achieve greater success”, said Tarek. “We are at the beginning of a long road but by working together we can create cultures and teams that encourage everyone to thrive”.


Helen GuyattThis article was written by Helen Guyatt, a journalist, and storyteller. She has been writing about business and IT trends for more than 20 years for a range of publications and corporate clients. Helen often trades her keyboard for a baking bowl and enjoys making (and eating) copious amounts of cake. She is passionate about highlighting social and sustainability issues to help make the world a better place to live.