A valued workforce or a challenge to national productivity?

A man sits behind the desk of a radio station, about to speak into the microphone

Last week, the Government announced its ambitions and plans to get one million disabled people into work over the next ten years. Sense cautiously welcomed this announcement knowing that this will only be successful if it has a meaningful and positive outcome for disabled people.  ‘Getting people in to work’ is more than just finding a job for someone; it’s about finding the right job and disabled people getting the support they need to find work and stay in work.  For this to be realised, it’s crucial that employers and job centre staff have positive attitudes and understanding of what disabled people can and want to achieve in work.

Whilst the Government ambitions of last week may have been seen by some as a positive step towards disabled people in employment, this ambition has been swiftly undermined this week by the Chancellor.  Speaking in a select committee session on Wednesday, Phillip Hammond said that having increased participation in work from groups, including disabled people, “may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements”.  These comments have understandably caused uproar amongst disabled people, and Sense has spoken publicly, calling for the Chancellor to apologise.

Last year, Sense released Realising Aspirations for All, the result of research and engagement with people who are deafblind; exploring their experiences of employment and how these can be improved. A key finding from the report was that employers have a lack of understanding of what disabled people can achieve.  For these misconceptions to be corrected, we need leaders and decision makers who champion and promote employing disabled people and need to challenge narrative that only confirms people’s negative attitudes.

Employment experiences of people with complex communication needs

When we spoke to people who are deafblind about their experiences of employment, it was clear that many had been through negative experiences with employers, including a lack of understanding about how to meet the needs of people with sensory impairments in the workplace.

This lack of support and understanding has meant that, for those people with sensory impairments that wish to work, they have come up against additional barriers.  These include inaccessible recruitment processes and failures to adjust the working environment to suit communication needs.

These barriers are unhelpful for both employers and employees or job candidates.  Finding the right support for any potential employee is essential to creating an inclusive workplace that has the best people in the right roles – which will ultimately benefit businesses as they can understand how to be responsive to the needs of disabled people.

Providing things like accessible recruitment processes mean that people with sensory impairments can demonstrate their skills and ability just as any other candidate throughout the process.

Understanding what employers need

Though employers are required by the Equality Act (2010) to provide reasonable adjustments in the workplace – to remove barriers for disabled people seeking work – putting this into practice can be daunting.

Reasonable adjustments are not defined and it means it is up to the employer and disabled person to discuss what arrangements are needed and whether they are in scope for the employer.

We spoke to disability recruitment website Evenbreak and EmployAbility – a scheme that supports disabled graduates into work.  In line with our findings from research with people who are deafblind, both organisations highlighted that often employers are unsure of how best to support people with disabilities and that they can worry about making mistakes.  Some employers are concerned that reasonable adjustments are costly, and that they do not have the knowledge to offer the right working environment for disabled candidates.

Sense resources and support

To support employers, people who are deafblind and professionals, Sense has created a number of resources, which are available to download from our Employment page:

  • How to support people with sensory impairments in employment: A short guide for employers that includes advice on supporting people with complex sensory and communication needs in the workplace.
  • How can people who are deafblind be supported to find work: A factsheet for healthcare workers, about how to support people who are deafblind and wish to enter or stay in employment.
  • I want to work! : An employment guide for people with sensory impairments.

This is just a starting point, and Sense is continuing to work to improve the experiences of people with sensory impairments that wish to enter employment.  Working with employers, Government and disabled people will be essential to ensuring people can achieve their aspirations for work.

Find out more about what Sense is doing to support people with complex communication needs to find challenging and rewarding employment.

Sense responds to Government’s disability employment announcement

Sarah White

Author: Sarah White

I lead Sense’s work relating to Health Policy, campaigning to ensure that people with sensory impairments can access healthcare services.

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