Employing Disabled People in Your Business
There are many government schemes in place to encourage disabled people into the workplace. Employers have a legal obligation not to discriminate on any grounds, be it race, religion, sex or disability so these schemes are very relevant to any business.
Disability isn't always something obvious - the term covers mental health too - so employers have to be very careful with their hiring criteria. It might be obvious that someone in a wheelchair couldn't operate a particular piece of machinery but what about someone with a disability like depression?
How do employers make sure they hire the right person and give those with disability an equal chance?
By law, employers have to make 'reasonable adjustments' to the workplace to allow disabled people back into work. This could be anything from offering particular working hours so that an ill person can seek treatment, to providing a special computer set-up that the employee can use. When people see the phrase 'adjustments' they imagine having to install lifts instead of stairs and other expensive things, but in reality the adjustments are quite small and just mean allowing someone who can do the job to be effective. If one of your employees needed a different chair because they had back pain, this would be classed as an adjustment too but wouldn't fill you with the same sense of fear.
Employers have to be sure that they hire the right people for the job in the first place, and it's against the law to discriminate during the hiring process. This can often be more difficult than it sounds however - imagine two people going for a job, one able-bodied with lots of work experience who is confident in the interview and can talk about their skills and how they'd perform in the job. The other candidate is disabled and hasn't been in work before so whilst they're still able to do the job, they can't talk with the same level of confidence about it. Who do you hire?
To some extent the legislation on employers will only be effective if help is given to individual people seeking work. There are schemes in place that offer disabled people interview coaching and training on being in a workplace and this certainly helps to put them on a more equal footing with other potential candidates. On the other hand, employers also need to change their perceptions about the extent of disability they'd be expected to deal with.
As I already mentioned, disability can be anything from physical to mental health and it's perfectly possible to hire someone who's brilliant at their job despite a disability. You have to look at the particular tasks involved and ask 'would this person be able to perform these well?' rather than 'what would I have to do to accommodate them?' When it comes to employment the issues of gender and race have long been brought out into the open and people have been accepted as equal. Now it's disability's turn to be dispelled as a barrier to work.
Bert Steiner has worked in manufacturing for many years making everything from worktops to safety products. He has owned several small companies and likes to write about people management.