Breaking down the Barriers : Disability in the workplace

Jenny Hinde, HR Director
15 March 2018
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Open dialogue around recruiting people with disabilities is not rocket science, says Amey HR Director Jenny Hinde. Jenny has led the inclusion and diversity agenda at Amey since 2014. She is a disability advocate at and outside of work and has been pivotal in establishing Amey’s ground-breaking corporate partnership with Scope.

We all have a lot to learn in changing our mindsets around disability in the workplace. Although progress has been made, employers need to do much more to break down the barriers to employment.

The emergence of businesses run by people with disabilities has been a positive step in recent years. There are success stories of cafes run by people with Down’s Syndrome. Near to me are two social enterprises working hand in hand to recruit and employ adults with disabilities – one is a garden centre, the other provides gardening services. These businesses offer employment, hope and also an opportunity for those in our community to benefit from this often untapped talent.

What is inclusion?

But is this really inclusion? There has been progress in the education system, with more children with disabilities accessing mainstream school with appropriate support. Special needs schools do still exist but over time, it would be true progress to see educational establishments adapting to allow all children with disabilities to attend their local schools.

The same is true for employment. We need to envision a world where adults with disabilities are integrated into the workplace, not employed by a specially created entity. Amey has offered work experience to adults with learning difficulties which has resulted in permanent job offers. It wasn’t hard to do but required a little more effort - and the benefit of neurodiversity in the workplace has been clearly demonstrated.

Job design is key

Job design is a key consideration and an easy fix. Assessing what a candidate can do in the workplace and making changes that enable that individual to work effectively is a key first step. This can range from narrowing down the scope of a role to enable an employee to focus on what they are good at. Or buddying an employee who is hard of hearing with a colleague to ensure their safety is not compromised in an operational role. It is important that employers realise that these are not expensive or time consuming changes.

A little more focus may need to be given to reaching out to candidates with disabilities in the recruitment process. As a Disability Confident employer, Amey is committed to supporting disabled candidates through our recruitment process, however by targeting our advertising to the disabled community we can ensure that opportunities are open to all.

Way too much focus is given to ‘reasonable adjustments’ during the assessment process and employment. How do we define what is ‘reasonable’? Amey just focus on what is needed to make employment more accessible. Asking the candidate what they need is the first step - after all, an open dialogue is not rocket science. Occasionally a new piece of kit may be needed but most adjustments are about how we approach an activity, which costs nothing at all.

Changing perceptions

At Amey, we have demonstrated time after time that disabled people offer as much to the business as their non-disabled peers. It is a fact of life that some people will become disabled during their working life. With an existing employee, we will focus on how we can support that individual in their career, and find a solution together. One of the conundrums in all of this is why we find this so hard to do with potential employees.

Changing perceptions of disability in the workplace requires cultural change which in turn requires time and investment. We are delighted to have partnered with Scope to support us in making this shift. Our Scope Ambassadors across Amey are helping to change the way our people think about disability, taking away the fear of the unknown.

As the late, great Stephen Hawking demonstrated to the world, it is not about what you cannot do, it is about what you can do. By focusing on what any candidate – including those with disabilities – can do and where they can add value, we can attract – and keep – the best talent.

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