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April 13, 2005

Ready, willing and disabled

From: ChamberOnline, UK - Apr 13, 2005

Mike Huss, senior employment law specialist at Peninsula, explains why he thinks businesses should employ disabled people.

This article aims to help you solve some of your recruitment and retention problems and to dispel some of the myths regarding disabled employees.

I am writing this at a time coinciding with a drive by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) - to whom we are grateful for help in preparing it - to encourage employers to both recruit and retain more disabled people.

Of increasing concern through the 1980s and into the 1990s was the discrimination faced by disabled people, not only in employment, but also in the provision of goods and services.

Hence the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced covering not only employment but whole new fields of the provision of goods and services.

Even if you are not directly affected by Part II of the Act you must have noticed, for example, how many shops and public access buildings have sprouted automatic doors and ramps.

The DDA swept away all the old provisions, registered disabled, reserved jobs, percentages and in-depth medical assessments and replaced them with a broader definition of disability; made it an offence to discriminate against a disabled person (without sound reason), introduced penalties for so doing and extended the rules from the world of work to the whole world.

Because someone is disabled it does not mean he or she cannot carry out a job. It depends on the disability and its severity in relationship to the job.

Why should you employ disabled people? There are numbers of reasons:

·There are around 10 million disabled adults of working age in the UK

·Only 49% of disabled people of working age are in employment compared to 86% of non-disabled people (this costs a huge amount in "benefit support" and reduces the contribution made by NI, Income Tax etc. thus increasing the burden on those in work)

·Most people who become disabled do so during their working lives.

In addition you should employ disabled people because studies consistently show that people with disabilities:

·Stay in jobs for longer

·Have good punctuality records

·Have stronger commitments to work

·Have low absenteeism rates

·Retaining someone who develops a disability on average costs around £500 and is far cheaper than recruiting, employing and training a new starter.

When there are for many jobs shortages of skilled applicants can you afford to ignore some 5 million potential applicants?

Of course, there are problems - but they are small in relation to the problems they solve for you.

Difficulties might start with arrangements for the interview. Deaf people may need an interpreter - that can be arranged free with little effort.

An interpreter or assistant can even be provided for the induction and training period - free again. If hearing the fire alarm is potentially a problem the alarm can be linked to make the lights flash, in some cases this is paid for by the local authority. Grants and assistance are almost always available.

The DRC is running a campaign in May 2005 to publicise its Access to Work Scheme - of which only 26% of employers are aware.

Scope are running a 'Diversity Works' programme to assist employers in employing disabled people. It quotes statistics and experiences in line with those above but in addition it adds: "Building on our history as an essential service provider for people with cerebral palsy we are broadening our ambition to enable disabled people to achieve equality.

"As part of our Diversity Works' programme, Scope provides external support to employers to help them employ disabled people, including the Fast Track graduate development scheme and Disability Equality Training".

So getting someone may be a little more difficult but help is out there and they will contribute more once properly installed.

The problem of existing employees becoming disabled is far more common and if handled incorrectly can be very expensive. Inconsiderate treatment and arbitrary dismissal will not only upset the individual, but sends a very clear message to the rest of your workforce of how little they are valued.

There is free assistance available to you, through the Job Centre, to evaluate what can be done to assist the individual to carry on - it's called "reasonable adjustment" and again grants to assist with the cost are almost always available. Even if they are not, consider this:

·Cost of special chair, manual handling device, etc. = £500

·Cost of pay in lieu of notice 10 years = 10 weeks notice = £250 pw x 10 = £2,500.

Here we have included the details of two individuals - they make sad, and at the same time, hopeful reading.

Why can someone not be a barrister simply because they cannot use their right hand; why cannot someone work in manufacturing because they are deaf? Of course they can. You will need to take care at interview to ensure you understand the problems the applicant faces and that you face. Extra effort here results in a smoother ride later.

Copyright 2004