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Diversity training: Managing disabled employees


Jane Hatton tells how good training can help bust the myths surrounding disability.

There’s a lot of misinformation about disabled people that is peddled on a constant basis in the mainstream media, so it’s hardly surprising that companies can have a negative view of disability. Training is the best way to give mangers the facts about successfully employing and retaining disabled staff in their organisations.
Recent research carried out by SCOPE found that 53% of people say they think that most people in British society see disabled people as inferior. This is disappointing, but not surprising, as the media have long portrayed disabled people as objects of pity, passive victims or benefit scroungers. So maybe it’s only to be expected that managers within many organisations are sometimes reluctant to think of disabled people as a rich pool of talent from which to recruit - the very managers that those organisations rely on to promote an inclusive non-discriminatory culture.
However, there are many benefits to employing disabled people - and to retaining employees who acquire a disability (most disabled people acquired their disability whilst of working age). These include:
  • Understanding disabled customers’ needs (more than 8 million people in the UK are disabled with a spending potential in excess of £40bn)
  • Access to a wider range of skills (proactively seeking applications from disabled people gives a wider choice of potential employees with a good range of skills and a positive attitude towards work.)
  • Saving money (keeping an employee who becomes disabled generally costs less than recruiting and training someone new – the Post Office estimates that medically retiring an employee costs around £80,000)
  • Motivation (showing a positive approach towards disability issues helps foster good relations with all employees)
  • Enhancing reputation and avoiding litigation (a positive and proactive approach helps develop a good image and reduces the risk of potentially costly litigation and adverse publicity – last year the average payment for a claim under the DDA at an Employment Tribunal was £13,000).

Training is key

So it is in the organisation’s interests to ensure that its managers have a positive approach to employing and retaining disabled people. One way is through training. The most successful way to challenge pre-conceived ideas about disabled people is to re-visit the ways in which we think about them. There are two ‘models’ of thought.
The “Medical Model” of disability locates disability in the person (body or condition/pathology) which needs to be treated, remedied, cared for or cured. The aim is to remove the disability by changing the person with the key focus on rehabilitation and normalising the individual. This model is of use only to medical practitioners or therapists who are looking to find effective treatments or methods of managing the condition. It also has a fixed view of what “normal” means, thereby labeling all disabled people as “abnormal”.
The “Social Model” claims that it is not the condition/impairment that caused the 'problem', but the way in which society fails to make allowances for individual differences. It explains disablement as the result of behaviours or barriers, which prevent people with impairments choosing to take part in life and society. This is far more useful to organisations who wish to employ disabled people and attract disabled customers.
So when engaging managers in the whole agenda of employing and managing disabled colleagues, the first aim is to motivate and enthuse them about the real benefits of having disabled members of the team. The second task is to equip them to overcome the barriers (real, or, more often, imagined) that they perceive exist. Dismissing objections to employing disabled people won’t work – those concerns are genuine and need to be sensitively addressed.

Here are just some of the more common myths that can be easily busted:

1. “It will be too expensive to make the necessary adjustments”.
Research suggests that 45% of employers think they would not be able to afford to employ disabled people. However, most reasonable adjustments cost nothing – only 4% of reasonable adjustments made to facilitate employing a disabled person cost anything at all, and there are many grants and advice available. The average cost of adjustments is £184 per disabled employee – a small price to pay if they are the best person for the job in every other respect.
2. “They won’t be as productive as non-disabled employees”.
This is a common concern for managers who may have deadlines and targets. There are many studies which demonstrate that disabled people are at least as productive and reliable as their non-disabled colleagues (in some cases, more so).
3. “They will be off sick all the time, and what about all the health and safety issues?”
Studies again show that disabled people in work tend to have better attendance records, stay with employers longer and have fewer accidents at work.
4. “It’s too much of a risk – we’re a business, not a charity”.
Interestingly, company surveys consistently conclude that organizations who have successfully employed disabled people are keen to employ more.
5. Finally, “Disabled people have nothing to offer.”
Try telling that to Stephen Hawkings, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, David Blunkett, Winston Churchill, Beethoven, John Milton, Goya … the list goes on.
If you have experience training delegates with disabilities and would like to share your knowledge, please get in touch by commenting on these articles or emailing: [email protected].
Jane Hatton is managing director of The Diversity People. The company had to put its money where its mouth is when she developed a very severe permanent disability. Despite being unable to sit, and barely able to stand or walk, she is able to run a successful diversity training company.

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