It’s not surprising that most people think about wheelchair users when we talk about disabled people. After all, the wheelchair is the symbol used to mark out car parking spaces, accessible toilets and access ramps. Yet only 1.2million of the UK’s 11.6million disabled people use wheelchairs. Disability is a much broader term.
It’s worth considering a few facts: 83% of disabled people acquire their disability during their working life and approximately 7 million disabled people are of working age.
The Equality Act 2010 requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to enable a disabled person to work. The adjustments necessary are unique to each employee. Many reasonable adjustments are low cost, but can make a big difference to disabled employees.
Changes to the work environment for the 6.3 million disabled people who have difficulties lifting and carrying can be simple, such as changing the layout of desks, the positioning of a computer screen, the height of shelves or where things are filed. The process for assessing what’s necessary is referred to as a Workplace Assessment. It’s important to note that the term Risk Assessment should not be used, as this implies that the disabled person is a risk.
More advanced changes might include a new chair or desk, an adapted keyboard or mouse or perhaps lower filing cabinets. More expensive multi-adjustable chairs and desks can often enable those living with serious disabilities to remain in the workplace. Many of the 6.7 million people who could benefit from a hearing aid might find that simple desk screens reduce background noise. Voice-activated software, natural daylight bulbs or using bold colour contrasts in décor, desks and chairs can aid some of the 2 million people who have moderate to severe sight loss.
Open communication between employer and employee is vitally important as every employee is different and will need to be treated individually, even if they have a similar disability to another person.
Most reasonable adjustments are made when a member of staff acquires a disability. When considering the cost of adjustments, it’s important to think about the benefits they may have to other staff, and what it would cost your business if you didn’t make the adjustments at all. Can you afford to recruit for the role if that person leaves? And what about the skills and knowledge you’d lose?
The Government’s Access to Work Scheme is a specialist disability service from Jobcentre Plus that gives practical advice and support to disabled people, whether they are working, self-employed or looking for employment. Access to Work is provided where someone needs support or adaptations beyond the reasonable adjustment that an employer is legally obliged to provide.
For employees and employers seeking impartial information, advice and guidance, Warrington Disability Partnership – a user-led support organisation and Claremont’s charity of the year 2016, can help. The Warrington Disability Partnership can be contacted on 01925 240 064.