Half of employers don’t actively attract disabled workers, study finds

There are many easy, inexpensive adjustments businesses can make to ensure the recruitment process is more inclusive, say experts

Only 53 per cent of businesses actively seek and welcome disabled candidates, despite three-quarters acknowledging that disabled people face barriers when job hunting, according to research. 

A survey of 392 employers by managed recruitment service providers Intelligent Resource found that 80 per cent of employers believe they could do more to attract disabled jobseekers. 

Only 40 per cent said they were ‘very confident’ in the support they provided to disabled jobseekers and existing employees. And 44 per cent identified the application process as being the most challenging aspect for disabled people when job seeking. 

Ideas posited by those surveyed for making the recruitment process more inclusive of disabled candidates included: implementing ‘more bespoke attraction processes’, ensuring application processes were more accessible, offering alternative assessments and putting a disability policy in place. 

Mark Capper, head of development at learning disability charity Mencap, said that often employers are oblivious to the barriers they have inadvertently created for disabled applicants. “Most employers will not be aware that by having jargon-filled, online-only application forms and formal interview processes they are closing the door on an untapped talent pool,” he said.

“Often all that is needed is small and cost-effective reasonable adjustments, like accessible application forms and job trials, to help open up doors to people with a disability who then go on to be committed employees.”

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The survey comes after data collected by the Office for National Statistics earlier this month found that disabled employees are paid 12.2 per cent less than their non-disabled peers. 

Zofia Bajorek, research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, pointed out that 4 November this year was ‘disability pay gap day.’ “After this day, those working with disabilities effectively work for free. This highlights the discrimination that those with disabilities face,” she said. 

“Once in work, people with disabilities are more likely than non-disabled people to be employed in a lower-paid occupation, and may have less access to progression possibilities. This can lead to individuals being over-qualified for their roles, which is detrimental to an individual’s health and wellbeing and overall productivity.”

Tim Fallowfield, board sponsor for disability, carers and age at Sainsbury’s and Argos, highlighted the business benefits of being an inclusive employer. “Diverse teams are higher-performing and more creative, and lead to better decisions for customers, while providing organisations with different perspectives to implement adjustments and long-term initiatives,” he said.

“Being ‘disability confident’ encourages constructive conversations throughout an organisation that can also improve productivity and company culture. By asking disabled colleagues about their needs, many managers quickly realise their employees are capable of doing more than they’d assumed they could, which empowers them to do the same for their customers.”

Having a diverse workforce doesn’t need to cost more, said Clare Gray, disability advocacy adviser at Shaw Trust. Many employers assume workplace adjustments will be more expensive than they actually are, she said: “Someone might need a parking space near the office, or flexible working, or shorter and more frequent breaks, none of which cost anything.

“A person might not need structural changes to the office, but rather software for their computer, for example. Many adjustments are very small but employers’ perceptions are that it would be a big cost implication for them.”

Shaun Picken, a champion at self-advocacy organisation My Life My Choice, said people with learning disabilities face particularly pronounced barriers to employment. “People think we can't do the things we can. But people with disabilities are just as good as people without disabilities and we have our own experience and skills so we need to be given a chance,” he said.

“There are lots of ways organisations can help people with disabilities get jobs, such as making reasonable adjustments and having applications in accessible formats such as easy read or large print.  

“Once people are in jobs you can help them by asking them what support they need and helping them to understand. When you do these things, people with disabilities are good employees and can do lots of different things."

Capper agreed that employing people with learning disabilities is good for business, as well as individuals: “People with a learning disability can work and want to work, and with the right support they can also make really fantastic employees. 

“For people with a learning disability employment is more than just a job – it empowers them to be more confident and independent, and to feel part of society. This means they are incredibly dedicated employees, they often stay in post for longer and their enthusiasm often helps improve the morale of other workers too.”