Half of employers do not report on the number of employees with disabilities, research shows

While some experts say organisations can benefit from reporting, others suggest focus should be on removing barriers for individuals, regardless of their choice to disclose disability

Credit: Amorn Suriyan/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Almost half (46 per cent) of employers do not report on the number of people with disabilities they employ, a study has found.

Research involving 501 HR decision makers, conducted by GRiD, found that, of those businesses that currently collect information on the proportion of people with disabilities in their workforce, 68 per cent agreed that transparency on disability reporting could help reduce the disability employment gap and lead to more inclusive practices.

Additionally, a third (33 per cent) of organisations that perform disability reporting disclosed that they do so to inform diversity and inclusion practices and initiatives. A third (30 per cent) said they used the data to track progress made on their initiatives, 17 per cent used it to inform recruitment practice and 16 per cent to inform talent management practice. 

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 Angela Matthews, head of policy and research at Business Disability Forum, said it was a common misconception that employers needed to be doing disability reporting to be able to provide reasonable adjustments. “It is a misunderstanding of the law and it also puts unhelpful and unfair pressure on disabled employees if they feel they can’t have adjustments made [without] disability reporting,” she said, adding that “making adjustments identifies and removes barriers for individuals, and is a legal duty for employers to fulfil”.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must make reasonable adjustments to support disabled job applicants and employees. This means ensuring people with disabilities or long-term health conditions can overcome any substantial disadvantages they may have in applying for, or doing, a job and progressing in work.

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Although the government does not mandate disability reporting, Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said “if and when reporting is made mandatory, it is likely to be for larger corporates initially, “but all employers need to have an understanding of the number of people they employ with a disability or long-term health condition, as the perceived wisdom is that what gets reported gets done”.

However, Moxham warned that, even for employers performing disability reporting, there were likely instances of underreporting as not all disabilities are immediately obvious. “Employers may believe they have a good grasp on how many people with a disability they employ, but those with a ‘non-visible’ or ‘hidden’ disability, such as a mental health condition, diabetes or autism, could be overlooked,” she said.

Matthews said that for businesses to better understand and help accommodate various needs in the workplace, they shouldn’t be asking how they can get more workers to disclose their disabilities. “That’s not inclusion,” she said. “The inclusive and more legally accurate question is: ‘How can we identify and remove barriers for individuals?’… Real inclusion happens when a disabled employee decides they don’t want to talk about their disability at work and still gets the adjustments they need.”

Dr Deborah Leveroy, neurodiversity and inclusion lead at Dyslexia Box, said developing a workplace wellness plan with all employees could be a useful technique to open up conversation about employee strengths and challenges, while destigmatising disability and cognitive differences. “The plan asks the employee to reflect on the strengths they bring to the workplace, the challenges they experience and what support strategies they find helpful,” she explained. 

As part of such a plan, she said employees could reflect on their preferred learning and communication methods: “They might explain the reasons behind certain performative behaviours; for example: ‘The reason I avoid eye contact is…’.” 

She said this method “encourages everyone to think about how they learn and process information”, and can help encourage employees to reflect on and discuss any disability or cognitive differences.