Terry Mills, Disabled People’s Employment Champion for the Welsh Government, talks about the importance of supporting disabled people in the workplace – and shares his tips to help employers get it right.
“Throughout my career I have worked closely with disabled people and those over 50 so I understand both professionally and personally how common it is for people to develop impairments later in their career. At the age of 45, I developed severe arthritis and sleep apnoea, which has meant I have experienced first-hand the transition to becoming a disabled employee in the workplace.
“Factors such as age mean that most disabled people acquire their disability when their careers are already established. Only 17% of disabled people are born disabled, while the other 83% acquire their impairments while they are in work. It is predicted that by 2022, one third of people of working age in Wales will be over the age of 50, so ensuring that the workplace is inclusive for both older and disabled workers will be increasingly important for employees, employers and the economy.
For HR professionals, an ageing workforce means that dealing with the transition from a non-disabled to a disabled employee is becoming an inevitability rather than a hypothetical situation. So how can this transition be managed effectively?
“I’ve witnessed first-hand many examples of communication breakdowns between HR professionals and employees who acquire impairments whilst working for their organisation. Often, disabled workers are reluctant to share details of their new-found impairment because there are real fears that it might impact their future at the company.
“In my experience, employers often discover an employee has developed an impairment during a disciplinary process because, without adequate support being in place, it has affected their work performance. Therefore, it’s vital for businesses to ensure their HR department is an open and transparent space, regularly keeping all employees updated on the latest policies and support that’s available to them. Even if it’s not relevant to staff in the immediate term, knowing that a support network provided by HR is there can make employees more likely to come forward if they do require adjustments later in their career.
“There’s also a perceived barrier by some employers regarding the costs involved in making adaptations to the workplace which, in turn, can make disabled employees feel uncomfortable about admitting the support they need. While employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable the worker to continue in employment these adjustments are usually quite simple with an average cost of just £30. If more costly adaptions to the working environment are required, there is advice and support available to businesses.
“Luckily, in Wales, there’s so much support available to businesses to help make them as inclusive as possible. I am one of a network of Disabled People’s Employment Champions who will be working closely with businesses to raise awareness of the benefits of a diverse workforce and provide practical support to help them attract, recruit and retain disabled employees.
“Employment rates are significantly lower for disabled people than non-disabled people. Retaining employees who become disabled is therefore vitally important if Wales is to become a fair work nation and champion of diversity and inclusivity. Supporting experienced and knowledgeable staff who develop impairments to remain in the workplace is astute and good business practice, saving money on recruitment and, training.
“Put simply, it makes business sense to support staff who become disabled during their working life. Otherwise, businesses risk losing experienced talent from their workforce. Having a diverse workforce can also bring so many other business benefits including attracting the widest pool of talent, as well as increased productivity, creativity and profitability. So if you want to talk about how your business can become more inclusive, I’d urge you to speak to a Disabled People’s Employment Champion today.”
Three top tips:
1) Tackle communication barriers:
Communication is key. It’s important to have an open dialogue with staff to ensure that they feel comfortable approaching HR with any issues, including becoming disabled.
2) Understand reasonable adjustments:
When supporting a member of staff who has become disabled, don’t over complicate the situation. Sit down with them and discuss what adjustments they need to continue working productively; this could be as simple as a change in work hours or some remote working.
3) Awareness of support and funding available:
Businesses could be eligible for funding of up to £60,700 through the Access to Work scheme, which helps cover the cost of any adaptations or additional support needed to enable a disabled employee to start or stay in work. Support is also available from the Disabled People’s Employment Champions.
For more information on how your business can attract, recruit, and retain disabled employees, contact the Disabled People Employment Champions by emailing DPEC@gov.wales or visit Skills Gateway for Business. We’re in your corner.
About the author
Terry Mills was appointed as a Disabled People’s Employment Champion for the Welsh Government.
He joins a network of Champions who are experts in their field and will provide support to employers to help improve workplace diversity in Wales.
Terry’s career spans over 40 years and has included running his own business and becoming Chief Executive of entrepreneurial charity Prime Cymru. He has also worked as an advisor and board member of Disability Wales. He has gained extensive experience as a trade union representative and has worked with companies to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled employees.