Disability Confident and what it means for businesses

By George Selvanera

2016 has been a busy news year indeed but one thing businesses likely noted this summer was the relaunch of the Government’s Disability Confident scheme.

BDF welcomes the Government raising awareness about the benefits for employers from recruiting and retaining disabled people. We also strongly support many MPs hosting events within their electorates to draw attention to the benefits of recruiting and retaining disabled people.

While it is not our place to endorse the Disability Confident initiative, we help our Members and Partners where they want it with confirming that they have met the criteria at tier three of the initiative and provide information about how they can participate in the scheme whenever they ask for it.

At BDF, we know that changing employer commitment to prioritising disability leadership and then planning and making changes to policies and practices and getting better at disability employment is not straightforward. It requires a whole organisation approach. It requires cross functional working, strong leadership and must always be grounded in the lived experience of disabled candidates and employees themselves.

For example, ensuring that the needs of candidates and employees with dyslexia are meaningfully addressed requires ensuring any online application processes are fully accessible and potentially adjusting any assessments depending on the needs of the individual candidate; and once the person starts work possibly sourcing and making available specialist software or at least enabling some IT personalisation which could involve colleagues working in IT, HR, Occupational Health, Learning and Development, Procurement and Communications. The line manager and staff manager likely need support too. For candidates and employees that have visual impairments, different approaches are required and other colleagues such as those involved in Facilities Management might be involved too. For candidates and employees that have mobility impairments, different approaches are required again. And so on and on.

That’s why BDF developed with its Partners and Members in 2004, the Disability Standard 1.0 and were pleased to launch our fourth iteration of the Disability Standard in 2015 reflecting the evolution in best practice. The Disability Standard is a best practice management tool that helps employers plan and measure their disability improvements across 10 functional areas of any organisation. While a SME for example might not have 10 functional areas with 10 distinct leads- it might all fall on 1 or 2 people- the whole-organisation principles apply in the same way.

Our experience is that organisations that use the Disability Standard over time get substantially better at how they interact with their disabled colleagues, candidates and customers and can demonstrate that they employ more, retain more and develop more their disabled colleagues.

The Disability Confident scheme is helpful in drawing light on the benefits for employers from recruiting and retaining disabled people; and wherever that acts to encourage employers to do more with their disabled colleagues and to provide more opportunities for disabled job seekers and young people that is always a good thing.

We do think it would be helpful to make the tier two status of a Disability Confident Employer only available to employers that are experienced at employing disabled people. It seems risky to the scheme to have employers self-assess and then publicise that they’re confident at recruiting and retaining disabled people when they don’t have any actual experience, whether in the past or currently, of doing so. We think as well that it will be helpful to make sure only organisations with appropriate expertise are validating organisations as Disability Confident Leaders to also give confidence to disabled people that these are organisations that are doing amongst the best- not perfect- but are genuinely very good and getting better in their recruitment, retention and development of disabled people.

It’s not yet clear what metrics Disability Confident will use to measure success and its own contribution to the recruitment and retention of the 1 million plus extra disabled people the Government aims to have in paid employment as part of halving the disability employment gap. So we think its important also we must not have excessive expectations of what Disability Confident on its own deliver.

There’s other Government support available to employers to make it easier to recruit and retain more disabled people as well as direct support to disabled people and indirect support through programmes such as Work Choice, third sector provision and so on too. They each have a role to play. The Government’s Green Paper gives us all a chance to have a say on this whole package- what’s working, what needs improvement and what’s missing- and we certainly hope that as many disabled people, friends and families, the third sector, public sector bodies and businesses share their views. It’s certainly our plan to do so in February 2017.

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