The inclusive workplace: why we should make it happen and how we can do it

By Diane Lightfoot

I’ve just finished my second week at Business Disability Forum, and fittingly one of my first opportunities for representing the organisation as Chief Executive Officer was at a session this Wednesday on Disability Confident hosted by Ingeus and Pluss.


Diane Lightfoot

I join the Forum after 13 years at disability charity United Response, where I was Director of Policy & Communications and Employment, so I have for a long time been passionate about employment for disabled people.

At its heart, realising this passion in the business world is all about being Disability Confident – or as we call it, Disability-smart – and skilling up whole organisations as to support disabled employees. Disability Confident is a great start for sparking conversations and getting organisations to demonstrate their commitment to employing disabled people and then, from there, increase their confidence and build good practice.

Of course, for organisations who really want to lead the way in disability and accessibility, Disability Confident is part of a continuing journey. Our own Disability Standard goes beyond Disability Confident in supporting organisations to build on this foundation and to progress through good practice to best practice and leadership.

Business Disability Forum Conference

Business Disability Forum Conference at Royal College Of Nursing: Disability-smart suppliers and partners. Photography by Paul Demuth, Corporate Photography London Ltd

So why be Disability smart?

Firstly, it makes good business sense. Disabled people make great employees and it’s great to see many organisations we work with recognising this. For example, the Civil Service has explicitly recognised the skills which people with autism have to offer and are actively working to attract and recruit them as employees. They are also running an autism exchange project where, working with charity Ambitious About Autism, they run work experience programme for students with autism.

In a similar vein, United Response ran a project with a large fulfilment company that worked in financial services and needed a very high level of compliance in how packs were compiled or they would be fined. Temps had never cut it but by “carving” the job, a team of adults with moderate learning disabilities were able to achieve the best ever compliance levels – and reap the benefits of paid employment for the first time in their lives.

There are strong arguments when it comes to customers, too. The 2015 Walk away pound research estimated that £1.8 billion per month was being lost to businesses as disabled customers and their families and friends walked away from service providers who were not disability smart. Indeed over three quarters of disabled people and their families and friends had done this. The figure is even higher for specific groups – c.80% or more for people with a memory impairment, behaviour impairment, autism or learning disability. That’s a lot of customers!


71 per cent of disabled customers will ‘click away’ from inaccessible websites

It’s a similar story online. The Click away pound research published in December 2016 showed that 71% of disabled customers will click away from a website they find difficult to use. And those customers have an estimated spending power of £11.75million in the UK alone – 10% of the total UK online spend in 2016. 82% of customers with access needs would spend more if websites were accessible. 80% of these customers will spend their money not necessarily on the website which offers the cheapest products but where fewest barriers are in their way.

Secondly, it’s much easier than many employers think. It only takes thinking creatively and being open to doing things slightly differently.

That could mean changing what criteria you ask for in person specifications and being open to applicants with different experience and in options for how to apply. For example, lots of people find online portals a barrier so offering the ability to email or post an application could really help. Similarly, some people may not have a traditional CV so being open to receiving these in different formats – e.g. video – can also make a difference.

It could be changing how you interview. Many people find panel interviews intimidating but for some disabled people they can be a complete barrier. A couple of years ago whilst I was at United Response, we employed a young man called David as our political correspondent, in a role which involved interviewing and filming senior politicians (including Boris Johnson) in the run up to the last general election. David has a politics degree and can do pieces to camera in one take (he has a photographic memory) but had never had a job because, due to his Asperger’s, he found it extremely difficult to cope with a panel interview (though I’m very happy to say that as a result of working with us he built his confidence and now has not only secured a full time job but been promoted too). Moreover of course, panel interviews may test the wrong skills. Someone for example who will be working with numbers or data entry may well never need to present again! So, offering options such as “working interviews”, placements and traineeships can enable people to show that they can do the job rather than just having to say that they can.

It’s also worth remembering that most reasonable adjustments made once disabled people are in post are tiny: different travel times because of anxiety around travelling in rush hour, for example. And when it comes equipment or a support worker, Access to Work (sometimes referred to as the government’s best kept secret!) can often pay for it.

Most importantly, employing disabled people transforms lives – even aside from the income and skills that employment brings, our jobs are how most of us define ourselves. It’s our one of our main gateways to support networks and social circles and is often crucial to our wellbeing—even if it’s only a few hours a week.

A key aspect of building this inclusive culture is drawing up business deals in the right way, so this will be the focus of our annual conference on 11 April 2017. This is an feature often overlooked by businesses but it is crucial to becoming disability-smart: so I look forward to seeing many of you there.

For more information on our conference or to book your place please visit:

1 thought on “The inclusive workplace: why we should make it happen and how we can do it

  1. Pingback: Supporting disabled employees in the workplace | Ben, Support for Life

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