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Supporting Workers with a Disability: Are You Doing Everything You Can?

May is Action on Stroke Month which is aimed at increasing awareness and showing support for people who have suffered from a stroke. As in 2016, the driver for this year is to ‘make May purple’ with advocates finding ways to raise money for the Stroke Association. A stroke often leaves sufferers with some form of disability, the type and severity depends on which part of the brain has been affected.

The first week in May is also Dystonia Awareness Week which many people may not be so aware of. This is a movement disorder where the muscles contract uncontrollably. It is a progressive condition and the symptoms can change from day to day for each individual. The Dystonia Society believes there are some 70,000 people suffering from this condition in the UK today, many of whom need support both at home and in work.

Australian disability activist Stella Young, was once quoted as saying:

“I quickly learned that asking if an interview space was wheelchair accessible was a bad idea; it gave a potential employer an immediate bad impression. It was either a black mark against my name, or a straight up discussion of why I wouldn’t be able to work there because they had no wheelchair access.”

Adapting to Disability

Being adaptable is a major part of running any business and nowhere is this more important than when supporting workers with a disability. According to Scope, there are some 12.9 million disabled people in the UK of which 17% are working age adults. The most common disabilities encountered by employers are workers who have mobility problems, those with a sight or hearing issue, employees who have problems maintaining stamina or breathing issues and those who struggle with dexterity. Disability isn’t just about physical impairment, mental health issues can also prevent someone from doing their job as easily as others.

Employers have a responsibility to provide workers with the support they need to do their job under the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act. This may involve making certain changes to the way a business operates, removing physical barriers or providing additional support that means a person is able to complete a particular task. For example, for someone who is partially sighted, installing a computer with a larger screen or font and colour can improve their ability to do the same job as other employees. A disabled worker who is in a wheelchair may need access to be improved so that they can get to their workstation or move from floor to floor.

According to legislation, employers should make ‘reasonable adjustments to make sure disabled workers aren’t seriously disadvantaged when doing their jobs’. This will obviously vary according to the disability but includes not only people who are currently working for you but those with a disability who apply for jobs. Accommodating someone with a disability could, for example, mean changing the interview location to suit the applicant.

  • Reasonable adjustments could include putting in wheelchair ramps, allowing someone to work in a different part of the office because it has easier access or making sure a person can get to their desk without trouble.
  • If someone is suffering from a mental health issue, changing the work process such as giving the person their own space that they feel comfortable in can help. Introducing flexible working hours could also help these employees cope better with the job they have to do.
  • If an employee suffers from a condition such as arthritis, making provision for a specialist keyboard or installing voice activated typing software could be the right solution for this individual.
  • There may be employees who were previously fit but have suffered a disability and require a phased return to work including putting in measures to help them do their job.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, many businesses are still not doing enough to help disabled employees in the workplace. There is, they say, is an opportunity to close the gap between disabled staff and their co-workers that could actually improve productivity and performance across the whole spectrum of business.

Occupational Health and Disabled Workers

Businesses can struggle with doing all they can for members of the workforce who are disabled, even if they have a dedicated HR service on board. While employers should take on the main responsibility for making conditions better and more accessible for disabled workers, there is also the option to get advice and guidance from occupational health. This can help employers put in the right measures that ensure any individual has all the support they need.

The challenges faced by businesses looking to do the ‘right thing’ by their staff can often seem overwhelming. Small changes can make a huge difference to a person with a disability. These are also the kind of adaptive behaviour that most businesses should reasonably be expected to implement.

Having the right advice and help from OH professionals is important, particularly when it comes to disability. Access to a team who understand the law and can help you put in vital changes, collaborate with you in getting disabled employees back to work safely or monitor the health of individuals who require support, are all integral parts of the service that a good OH provision offers businesses.

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