Tips for focusing on ability, not disability, in the workplace

In our second interview with Garry Connor, Director of Diversiti UK Learning & Development CIC, he shares his four quick wins for improving hiring and access for people with disability

Fear of difference is a main barrier to people with a disability, in the workplace as well as other walks of life.

The stark reality of this was brought home to Garry Connor when taking part in a national disability inclusion project. He found that fear and lack of training was excluding young disabled people from ‘out of school’ clubs.

“We then provided training to dispel the fear and the myths and managed to get big organisations like the Scouting Association, Girl Guides, football clubs, and so on,” he says. 

But the myths follow through to the workplace and are not helped by movies and books. “If you look at any sort of horror film or read Dan Brown novels, the baddie in them always has a disability or an additional need – it doesn’t matter how good they are,” Garry explains. 

He adds that, despite schemes designed to help businesses employ people with disabilities and other health conditions, such as the Government’s Disability Confident, not a lot has changed.

Garry is Director of Diversiti UK Learning & Development CIC and has some 25 years’ experience in promoting equality, diversity and inclusion. Based in Northampton, Diversiti UK provides bespoke training and development to help companies and employees across the county to recognise good practice in equality, diversity and cultural awareness and overcoming unconscious bias.

As someone who actively employs people with disabilities, he offers tips to companies the following tips on hiring and access.

1.Take a leaf out of the big tech companies’ books

A good way to dispel the fear of difference is through the positive impact that people with disabilities have had on the workplace, particularly tech giants, such as Google. One of that company’s top engineering scientists, T.V. Rahman, is blind and many of their software engineers are on the autistic spectrum.

“The benefits that those on the autistic spectrum bring is neuro-diversity,” Garry says. “This includes meticulousness, attention to detail and being much quicker at problem solving.”

It was brought home to Garry after delivering training to a company who look after RBS property dealings. They explained that RBS, by focusing on diversity had gone from having a zero rating in many diversity scores to being awarded a silver award for disability standards and scoring 88% in business disability forums.

2. Put abilities before disabilities

Employers should be more transparent in interviews and in outcomes from interviews. Garry has learned that people who admit a disability, even that they suffer from depression, are often overlooked.

“Unfortunately, it’s hard to prove that that’s the reason they haven’t been given the job,” he explains. “It’s not a legal requirement to disclose a disability. The only reason that an employer should ask about it is if they need to make an adjustment to enable the person to work there.

“But many employers still ask about it and I see it in application forms, that people ask us to help fill out all the time. People have, for example, filled out 10/20 application forms and sent off their CV. In the 10 where they said they had a disability, they didn’t get an interview. In two out of the ten, where they haven’t disclosed their disability, they did get an interview. So, that tells you that people are screening.

3. Support them in the job

Once people are in the door, it’s important to support them. This is not just about physical access and adaptations, but more a change of attitude in managing the day-to-day aspects. 

Garry explains: “If somebody’s tired because they are suffering from depression, just give them some time out. Also, there are invisible disabilities. For example, you wouldn’t expect someone with a congenital heart condition to carry loads of heavy boxes, or whatever. So, understanding issues like that requires a little change of attitude.”

This also applies to cases where people have not disclosed a disability and then live in fear of admitting it.

4. Find out what people need

Apart from complying with legislation, it’s a good idea to talk to the people around you, find out if there are issues that need to be addressed. In other words, responding to what people need and want in order to play a full and active part at work.

Garry cites his own experience as a trainer and consultant: “The majority of people will ask me to provide a session on equality and diversity, but they don’t know what they want. So basically, it’s about finding out what people need, which is not always what they tell you.”

Summing up, he says that disabled people are around five times more likely to stay in the job and be more committed. As well as enabling them to enjoy a productive career, it also helps companies to save money on recruitment and training.
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