REACH: Being Disability Positive?

June 26, 2018 by Alison Watson-Shields

The government launched the ‘Disability Confident Employer‘ scheme in 2014. Prime Minister David Cameron hailed it as a huge step forward for disability equality but what has been achieved over the last 4 years?

Critics of the government argue that they have done very little to increase disabled people’s participation in the workforce. In fact, an article in May 2018 concluded that the disability employment gap is at its highest level since 2013. Looking at these findings in the most generous light, it would seem that the government’s efforts are meeting with limited success.

So, what can be done?

In my opinion, the problem is seeing disabled people as disability and disabled first. The person who applies for a job with a particular organisation or company doesn’t do so because of their disability, they do so because they think they will be an asset to the organisation.

If you as an employer decide you want to hire a disabled person because you feel they are the best candidate for the position, that is a good enough justification for the decision. Any additional consideration given because they are a member of a protected class, or have protected characteristics that would identify them as disabled, shouldn’t enter into the decision making process. Additional questions around the person’s disability should be left until after an offer of employment has been made.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone on grounds of disability. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work as effectively as one would hope. If a disabled person feels discriminated against they’re not always sure where to go to seek redress, or if anybody would even care how they feel.

Likewise, businesses and organisations are understandably concerned about allegations of discrimination. They will sometimes find the flimsiest of excuses not to offer a disabled person employment by highlighting an element where the applicant did not meet one aspect of the job description or person specification.

In recent years it has been suggested that a way to combat the disability employment gap is to introduce quotas for employing disabled people. Quotas are not illegal, however, questions regarding there efficacy have been discussed for decades and there is a perception generally by some members of society that disabled people don’t know what they want, but have to be told what they want by those in authority; social workers, family members and carers. Quotas, in my opinion, do the same thing. They say, in essence, “we know you’re  struggling to get a job so let us do it for you…”

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying disabled people don’t need help to get into the workforce. I would suggest that through investing more time and money in training employers in reasonable adjustments, encouraging free discourse around disability and promoting employment opportunities to disabled people more directly through the use of disabled Jobs Advisors and Coaches would help to improve the current situation.

As a society, we have made progress in encouraging disabled people into work, but let’s maintain that progress and keep up the forward momentum – only then can we truly be a  Disability Positive Society.

Written by Liam Twizell

REACH Project Lead 01642 687701

Learn more about the Disability Confident Employer 3-tier training and join Hand In Hand Activities CIC in working towards becoming a recognised Disability Confident Employer.


The REACH Project (2018) by Hand In Hand Activities CIC is possible thanks to funding from the National Lottery.

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