Why we need to change perceptions of disability

Written by Chris Jay on 6 August 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

Disability awareness training can positively impact the development of a business in many ways. Chris Jay explains.

Reading time: 4 minutes.

It’s a common misconception, that simply following the necessary legislation makes a business accessible. It doesn’t. Whilst The Equality Act 2010 demands that a business has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’, many businesses overlook disability awareness training as a part of these adjustments, and therefore fail to change the culture of a business.

Such training is essential if you want to develop your workforce’s understanding and perception of disability - which is arguably the most important step in becoming an inclusive organisation.

Let’s take, for example, a business that has made an outstanding effort in developing its physical environment. The reception has been altered to accommodate wheelchair access, an accessible toilet has been added, accessible car parking spaces have been included, ramps and stairway lifts are now readily available.

However, no attention has been paid to developing the organisation’s understanding of disability. All of the physical adjustments will be poorly utilised if the culture of a workplace remains unchanged and staff lack an inclusive mindset. A business such as this has, in theory, opened a door without inviting anyone in.  

Who is awareness training for?

Many organisations view disability awareness training as something that might not be relevant to their staff with the understanding that their workforce is already very forward thinking and empathetic.

It may be that despite your attempts to be more inclusive, like many, you have overlooked the most important element - the process of changing attitudes.

However, these organisations will be interested to learn that research from the charity Scope has revealed that a large majority of people in the UK (67%) actually feel uncomfortable when speaking to someone with a disability and feel ‘awkward’ about seeming patronising or saying the wrong thing. 

Furthermore, many workplaces still demonstrate a lack in empathy, with 53% of people with disabilities stating that they have experienced bullying or harassment at work because of their impairments.

So, could these issues be impacting your business or staff? It may be that despite your attempts to be more inclusive, like many, you have overlooked the most important element - the process of changing attitudes.

Disability in the UK

It would be very poor business practice to ignore 22% of the population- however, if you are an organisation choosing to ignore inclusivity, you are doing exactly that. According to the latest government reports there are close to 14m people in the UK living with a disability - (one in five people). It is therefore impossible to view disability as something that simply isn’t relevant to your business.

With a vast majority of disabilities being ‘hidden’ (meaning they are unable to be visually identified), it could well be that as an employer, you may well employ more people with disabilities than you already know about.

Without an inclusive culture that embraces disability, it may be that they are not comfortable disclosing this, which could mean they are not properly supported and therefore could be unhappy or failing to work to their best potential.

 

In addition, it is worth considering that the staff you employ may develop a disability in time, as only 17% of people are born with a disability, 83% acquire it later in life. In fact, 780,000 become disabled every year.

What is awareness training?

Disability awareness training helps staff to develop a positive understanding of disability by raising confidence and removing any barriers that may exist.

Disability awareness training will essentially educate workforces by changing the way both people and the organisation itself perceives disability covering issues such as etiquette, communication, correct use of language, and inclusive behaviour, as well as legislation, disclosure and adapting the physical environment of the business.  

How training will benefit business

Awareness training enables businesses to develop an empathetic and understanding culture, which in turn creates a working environment that welcomes and accommodates new and existing staff with disabilities.



It also encourages staff to understand the needs of people with disabilities, which will impact all areas of the business and enable any staff that are customer or client facing, to feel more confident in their communications.

As a business becomes more and more recognised for its commitment to inclusivity, the benefits will grow. It will begin to appeal to a wider group of talented employees (19% of working age adults are disabled).

Furthermore, as all staff become more disability aware, and the business becomes widely perceived as an inclusive organisation, it’s likely that the business’ services will reach the radars of people with a disability. When you consider that the spending power of people with disabilities is considered to be approximately £1.8bn per month, this is certainly a point worth considering.

 

About the author

Chris Jay is the managing director of Bascule Disability Training and a recognised and prominent voice on the topic of disability awareness. Born with cerebral palsy, Chris has been a wheelchair user for over 20 years, and is an accomplished training facilitator, public speaker, guest spokesperson and writer on the topic of disability awareness.

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