Diversity FAQ’s No 15: Should I be ‘afraid’ of recruiting and/or assessing ‘disabled’ individuals?

There may be an inherent presumption that our question appears to suggest: that ‘disabled’ individuals are a different ‘type’ of person, such that we need to manage them differently from everyone else. Indeed, the question may also appear to suggest that we ‘know’ what ‘disabled’ individuals ‘look like’.

Here are some facts from a recent study for us to initially consider for helping assist with dealing with some of these presumptions:

  • 10 million people in the UK have a disability (according to the Office for National Statistics, ONS)
  • Nearly 1 in 5 people of working age have a disability (defined as physical, mental or sensory impairments), which equates to approximately 7 million or 18.6% of the UK workforce according to a Shaw Trust report
  • Statistics suggest that 2% of the overall UK workforce (approx 29.11 million) becomes disabled every year, with 78% acquiring an impairment from the ages of 16 or older
  • 1 in 10 people have dyslexia to some degree
  • 2% of the UK population have a learning related disability
  • 20% of the UK population require online reading support

The simple point being made via the statistics above is that disability is both a visible and invisible reality, and importantly, that anyone (you, me, we) can acquire a disability at any point of our working lives – we therefore need to strategically embrace it in our organisations as a reality of our human identity. As such, disability is not something we should be afraid of – it is a natural phenomenon which requires that we have operating, standardised, best practice and legislatively compliant recruitment and assessment processes in place that practically manage the reality of disability in a fair, inclusive and transparent manner.

It is important that as HR and people professionals that we actually internalise these facts. We must realise that our responsibility is to cater for the entire well-being of the individual talent – physical and mental – in order to get the best out of them, productively, in the workplace.  Indeed, whereby employee well-being initiatives tend to cater more for ‘the physical’ over ‘the mental’, it signifies a strategic shortcoming in approach.

Unfortunately, the immediate picture that tends to come to mind when considering a question like the one we are above, is to think of visible (or physical) disabilities (wheel chair users, those with complete sight or hearing loss, etc), whereas a large number of people in the labour market have a host of invisible (mental or sensory) disabilities such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, which appear not to be effectively catered for in our recruitment and assessment processes.

To move on then from what I term as a ‘what we do not see, we do not know’ type of practice to managing disabilities, it is imperative that we adopt an open approach to all people and organisational development initiatives, the aim being to positively impact how we recruit and assess individuals with disabilities, visible or invisible.

Below are some thoughts in this regard. Ensure for example:

  • That those tasked with recruitment and assessment responsibilities are effectively trained to understand the ‘myths’ and ‘subconscious biases’ that still exist around people with disabilities. Ensure that they are fully equipped to positively handle these when managing recruitment and/or development campaigns or initiatives.
  • *That your organisation conducts a diversity audit of its existing processes and procedures to understand ‘structural bias’ that may exist and which adversely impacts those with disabilities. This ought to be done at least on a yearly basis.
  • That when assessing, that a variety of tools are used that demonstrate a disability inclusive approach to the required assessment
  • That when seeking to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the recruitment and assessment process, that those tasked with the responsibility find out from the individuals themselves what they require and implement needed changes accordingly. This always is the first rule of thumb and is a very viable engagement tool that can assist with developing ones knowledge regarding particular disability types
  • That the organisation collates workforce statistics on disability as standard process. This is a very useful tool for benchmarking performance in a range of areas, including disability, and is essential to developing strategic plans toward greater inclusivity
  • That our people remember that assessment for recruitment and/or development purposes is first and foremost always about talent. People with disabilities do not want to be treated differently. They want to acknowledged for their true potential. Consequently, do not seek to lower thresholds or standards for assessment to improve ‘representation’ figures, rather ensure fairness by making your overall processes demonstrably inclusive and transparent as possible
  • That key stakeholders are actually aware of the costs of making reasonable adjustments. There is often the unfounded thinking that reasonable adjustments are costly and time-consuming, whereas more often than not, they cost very little to nothing at all, or simply just require demonstrating empathy to the person in question!
  • That as employees of organisations, that we always remember; how we treat a candidate through our processes or procedures has a long term corresponding impact on an organisations brand, credibility and indeed ability to attract talent, regardless of background, experience or ‘type’.

Finally, it is important to situate this entire topic of discussion within the right perspective. This FAQ is not just about effectively ‘managing disabilities’, as such. It is about ensuring that organisations understand what talent is and do not lose out as a consequence. And as talent by definition cannot be neatly ‘boxed up’, our topic actually sits at the heart of talent acquisition agendas – that which all organisations and businesses, large or small, need and depend on, and which therefore requires that we take action – so as to reap the ensuing benefits (financial and otherwise) that will inevitably arrive as a consequence.


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3 responses to “Diversity FAQ’s No 15: Should I be ‘afraid’ of recruiting and/or assessing ‘disabled’ individuals?

  1. Thank you for your positive contribution to the diversity adenga. And as a Disabled person l am please that you are talking about Talent because if you scramble the word Latent stands for hidden that what a lot of people see so it great when other diversity professional making the diversity flourish.
    Thank you!

    • Clenton,

      Many thanks for your comments.

      It is important that we treat all people in the workplace as viable talent sources – and value and promote them as such. This was the driving force behind the article and I am happy that you found it useful.



  2. José Luis

    ¿Quien se ocupa del cuidado de las personas discapacitadas que requieren ayuda personal?

    El perfil del cuidador principal que se ocupa de procurar los cuidados requeridos como consecuencia de alguna discapacidad se caracteriza generalmente por ser un familiar próximo, a menudo mujer, de alrededor de 60 años, que convive en el mismo hogar de la persona afectada. En la mayoría de los casos son personas económicamente inactivas, ya sea porque se dedican a realizar las tareas del hogar o porque se encuentran ya jubiladas. No reciben ningún tipo de compensación económica por el trabajo que realizan, dedican entre 7 y 14 horas semanales al cuidado y llevan prestando dichos cuidados, en muchos de los casos, durante más de ocho años.

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