Diversity and inclusion are finally gaining traction within employers’ wellbeing agendas

But where is the similar push for disability in the workplace?

Posted by Tom Dowling

Tom Dowling, Editor of the Liverpool-based charity health and disability newspaper, All Together NOW!(www.alltogethernow.org.uk)

Tue 09th, Feb

More than 40 years ago, while lying paralysed in a hospital bed in Southport’s spinal injuries unit, my Indian neurosurgeon gave me a few words of advice:

‘Strive to be as flexible as you can – physically and mentally,’ he said, puffing on his pipe. ‘Happiness and fulfilment are linked to attitudes – yours and the people you will meet along the way . . . and especially employers.

‘Disabled people can still make valuable contributions. We all just need to think a bit differently, that’s all.’ 

Kookal Krishnan had a lifetime’s experience in helping paralysed people get back to ‘normality’.

But he was frustrated that most of the people he and his team had helped could not find the same support with employers.

A few months earlier I had the world at my feet. I’d just finished my reporter’s training and was looking forward to Fleet Street.

But while returning with three other 20-year-old friends from the ultimate road trip to Everest, we were attacked by armed bandits in Iran. A bullet severed my spinal cord and left me paralysed from the chest.

It could have been the end of my short-lived journalistic career. But within weeks of my injury Dave Williams, the boss of the now defunct Ellesmere Port News, offered me a job. Just one snag, he said: “You’ll have to be flexible. We work on the first floor and there’s no lift. You will have to use a desk in the ground floor kitchen and use a bucket for a pee.”

It wasn’t perfect – back in the 70s everywhere had steps, and more steps – no ramps or dropped kerbs. But I’d been given a chance, and it soon led to a job on the ECHO where I worked for almost 30 years– proving to members of staff, including management, that taking on a disabled person can bring many benefits to a business.

It also helped me to earn enough to raise a family, to contribute to the local economy, and saved the Government hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefits.

All the evidence suggests there is a really strong business case for employing, and retaining, disabled staff.

So why are more than 2 MILLION disabled peoplenot getting the chance?

In a recent article in HR Magazine Alice Weightman, founder of recruitment consultancy Hanson Search, suggests that organisations often just don’t feel they know how to discuss disability . . .

If that’s the case, why not set up disability awareness courses for line managers and staff? That will help.

There’s lots of other help around, too. Check out the Government’s Disability Confident website (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/disability-confident-campaign)

Acas has also launched an employers’ guide to disability discrimination (http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1859), which includes tips on recruitment advertising – how to write them and where to place them so that disabled people are most likely to see them.

Disability in the workplace is nothing to fear. All organisations, and especially those in the public sector, need to embrace it and reap the benefits of a truly diverse workforce. 

I’m certain that’s something my old guru, Kookal Krishnan, would have raised his pipe to.

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