Ability over Disability – It’s Time to Think Outside the Box

Thought Leadership article – Jonathan Allan, Disability Services Manager

Problem solving, innovative thinking, good timekeeping and teamwork – these are qualities commonly found in a typical job description. Most of us are able to demonstrate such attributes through examples of past work experience but for many people with a disability, these are all skills that they apply seamlessly to their day to day life.

Problem solving could be something such as working out the best route of public transport that is accessible to someone’s disability. Innovative thinking could be establishing the best way to carry out a task that may be as simple as lifting a box but because of the person’s disability they have limited use of their arms. Good time keeping is crucial for some people with certain learning difficulties, who feel more comfortable when they have routine and structure in their life. Working well in a team involves the ability to ask for assistance, as well as offering clear instructions to other team members, a skill that someone with a disability often uses on a daily basis in order to get them from A to B.

While it is clear that people with both physical and learning disabilities enhance their skillsets on a daily basis, why is it that, according to the charity Scope, someone with a disability is twice as likely to be unemployed as someone without, while people with learning disabilities face staggering unemployment rates of roughly 80%, according to the TUC?

Working for a supported employment service that helps people with disabilities and mental health needs into work, I regularly see issues surrounding barriers to employment on a first-hand basis, many of which could be easily overcome. One of the main barriers is caused by employers themselves – making assumptions about the scope of someone’s abilities without asking them. A disability is only a small reflection of an individual’s overall competence and a lot of the time what an employer may see as an impossible task is actually perfectly feasible for that person.

I have been lucky enough to work with accommodating employers, which has allowed me to see individuals with disabilities that limit their social skills go on to lead tour groups and excel in customer facing roles. I have also seen people with limited mobility thrive in rolls such as factory work, cleaning and manual labour.

One of our clients was employed as a cleaner and didn’t have the use of one of her hands. The employer was concerned that she would not be able to use a mop, however she was able to carry out the task perfectly. It is important for employers to remember that our clients complete many of these tasks on a daily basis with no trouble at all.

Now I’m not saying that there aren’t aspects of their disability that can hold them back, of course there are. However, due to dealing with problem solving and innovative thinking throughout their lives, many of our clients are able to approach tasks in the workplace in a way that someone without a disability may have never thought of.

Employing someone with a disability may sometimes mean making a few reasonable adjustments in order for them to show their full potential. These are usually simple and often involve anything from altering break times, assigning a different work station or modifying equipment. Some employers are put off by the idea of making reasonable adjustments but the fact is that businesses solve far greater problems than this on a regular basis. Employers should consider the positive impact that having a happy, more productive workforce can have on their bottom line.

For someone with a disability who may not have been given the chance to work, gaining employment is something that they will hang on to. Often people with disabilities are the hardest workers that show to most passion for their job. We usually see fantastic staff retention rates as a result of our services and many of our clients tell us that if they could work every day of the week then they would.

Work offers so much more than a pay check, it provides us with a sense of purpose; knowing that we are contributing to society. According to Scope, 38% of people view those with disabilities as less productive than others, so when given the chance to prove their capability through employment, this is something that many thrive at.

According to the Disability Living Foundation, there are over 6.9 million people with a disability that are of working age, living in the UK. When recruiters don’t consider applicants with disabilities they are simply putting a drain in their talent pool. It is time for employers to realise that people are so much more than just their disability, they need to stop assuming the capabilities of an individual and instead start asking– the answer may surprise them.