What is a disability and do employers understand their responsibilities?

No matter how experienced, managers are often apprehensive about discussing individual disabilities with employees and this can make it harder for disabled people to get the support they need to do their jobs.

A disability can be acquired during the course of life which is important in the context of retaining and talent. Talking about disability is not a one-off conversation – open recognition of disabilities in the workplace needs to be part of the organisational culture if managers are to fully support their teams. It is also worth remembering that up to 80% of disabilities are not visible.

The UK Equality Act 2010 defines disability as “a physical or a mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on the ability to do normal day-to-day activities”. ‘Long lasting’ means more than 12 months; ‘substantial’ means more than minor or trivial. In practice, this means that the term ‘disability’ includes mobility and sensory impairments (eg sight loss or hearing loss), neurodiverse conditions, mental health conditions and long-term health conditions including cancer, HIV and MS (which are all classified as disabilities at the point of diagnosis).

It is important that employers do not make assumptions about who does and doesn’t have a disability. In terms of making adjustments in the workplace these can vary. Adjustments to do not only include physical aids but include things such as flexible working patterns, time off for medical appointments, home or hybrid working or a quiet space in the office.

Some examples of workplace adjustments include:

  • A fixed desk next to the window for someone with hearing loss in one ear to ensure that they are never surprised on their ‘deaf side’.
  • A step to enable a person of short stature to sit at the same level, on the same type of chair, as others round a board table.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones to enable someone to concentrate in a noisy, busy or otherwise distracting environment.

Managers do not need to be experts on disability to provide the best support to their teams. Simply being ready to ask: ‘What do you find difficult and how can I make it easier for you?’ can make a real difference.

Should you wish to discuss reason adjustments for a disabled employee, call one of our CIPD Consultants on 0800 9995 121 for objective advice and support.

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