Disability Inclusion – Unlocking the UK’s Hidden Potential

16 September 2016

Disability Inclusion – Unlocking the UK’s Hidden Potential 

When referring to diversity in business, it often feels like more focus falls on gender and race, with extensive research on the associated impact on financial performance. Given that in most countries the population split between men and women is nearly equal, on one hand it’s understandable that gender diversity is the most commonly analysed.

Unlike with gender (and to a lesser extent race), there has been nowhere near the same ‘airtime’ given to disability and so progress for disability inclusion has felt slower to date with less tangible business outcomes reported - this is disappointing given that globally one in five people has a disability.

Stephen Frost and Danny Kalman (co-authors of the excellent book ‘Inclusive Talent Management’) offer a perspective on the impact of this for disability inclusion, stating“in some cases, where organisations focus so heavily on gender and race, other causes such as disability are perceived as competing for ‘airtime’ with the ‘main programme’. Does it really come down to a zero-sum game of female advancement at the expenses of others?” 

The simple fact is that disabled people are far less likely to be employed than non-disabled people. According to The Papworth Trust, in January 2016, the UK employment rate among working age disabled people was 46.5%, compared to 84% of non-disabled people.

Many organisations are missing out on a largely untapped talent pool.  A significant proportion of the unemployed 54% disabled people of working age are in fact highly qualified, capable and talented knowledge workers – so most disabled people’s talents are massively under-utilised. This might be (for example) because they face different challenges commuting to work or that business premises are inaccessible.

However, the wasted potential is infinitely more costly than the investment required to employ that talent, facilitated through a taxi or work-from-home solution for example. We now live in a highly connected and technologically advanced world where, for knowledge workers, much of the work can be effectively undertaken from anywhere (arguably more productively than in the office!). Given the access we have to easy technological, social and collaborative platform solutions to support remote working any employer genuinely committed to inclusion can unlock the UK’s hidden potential.

The development of real culture inclusivity, a culture that values and genuinely supports difference by embracing the wider remit of diversity, is what we should be aiming for. When all people-centric processes, practices and policies are genuinely inclusive, then employment opportunities for those with disabilities are more accessible, and the inclusivity creates the environment for people with disabilities to thrive and reach their potential.

However in practical terms, it’s at the front end (attraction, selection, on-boarding) that disabled candidates still face barriers.

So for those responsible for recruitment here is some guidance for how to better attract, engage and successfully on-board employees with disabilities (you can download further information in our Diverse Hiring Guide)


Conscious and unconscious bias can exist at every stage of the recruitment process and simple changes to process can help eliminate this bias. Simple tactics include:

  • avoiding the use of exclusive criteria when setting a person specification with desired attributes that may reflect bias (e.g. does the role REALLY need a full UK driving license?);
  • use a variety of formats and imagery in advertisements that will appeal to a broad range of people who access the information differently;
  • proactively indicate the role can be fulfilled with a degree of flexibility.


Consider your candidate experience. According to research commissioned by the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI) 82% of disabled candidates have reported a negative experience with a recruitment consultancy, which they attribute to a lack of knowledge relating to disability issues.

  • Rather than aiming for a one size fits all candidate experience, organisations with the most effective recruiting functions aim for a consistent candidate experience but tailor their approach to resonate with diverse groups. For example, if the recruiter insists on communicating by phone for initial assessment, deaf candidates may already be at a disadvantage. Video interviews or Skype conversations may add choice and options  for a first meeting, so widening access to a broader talent pool and ensuring that a less than accessible process unwittingly creates barriers.  
  • Be cognisant of hiring manager understanding - many managers are not fully trained in competency-based question techniques and are unaware of the impact of unconscious biases on their interviewing approach. Consequently they rely on ‘intuition’ or ‘gut-feel’ which is where bias creeps in. HR partners need to be equipped to proactively advise, coach and, where necessary, challenge the thinking of hiring managers – before, during and after an interview.
  • Map out your recruitment process, highlighting decision points and consider incorporating nudge techniques at these critical stages to help recruiters and hiring managers recollect unconscious bias training, helping to consciously consider their decisions. Increasingly leading technology providers like Launchpad Recruits are developing their platforms with machine learning capabilities to support objective data-driven decision making – a really exciting space and potential game changer to reducing unconscious bias in talent management practice.

Helped by the 2012 Access Now programme, at the London Olympics and Paralympics over 2000 disabled people were placed into roles. The Access Now programme guaranteed an interview to all disabled applicants. They were still only offered a role based on merit, but the recruitment team had to ensure that the job descriptions were relevant, specific and did not act as a barrier to possible success. Guaranteeing them an interview gave hiring managers the opportunity to meet talented individuals who under other circumstances they would not have met. Paul Deighton, CEO of the London Olympics has been quoted as saying ‘the key to success in diversity and inclusion is practical implementation…. We hired so many disabled people it became part of the norm.


All too often on-boarding is focused on administration but not inclusion. Administrative and compliance actions required for new hires should not occur at the expense of activities which help an individual feel integrated and included from the outset. Frequently, new employees are quickly left to navigate their own way in the organisation, identify stakeholders and establish relationships. Some people will find this easier, and be more successful, than others.

Be aware of team culture; if it’s not inclusive to all its members, a dominant in-group is likely to form. If the background of a new team member means he or she is excluded, their engagement, performance and retention are likely to be impacted.

As Helen Turnbull put it in her book The Illusion of Inclusion… Having a diverse workforce is no guarantee that the work environment is inclusive. Companies hire for diversity and manage for similarity. We hire people for their difference and then teach them directly and indirectly what they have to do to fit in to the corporate culture”.

The key to inclusive talent management - and the only way that diversity programmes can really thrive- is through the development of an inclusive culture.


Approximately 11 million people in the UK are living with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability. Our Pioneering Employment Diversity event will help businesses to access a talent pool bursting with ability, creativity and insight.

Lord Holmes, parliamentarian and record-breaking former British Paralympian swimmer, headlines the event, which brings together leading senior business and charity representatives in the field of HR, diversity and inclusion.

Employee Insight Report 2016/17

Our Employee Insight Report allows employers to get an get an understanding of what their own employees may be thinking.

Download our report