Is your company disability-smart?

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The new CEO of the Business Disability Forum puts the case for smart thinking when it comes to disabled employees

Only 40 per cent of disabled people are in full-time employment. That compares to 80 per cent for the general population. Those with learning disabilities face an even tougher environment: with only five per cent in full-time employment.

We have come a long way both in terms of legislation and inclusion, and it’s great to see a growing number of companies that are beacons of good practice, but much still remains to be done. Not least among small to medium enterprises.

As I take up my new role with the Business Disability Forum it seems a good moment – and an excellent platform – to put forward the case for making your organisation ‘disability-smart’. First, a brief introduction to our work; Business Disability Forum is a not-for-profit membership organisation that exists to support businesses of all shapes and sizes to get better at recruiting and retaining disabled employees, and at serving disabled customers. We aim to ensure that when it comes to employing and retaining job candidates with disabilities or health conditions that ‘best practice’ becomes commonplace, not the exception. And, while our membership currently employs around 20 per cent of the UK workforce, I want to look at how we can broaden our offer to meet the needs of small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and the broader public and voluntary sector.

There are lots of areas for improvement within the HR space that are relatively easily to tackle with a bit of thought and a few small steps. Take recruitment for example. A recent study by Business Disability Forum (and sponsored by one of our members, Sopra Steria Recruitment) suggests that while 60 per cent of those surveyed bought in recruitment services, fewer than half of their arrangements with recruitment firms made any attempt to build in a ‘disability-smart’ outcome. Only one in four ensured that their contracts with third-party suppliers had any kind of requirements for inclusion or accessibility. Not only that, but less than two in five had any kind of formal discussion with their suppliers about how they approached disability beyond those set out in any formal processes. Given that the recruitment sector was valued at £31.5 billion in 2014/15, that’s a huge number of potential vacancies that are not ‘disability smart’ when a few conversations between a company and its suppliers could so easily make sure that they are. Where these conversations are happening it’s great to hear businesses talking about the 'competition for talent' and recognising the huge rewards that can be reaped as a result.

Of course it’s not just about outsourced services; with a few tweaks internal recruitment processes can be transformed to ensure that they do not inadvertently exclude a huge pool of potential talent. It could be about being flexible in the requirements for a person specification, accepting applications in different formats, or offering a placement 'working interview' rather than the traditional – and often daunting – panel approach.

Recruitment is just one way HR can take a lead on behalf of their businesses and make a significant change in ensuring inclusion and accessibility. Others include induction and training, workplace adjustments and championing a 'whole organisation' approach to inclusion. Often the changes that make the biggest difference are the smallest. And there’s lots of help out there!

You can find out more about how Business Disability Forum can support you as a member or partner by visiting our website www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk, or why not join us at one of our events? Our annual conference takes place on 11 April this year, and the subject will be disability-smart suppliers and partners. We’d love you to join us so that more companies can share experiences and learning with each other. After all, how can an organisation dedicated to diversity not want to embrace the widest possible audience and range of opinions?

So please visit our website and spread the word! Because together I believe we can all make a huge difference by both thinking and acting ‘disability-smart’.

Diane Lightfoot is chief executive officer of the Business Disability Forum

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