In the interests of the economy… and fairness

The UK’s lack of “disability know-how” is unfair and a brake on the economy, says Business Disability Forum’s Susan Scott-Parker


Business funds Business Disability Forum to help “UK plc” learn how to adapt for human beings as they really are – noting that every customer, every applicant, every employee is disabled now or is potentially disabled in their lifetime.

If you live to the once grand old age of 70, you will probably experience at least ten years of disability. Disability is after all a natural and inevitable part of what it means to be human. Our tendency to label people, chuck them into little branded boxes and then leap to assumptions about those boxes is, sadly, also very human.

We need to talk more about the 3.5 million disabled people already in work and the many employers we see taking the need to improve their disability performance very seriously indeed, given the compelling business rationale for becoming disability-smart.

How can we justify the waste of human potential, combined with the profound sense of unfairness, reinforced by our disability-incompetent labour market?

Everyone wants to be treated fairly, disabled people are no different; and everyone wins when employers, in the private and public sector, enable everyone’s contribution to business success.

How can we justify the waste of human potential, combined with the profound sense of unfairness, reinforced by our disability-incompetent labour market?

Most people want to work and can work. Yet hundreds of thousands are denied the chance to even compete for the limited number of jobs available. They are, in effect, not “allowed” to work because our lack of basic “disability know-how”, reinforced by weird Victorian stereotypes, prevents them from getting what the Australians call “a fair go”.

Recently a blind graduate was not allowed to apply to a large corporation because the company refused to give her an application form she could read. Her problem is not her visual impairment. She knows she can do this particular job. Her “problem”, and indeed our problem, is the disability inflexibility of this employer.

The only good thing about this story is it conveys so clearly that what is unfair to this graduate is also bad for our economy. For reasons outside her control, she will need longer than a non-disabled job seeker to find a job – the cost implications for the state of this unfairness are surely obvious.

The usual approach to helping disadvantaged job seekers, especially those confronting disability-specific obstacles, is wasteful. We need to do more to help business raise its game and government needs to do more to help the “supply side” deliver for both the employer and the disabled job seeker if we are to get significantly better outcomes – in the interests of labour-market cost efficiency and, above all, fairness.

Susan Scott-Parker is founder and chief executive of Business Disability Forum, which aims to enable companies to become disability smart by making it easier to recruit and retain disabled employees, and do business with disabled customers.