Disability Inclusion for Small Businesses

Managing people

23 January 2023

For a small business, the concept of disability inclusion may sound daunting – but it shouldn’t. The great strength of small businesses is that it is far easier for them to be agile and adapt than it is for big businesses. 

If you’re a small business employer and feel like disability inclusion isn't relevant for you, we’ll explore how diversity in your team helps your business and how you can build better businesses practices without breaking the bank. But first, let's take a look at the prevalance of people with diasbilities in the UK workforce:

People with disability are a large part of the UK workforce

According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), 25% of small business owners are disabled or have a health condition and 51% of small employers have employed a disabled person, or someone with a health condition in the last 3 years.

While you may think that no one at your business has a disability, the reality is that around 1 in 5 people in the UK identify as having a disability or have a long-term health condition, a large number of disabilities are not visible, and at least 34% of people with a disability don’t feel comfortable asking an employer for help due to fears of being treated differently. This means that it is very possible someone who works with you has a disability and you just don’t realise it.

In fact, FSB also found that small businesses are more likely to employ disabled people than larger employers, with 45.1% of all disabled people in employment working in a small business.

Given the high likelihood that a small business with employees has either knowingly or unknowingly hired a someone with a disability, building a workplace that is inclusive and supportive for people with disabilities should be a top priority for small businesses.

Diversity in your team helps the business bottom line

Disability inclusion is one piece of a greater effort towards having a diverse workforce. If everyone who works within your business looks the same, thinks the same and has the same background, then it’s probably not as diverse as it could be and probably isn’t functioning at its best capacity. By bringing together people from different backgrounds and life experiences, you can increase the problem-solving capacity of your team as they’ll all complete a task with their own unique style and approach. 

It’s been proven that a business with diverse employees see improved financial results, have an easier time recruiting and retaining staff, have greater innovation, and are faster at making decisions. 

The details on how diversity, in general, helps your business can be explored in our article on diversity for small businesses, but it’s important to note that disability inclusion, specifically, sees similar results and costs little.

The Job Accommodation Network surveys report that in the United States a high percentage (56%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to implement ($0), while the rest of the accommodations made had a typical cost of only $500 and that the $500 typical cost has been consistent across the many years of the JAN survey.

While that data is US based, it would amount to about £410 GBP to take care of reasonable accommodations for people who needed them. For such a small investment, here’s some of the benefits you can expect to see:

Why being a disability friendly employer matters

According to a 2020 study by Accenture, among the companies included in the study, the organisations most focused on disability engagement are growing sales 2.9x faster and profits 4.1x faster than their peers.

While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this uptick in business happens, the thought is that when employees can show up at work and feel supported, they tend to be more engaged and supported.  In fact, the Business Disability Forum found that 80% of employees who had received support from their employers to remove barriers at work, helped them stay in their jobs – mean better retention and less money spent on recruitment efforts.

Furthermore, when thinking about people with disabilities specifically, they often have to be creative to adapt to the world around them which isn’t built to accommodate their needs. They tend to need strong problem-solving skills and persistence on a daily basis to negotiate challenges, but luckily for businesses, these same skills are crucial for innovation.

5 steps towards a more disabled friendly work culture

You won’t change your whole company culture in just 5 steps, but we all have to start somewhere. If you’re hoping to build a more disability-friendly company culture, here’s a few first steps to get you started:

  1. Tell employees about your plans to be a disability friendly employer – letting your team know about your intention means that they’ll be able to help you towards this goal. Whether that’s by suggesting great candidates who have a disability or holding you accountable towards delivering on this promise, it’s important that this be shared.
  2. Develop a plan for sourcing and retaining disabled talent – you can look for recruiting agencies or job boards that specialise in hiring and supporting people with disabilities. Look for partners that can help on this journey and don’t feel like you have to go it alone.
  3. Make employees feel comfortable disclosing their disability – many people don’t disclose their disabilities for fear of discrimination, but it’s hard to support people when you don’t know what they need. Creating a culture where people feel comfortable asking for help will make it much easier to build a more inclusive workplace.
  4. Provide supports for employees with disabilities – think about some concrete actions you can take to make your place of work simpler for people with disabilities. If you’re stuck for ideas, we’ll provide a few in the next section!
  5. Share facts and information about the disability community – sharing more information can help lead to greater understanding among your staff. Never share details about a specific staff member’s needs, make sure any information is more general such as the fact that 22% of the UK population has a disability. 

Concrete actions to get started

Every disability affects a person differently, so there won’t be a one size fits all solution to making your workplace more accessible. However, we’ve gathered a few examples of accommodations that could be useful for you to consider:

  • Allowing flexible working hours and break times – this can allow employees who need to take medications or who need more frequent breaks to have the autonomy they need to take care of themselves.
  • Including health benefits for employees – if you’re able to support with any kind of physical or mental health cover as part of a benefits package, that can help employees to get the relevant care that they need.
  • Promote any free services available – there are a lot of resources and support available for free. Get a list of what’s available and circulate that to your employees so that they’re aware of all the options available.
  • Consider alternate ways of working – hybrid working and job sharing are just two examples of alternate work arrangements that can make life easier for disables people. Consider whether any would work for your business.
  • Conduct a risk assessment with physical disabilities in mind – think about the layout of the working environment and whether or not it is accessible and free from obstructions. Consider if someone with a physical disability would need additional help in an evacuation situation.
  • Giving directions in a different way – an employee with dyslexia may benefit from directions given verbally while an employee with memory issues may perform better with written directions for job duties. Consider each employee and their needs, then give them the right tools to succeed.

Accessibility best practices 

Marketing materials 

If you have a website or distribute flyers, consider how you can make them easier for people with disabilities to consume. For example, high contrast between text and background can be helpful for people with visual impairments. Meanwhile, left-aligning text rather than having it centred or justified can help people with dyslexia to read it better. 

Website and social media  

Often your website or social pages are the first introduction your customers have to your business. To make your customers aware that accessibility is important to your brand, there are a few minor changes you can make. When using videos, you can support customers who may be hard of hearing or deaf by using closed captions. For customers who may be visually impaired, it can help to add alternative text to describe any images you use.  

Layouts and navigation 

To improve accessibility, the key is to keep things simple and organised. When it comes to layouts, icons are a handy way to signpost to your customers what information they can expect to find. This helps supports anyone who may have trouble processing large amounts of information at once. It’s a good idea to use basic familiar icons to help readers identify which sections are most relevant to them. For example, common icons like a phone or email are recognisable as signposting contact details, just as a magnifying glass can be used to clearly represent a search box.

For more ideas, the UK Government Website has advice on accommodations for a variety of specific conditions that you can take a look at here.

The Equality Act 2010

It is important to remember that disability is a protected characteristic in all aspects of employment under The Equality Act 2010. This means that you cannot have any discriminatory practices in your job application process, in the terms of a job offer, in progression opportunities or benefits, treatment at work, or redundancy/dismissal selection and procedures.

In addition to being protected from discrimination, all employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to prevent disabled employees, job applicants or ex-employees from being disadvantaged.

The UK Government website lists the following as examples of reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities:

  • changing the recruitment process so a candidate can be considered for a job
  • doing things another way, such as allowing someone with social anxiety disorder to have their own desk instead of hot-desking
  • making physical changes to the workplace, like installing a ramp for a wheelchair user or an audio-visual fire alarm for a deaf person
  • letting a disabled person work somewhere else, such as on the ground floor for a wheelchair user
  • changing their equipment, for instance providing a special keyboard if they have arthritis
  • allowing employees who become disabled to make a phased return to work, including flexible hours or part-time working
  • offering employees training opportunities, recreation and refreshment facilities

You can find their full guidance on reasonable adjustments here.

Access to work

The scheme provides a grant to cover the costs of additional support, up to a maximum of £60,700 per year. The employer pays the costs initially and is then reimbursed through the government. Be sure to check all the eligibility criteria before relying on the grant to cover any costs that have been laid out. Although the government will be reimbursing you, it is your employee who must apply for Access to Work, so this should be done in conjunction with the employee.

Local council

Often local councils will have their own budget fund grants or schemes that help small businesses to create accommodations for employees with disabilities. Each council may have their own programmes and level of help, so it is worth getting in touch with your local representatives to get more information.

Find your local government contact information here.

More resources

If you’re looking for more guidance on how to best support employees with disabilities, there are a range of resources available. Here are just a few that could be useful in your efforts to become a disability-friendly employer: 

All links are checked and valid at time of publishing, 23 January 2023.

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