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Let’s talk: New research into disabled people’s experiences of talking about disability at work

Today Scope has published new research which looks at disabled people’s experiences of talking about disability at work.

We carried out a series of interviews with disabled people who are working. Some of those who took part had talked to their employer and colleagues about their impairment or condition, some hadn’t spoken about disability at work at all and others had shared some information with some people at work.

Below is a summary of our findings and our recommendations to employers and government to improve conversations about disability at work

Why is this important?

For some disabled people, talking about disability at work means they can start conversations about their support needs and how these may change over time. This can often be challenging for disabled people – two fifths of respondents in our research who asked for adjustments at work have felt uncomfortable doing this.

A graphic which shows a stat from Scope research. It reads "Two fifths of respondents who asked for adjustments at work have felt uncomfortable doing this"
Two fifths of respondents who asked for adjustments at work have felt uncomfortable doing this

In other cases, conversations between disabled colleagues can help create an environment where more people feel comfortable sharing information about their own impairment or condition at work.

Sharing information also allows employers to gather information about the experiences of disabled staff and helps them to develop a picture of how effectively they are recruiting, retaining and developing a diverse workforce.

By establishing an environment where disabled staff feel able to start conversations about disability, employers will be better placed to support their staff to reach their potential.

It’s important to recognise that some disabled people will have more choice over if, when and with whom they share information than others. However, this research has found that even among people who have a visible impairment, conversations about this and any support needs they have can have a significant impact on experiences at work.

Barriers to talking about disability

As many as 48 per cent of disabled people worry about sharing information about their impairment or condition with their employer. Some people who took part in the research had worried that telling their employer they are disabled may put their job opportunities at risk.

A graphic showing statistics from Scope research. It reads "48 percent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer"
48 percent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer

Others were concerned about how their manager or colleagues would react, and wanted to avoid negative comments, personal questions or pity.

Read more about Gladys’ experiences of talking about disability at work.

What leads to sharing information?

Many disabled people who took part in the project preferred to have conversations about disability on their own terms than responding to questions.

This included choosing who to tell, what information they shared  and when they shared it.

Positive and negative experiences of sharing information

Some disabled people had negative experiences when they talked about their impairment or condition at work.

These included feeling they hadn’t been listened to, or feeling as though they were being singled out as a result of the information they had shared.

For others, talking about disability had been more positive, and had led to them getting support to carry out their role.

For many disabled people who took part in the project, a positive aspect of talking about disability was that it opened up new conversations with disabled colleagues.

What needs to change?

We want to see employers review the way they gather information about their disabled staff. It is vital they take steps to make sure line managers know how to respond and offer support when staff start conversations about disability.

We’re also calling on the Government to improve the support available to working disabled people as well as employers. We want to see the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission strengthened so that employers who discriminate can be held to account.

It is important that disabled people are able to make informed decisions about if, when and how they talk disability at work. Based on the experiences of the people we spoke to, we’ve outlined ideas in our report for disabled people to consider when sharing information about their impairment or condition. 

Read more about our findings and recommendations and show your support on social media using #EverydayEquality

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