Could Covid-19 level playing field for disabled workforce?

wheelchair symbol, disabled

There are currently 14.1 million disabled people in the UK with 19 per cent of working age adults identifying themselves as having a disability.

Yet, despite this large percentage, very few companies still specifically target this pool of talent or provide the right environment to work and adults with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed.

As we mark the 25thanniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act, and recognise International Day of Persons with Disabilities, The Instant Group looks at whether the coronavirus pandemic could finally level the playing field when it comes to jobs and opportunities for those with a disability.

From the closure of gyms, hydrotherapy centres, community gatherings and other services, to the 2.2 million ‘high risk’ UK residents restricted to their homes, it is without a doubt that the disabled community has been one of the worst affected by the global pandemic. But widespread working from home during 2020 has broken down many workspace obstacles such as accessibility and location and given workers much more choice about how they choose to work.

This doesn’t mean that the change to working from home means that more jobs are opened up to those with disabilities. Homeworking just further intensifies any feelings of isolation and estrangement. Not to mention the disadvantages it presents when it comes to collaboration with is vital for creativity and innovation.

The solution to opening up the playing field for a more diverse workforce is choice, and the ability for every individual to decide where and how they want to work in a way that has now become much more accepted.

Regardless of your circumstances, collaboration and getting teams together in person is absolutely vital for creativity and innovation and many businesses have begun to consider using more agile workplaces which provide the ability to adapt quickly and easily to global change.

This new strategy also gives workforces wider choice and the flexibility to work in the best way to accommodate individual needs and because of this, businesses are having to look at some the following key factors:

  • Innovative workspace: Modern, collaborative workspaces that go beyond ‘reasonable adjustments’ by factoring in wellbeing, accessibility and beautiful designs. Accessibility does not have to be an ugly, last-minute adjustment. An accessible workspace should provide a central creative hub for team gatherings, that also includes technology which is inclusive of remote workers.
  • Choice of environment: A company structure that gives disabled workers the option to choose whether they work from home, the main office, or even a suburban hub. This can help prevent excessive exhaustion, reduce commuting time, and maintain the individual’s privacy, which ultimately benefits staff wellbeing and overall performance. Some businesses are adopting a ‘Hub and Spoke’ solution, which provides staff with the option to work from a location of their choice using membership apps.
  • Smart working: A company culture that embraces smart working allows employees to optimise their time and abilities. Smart working allows disabled workers to integrate fitness and wellbeing activities into their workday, better manage their energy around client/collaboration time, travel to work at a time of day that is less congested and takes the pressure off getting to a location by a specific deadline.

John Duckworth, Managing Director UK & EMEA, The Instant Group, said, “While many companies may claim to have disabled facilities, many businesses fall short when it comes to providing an accessible workspace because they are unaware of the entire disabled experience: eg: public transport, parking spaces, accessibility, exhaustion, privacy.”

“Covid-19 and the subsequent working from home experiment has completely levelled the playing field for disabled workers – but not because working from home has become the new norm.”

“The pandemic has forced many businesses to consider more agile and innovative workspaces which provide the ability to adapt quickly and easily to changes – this might be working from home, working from a central office or a suburban hub – its most likely to be a combination of all three.”

“It gives disabled workers more freedom of choice and our hope is that this shift to more agile working means we are likely to see an uprise of job opportunities for disabled workers.”

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