What Counts as a Disability in the Workplace?

What Counts as a Disability in the Workplace?

According to the charity Scope, there are around 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, of which 4.1 million are in work. Among working-age adults, they account for some 20% of the population. And yet, there’s a certain disconnect between these figures and our collective understanding of what constitutes a disabled person. This is highlighted by a 2018 report by the charity in which the majority of those polled underestimated the number of disabled people in the UK: many of us guess that it’s less than 10%.

What makes a person disabled?

Clearly, not every disabled person in the UK is wheelchair-bound. In many cases, the disability might have no visible symptoms at all. Fortunately, UK law provides a fairly robust definition. Under the Equality Act 2010, a person qualifies as disabled if they have a ‘substantial’ physical or mental impairment which prevents them from doing normal daily activities, and which lasts for longer than a year.

What disabilities should I focus on?

If you’re thinking of adapting your workplace to help the maximum number of people, then you might consider some of the more common forms of disability. The changes you implement will inevitably also depend on the workers you attract, and the layout and structure of the place.

  • Wheelchair Users

Adapting older workplaces to include wheelchair ramps, installing lifts and adjusting the car park, will both improve accessibility for wheelchair users. Moreover, you might offer workers specialised vehicles adapted to their particular needs.

  • Hearing & Sight Impairment

The Royal National Institute for the Deaf has a few concrete recommendations for making the workplace more inclusive for those with hearing impairments. Adjusting the work area so that deaf people are facing the room, and adjusting lighting in meeting areas so that lipreading is easy, are easy steps you might take. It’s also worth turning music down or off.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind has a similar list of recommendations, many of which centre around superior computer equipment. Bear in mind that many people lose a portion of their sight as they age, and that squinting at tiny letters all day can be headache-inducing. Larger monitors, screen-reading software, and adapted keyboards can all be hugely useful.

  • Learning Difficulties

Dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other learning difficulties can make life in the workplace a bit of a challenge, if accommodations haven’t been made. Dyspraxia affects fine motor control; it might therefore be worth investing in specialised equipment for sufferers who need to use computers. Support workers might also be brought in to assist.

  • Recurring and Fluctuating Conditions

The various forms of arthritis, fibromyalgia and ME all qualify as fluctuating or recurring disorders. Their effects come and go, and workplaces which seek to accommodate sufferers will need to be flexible. Offering short-term sick leave to workers in this situation will make their professional lives that much easier.

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