How the corporate world can lead revolution in embracing disabled workers

How the corporate world can lead revolution in embracing disabled workers

Corporate giants, such as Barclays and Lloyds, are getting the message about the need to make their businesses more open to disabled people. By Giles Crosse.

3 mins to read

Despite years of rhetoric and promises, access to good jobs is often difficult for disabled people. Many corporate towers still lack wheelchair access and online application forms remain challenging for the dyslexic, or visually impaired. However, the corporate world is starting to get the message and some giants, such as Barclays, Lloyds and Shell, are leading the way.

It’s an important issue because 20% of the population (in the UK) are disabled and neglecting to take advantage of their talents is bad for them, but also bad for the economy. George Selvanera, Director of Policy, Services and Communications at the UK’s Business Disability Forum BDF says the difficulty of finding good employment can harm the confidence of disabled people. “Half of disabled people in the UK remain unemployed and too many are held back by limiting beliefs about what they can’t do rather than what they can. Not enough senior leaders are disabled or interacting at a Board level with disabled colleagues,” he said.

But there are signs that companies are getting the message and some of them are even in the financial sector, not always considered the most compassionate employer. The Business Disability Forum counts American Express, Sky and Fujitsu among its big business partners. Together, they are developing systems to tackle discrimination.

BDF says some major businesses, including Lloyds, Barclays and Shell, are demonstrating  leading practice on the 10 criteria of the global Disability Standard. Other corporate giants, including McDonalds and Santander, are also working towards achieving the standard. But despite this overall sense that big business is interested, a recent UK government audit of 30,000 firms revealed “unacceptable” levels of disabled access.

“More than 100 large businesses and public sector organizations use the BDF Disability Standard every year to measure and improve disability performance,” he said. “But no business can say we have got it right for disabled employees and customers 100% of the time.”

Disability needs to be taken into account at every step of the way. “A business introduces a new IT system – this means adjusting for disability. A new line manager starts with a disabled staff member – this involves training. Disability confidence is a work in progress.” he said.

Selvanara says corporates stand to gain from leveraging the skills of disabled people. “They win the critical advantages of a more diverse workforce. When they know how to make the right adjustments for disabled employees and customers, they can do so for all employees and customers,” he said.

The biggest improvements will not come from locating disability within CSR, but from mainstreaming it across the entire business. To this end, Lloyds Bank has led some impressive initiatives that other companies can learn from. The bank reengineered their “reasonable adjustments processes” which are innovative changes firms make to help all staff, but especially the disabled, perform their roles better. Their measures cut equipment costs by 50%. Initiatives to improve disability confidence are having a positive effect. BskyB, for example, is building disability awareness into its digital access service planning.

Getting the disabled to interview also requires attention. “Interviewing is often outsourced and companies won’t know how disability-aware their recruitment suppliers are. Recruiters won’t necessarily be confident at adjusting interview processes that might have disadvantaged disabled candidates,” he said.

Looking to the future, there is still much to do. The UN Secretary General for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities said last year that a lack of access to education, employment and health care prevents many youths with disabilities from realizing their full potential. He said that in many parts of the world, urban and rural development programmes still do not take full account of accessibility.

This means in today’s developed world, businesses must provide an example, demonstrating how valuable the disabled can be in the race to wealth in its many forms.  Selvanera is optimistic about the improvements at corporate level.

“I believe there will be a growing awareness about rapidly growing numbers of staff and customers that are disabled, aging and caring. Businesses will increasingly apply disability competence to product and service development and workforce planning, as they adjust for a growing disabled staff and customer base,” he said.

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Giles Crosse is a journalist with specialist interest in the developing world, corporate social responsibility, and technical solutions to environmental challenges. His career has taken him to exotic destinations, such as the Peruvian Amazon, and Shallow Waters in Cambodia. He is looking forward to an inclusive planet, where greener business, happier people and better managed resources co-exist.


  1. thanks for sharing and George Selvanera great as always. Another thing that needs to be mindful of is the shift to ‘hotdesking’ which creates a conflict in adjustments to a workplace if specific equipment and office environment not accommodating them.

    Excellent point of external recruiters not mindful or even disability aware in their ‘pick’ of people – I recall one recruiter who I had been to see about a placement when I asked about placing deaf people like myself actually stated she had never knowingly placed a person with any disability and didn’t know if the ‘client group’ she places people into would be accepting? So more work to be done in that too especially the diverse ‘unseen’ or chosen not to declare disabilities. To often just the word disability still conjures up image of mobility/wheelchairs/limbs lost etc and not the whole spectrum of differences in what defines disabilities.