There are many barriers for those people who are disabled. From wheelchairs not being able to fit through too-narrow doorways, to blatant discrimination, anyone who is disabled can feel isolated and worthless.

And yet, the capabilities, skills, attributes and intelligence of a disabled person are no lower than a non-disabled person. Employment opportunities can be lacking, however. And, when disabled people are in employment they can face a raft of unfair treatment.

Approximately 44% of disabled people of working age in the UK are not in employment. Of those that are, their pay is less than their non-disabled colleagues. As well as facing physical difficulties – not being able to access upper floors and so on – the disabled employee can face other barriers.

Attitudes are changing

Attitudes towards disability are changing, backed by improved legislation that make the grounds of discrimination clearer. But not every answer lies in the stick approach; the carrot approach looks at encouraging employers to change attitudes and opinions too.

In December 2015, the Advisory, Conciliation & Arbitration Service, ACAS, have published a new raft of guidelines for employers relating to disability. Recognising that there may not be intent to discriminate, the guide highlights some accepted practices that can and do prevent issues for those with a disability. The 50-page document addresses such issues as:

  • Provide details regarding a vacancy or vacancies in alternative formats
  • Accept applications in alternative formats
  • Have increased awareness of the wording used in job advertisements
  • Do not rely on one source of advertising, using various channels and outlets
  • The job application form, for so long the staple method of applying for a vacancy, could be inadvertently discriminatory
  • Only use tests as a method of applying for a vacancy if they are absolutely necessary

What the law says

The Equality Act 2010 has replaced the Equal Pay Act 1970, Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Race Relations Act 1976, Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and a host of other laws relating to specific areas of discrimination, such as religion, sexual orientation and age.

No longer is it deemed acceptable to discriminate against someone due to his or her disability in the application process and during employment too. Discrimination is defined as treating a person less favourably because of their sex, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibilities, sexuality, race, disability, political beliefs, religious beliefs or age.

And yet, in spite of this, 19% of disabled employees have noted that at some point they have been at the receiving end of unfair treatment at work.

Structures and buildings

However, despite changes in the law and improving attitudes towards those with disability, there is still a long way to go before disabled employees feel they are treated equally. As well as bridging the pay gap between disabled and non-disabled employees, there is also a need to alter and improve structures and buildings.

In existing buildings, steps can be taken to make them more accessible – for example, doorframes and skirting boards must be painted in a contrasting colour to the walls so that those with a visual impairment can negotiate their way better.

Structural changes can be made and where they can, the employer or building owner must make every attempt to do so. However, barriers can remain. In listed buildings, for example, seeking planning permission and permits for a lift shaft can be almost impossible.

Widening corridors for wheelchairs, having office big enough to operate a wheelchair or a walking aid can also present difficulties. The smallest things that a non-disabled person takes for granted can be out of reach for a disabled colleague.

Improving equipment design

For those who regularly use a wheelchair, their weight and lack of maneuverability can also present a barrier to being able to access certain places.

Karma Mobility stocks a range of wheelchairs, spares and accessories that can make mobility easier. Self-propelling wheelchairs are lighter and far easier to use when negotiating tight corridors and turns. Some wheelchairs are also more suited to an outdoor, rugged environment, whilst others are better for use in sporting and leisure opportunities.

Disabled people do not have the funds for a wheelchair for every occasion, however, with more buildings and space becoming accessible, and improvements in wheelchair design, more disabled people are enjoying accessing places – including many working environments.