Employment and disability

By Louise Ratcliffe BSc(hons). Support and Information Team Leader

The draft Disability Employment Action1 plan was put out for consultation from 25th November 2019 through to 21st February 2020.

The goals of the action plan are:

  1. To ensure disabled people and people with health conditions have an equal opportunity to access good work
  2. To ensure businesses are good at attracting and retaining disabled people and people with health conditions

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs2 suggests employment is contained within the innate human need for safety –


One of the reasons is it so fundamental in meeting a person’s basic needs is that it gives both a sense of purpose and sense of belonging that has actual implications for our mental health. 3

In addition, paid employment (with a living wage) gives people the financial ability to move beyond simply meeting their basic physiological needs, to fully participating in their community in ways that are meaningful to them.

With this in mind, it seems obvious that we should be supporting people with disabilities into paid employment or voluntary work if that is what they want to do, but there are many barriers in society – both physical and social – that make it difficult for people with disabilities to get and keep a job.

The sorts of barriers people face are illustrated by a discussion paper from the Maxim Institute on overcoming barriers to paid employment faced by people with disabilities4

A document produced by the Ministry of Social Development5 starts out by busting some myths around employing disabled people (see the full report for further details), which can help in reducing a lot of these barriers:

Myth 1 Providing accommodations for disabled people is expensive.
Fact 1 Most disabled people don’t need anything different to perform their jobs, and for those who do, the cost is usually minimal.

Myth 2 Disabled employees are a greater health and safety risk than employees without disabilities.
Fact 2 Evidence shows that disabled employees have fewer health and safety issues, because in managing their impairment they have developed strategies to address health and safety risks.

Myth 3 Disabled employees have a higher absentee rate than employees without disabilities.
Fact 3 Studies show that disabled people actually have lower rates of absenteeism

But although it’s good to have tools for employers to make their workplaces more inclusive, there also needs to be a societal shift in perspective around disability.

We have numerous ‘awareness’ campaigns teaching the public about various visible and invisible disabilities, but until they are fully accepted as being just as much a part of the world around us as any other human being, people with disabilities will always be ‘othered’ by the non-disabled majority.

We need to move forward from awareness and tolerance into proper inclusion and acceptance. Improving access to employment is a step in the right direction but it is just one step.






louise ratcliffe
Louise Ratcliffe
Information Officer
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