Why we need to shout about disability in the corporate world

Ollie Thorn, Senior Manager – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Client Solutions, Michael Page (part of PageGroup)

Ollie Thorn from PageGroup discusses why businesses need to stop overlooking disability.

Ollie Thorn in his wheelchair

Employers have made considerable strides in terms of putting diversity, equality and inclusion on their agenda in recent years. It’s no longer a niche issue or a ‘nice to have’ but something that is business critical. However, we need to ensure that disability is a primary facet of this, as it can often fall by the wayside when it comes to DE&I initiatives and strategies.

Increased understanding of how to support disabled people in the workplace and greater awareness of the challenges people with disabilities may face in the hiring process and beyond is crucial if we want to really change attitudes and perceptions.  


As it stands, businesses still risk leaving disability out of the agenda. A survey of annual reports by Leonard Cheshire for 2020/21 found that only three of the FTSE 100 companies had published targets for the number of disabled employees they employ. These targets ranged from 12-17% - certainly not bad, but still an underrepresentation when considering the proportion of the population with a disability.


As the next reporting cycle gets underway, this number will hopefully rise, but still – why aren’t more companies aiming to employ higher numbers of disabled people? Why don’t more businesses set their sights a little higher? 

Disability is mainstream

Hiring disabled employees shouldn’t feel like it’s just window-dressing. Disability isn’t a fringe topic or a ‘social responsibility’ piece. Disabled people form a huge group in the UK: 14.6 million, equivalent to about 22% of the population. It isn’t too much of a stretch to assume that most, if not all, large employers will have some contact with disabled people. The question is whether that contact is positive or negative.  


I am disabled myself – I have had a physical disability for the last ten years – and I am neurodiverse. I understand, firstly, the barriers that disabled people face at work, but also how easily these can be overcome. I wouldn’t call my mission to break down barriers a personal one so much, but just one that makes good business sense!

Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to keep banging the drum until disability is on the agenda in every boardroom – until the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people is closed for good.

Many people, whether disabled or not, who are advocating for inclusion in workplaces would likely say the same thing. Ensuring you welcome and develop disabled employees means unlocking talent and potential for your business.

It also gives businesses the benefit of understanding a greater range of viewpoints and approaches – and we know that it’s essential to remain dynamic and responsive to diverse groups of customers. Many of the most ubiquitous products and features started life as adjustments – dropped kerbs and electric toothbrushes, to name a couple – so working with disability in mind means working with everyone in mind.  


Despite the clear business case – and the fact that accessibility and reasonable adjustments are legal duties for employers – we still have to argue for disability inclusion. As many as one in five hiring managers are still less likely to hire disabled people, according to Leonard Cheshire’s 2021 research. That rises to 50% when it comes to hiring someone who is neurodiverse.

Hidden talent overlooked

The questions of why this might be and how to challenge these stances helped inform Michael Page’s recent e-book, Tapping into Hidden Talent


So many barriers ultimately come down to misconceptions, especially about the cost and ease of making workplace adjustments or changes to practice. It is true that some of these do require an investment (though financial contributions are available, such as through Access to Work). However, many are very straightforward, such as changed start times or home working, and cost little to nothing. Others, like captioning, for example, and using sans serif fonts, make resources and communications more accessible for all. This benefits both employees and clients.

The question of ‘how’ 

Employers might also be put off by the question of ‘how’ - the fear of not getting it right. Again, this was at the front of our minds when we put together Tapping into Hidden Talent. Hopefully, employers reading this can find some helpful pointers.  


Another source of support is specialists in disability inclusion. For example, we worked with Leonard Cheshire’s Training and Consultancy Team while producing the e-book. Support can include guidance with policies and strategies, bespoke training, and general know-how, as was the case with Tapping into Hidden Talent. 


Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to keep banging the drum until disability is on the agenda in every boardroom – until the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people is closed for good.