Why don’t more companies readily recruit the disabled?

My preface to this investigation is that some of the figures, the latest available, are not recent. I have no problem in using them since their age is crucial – if figures for the percentages of global populations’ disabled people who are in work or not, are not very recent – many of those figures from renowned organisations – what does that say about the debatable lack of interest globally in actively seeking out those with disabilities, to work?

In 2016 the World Bank’s research suggested that “One billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries. One-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities”.

The Bank is unusual in reporting this recently – the vast majority of recent data available are from 2011.

In 2011, the International Labour Organization (ILO) stated that “as the population of the world approaches 7 billion people, 3 billion are employed and 205 million are unemployed”.

There were, as you would expect, significant demographic and country variations. I think for the purposes of here we will stick with the so-called “developed world”. Why? Because large areas of the world which are subject to mass famine, prolonged conflict, very short average lifespan and grinding poverty all skew the figures – people in those areas would have significantly greater employment opportunities, assuming appropriate political and peaceful infrastructure.

I have, further, extrapolated the world’s 3 largest economies: the USA, China and (whole of) Europe – this because they also have statistically the lowest proportion of conflict zones in the world.

“Disabled World”, an organisation which collects data from US disability organizations and Government departments advised that in 2011 the USA had 36 million people who have at least one disability, about 12 percent of the total U.S. population. In 2016, the “National Population Investigation” reported (via the World Health Organisation) that there are 82.96 million disabled people in China; most of these live in poverty. In 2014, The European Union Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity advised that retrospective research outlined that in 2002, 38% of the disabled people aged 16-34 across Europe had an earned income, compared to 64% of non-disabled people and that 75% of people with severe disabilities did not have the opportunity to fully participate in the European labour market.
So as at 2014 out of a 3-group population of 2.419 billion, approximately 676 million disabled people are not in work. Why? It is only fair I look at it from both sides.

Employers may not wish to actively (the key word in all of this) seek disabled prospective employees for valid reasons, albeit some fed by preconceptions:

  • They are less productive than non-disabled people
  • They are more likely to leave
  • They take more sick leave
  • It portrays a positive image (when of course the opposite is true)
  • We won’t find disabled people with the skills we need
  • Equally, some disabled people may not work for reasons valid to them – but again often fed by their own preconceptions
  • They feel there is limited or no access to the average workplace
  • They believe employers will find them comparatively expensive
  • They think that colleagues may feel aggrieved if they feel their disabled work partner is less productive
  • They have their own confidence issues: what if I can’t contribute as much, be as flexible? And more

We have, I believe, 2 over-arching areas we need to tackle in this: (1) the cultural differences between our 3 groups and (2) how to reduce – you’ll never eradicate – the preconceived notions of both disabled and able-bodied (which, we need to accept, are largely not in their collective imaginations but based on what’s happened for very many years).
I propose a few pointers. I am never going to be arrogant enough to suggest they have never previously been mooted but I would strongly suggest they have never been SHOUTED about by both “sides”. No, not shouted about – SHOUTED about.

-The United Nations’ Division for Social Policy and Development Disability has an active 2016 calendar: 14 “Observances” and 26 “Events”. Of those, 18 are for only 1 day. What proportion of the attendees are disabled and was anyone openly invited by local in-country paper or radio, or available-to-all online (Facebook?)? How much or often does the world’s largest peace and security organisation challenge – hard – governments not to make pledges but to deliver the goods – and then measure the delivery? The UN’s own site lists 33 “Programmes and Funds”, “Specialized Agencies” and “Related Organizations”. Nowhere in the headlines does the word disability appear.

-Local, regional, country and continent bodies made up of the disabled need to aggressively seek out funds from key sources and SHOUT about their requirements, protest en masse, become much more vocal in their demand – not request – for equal rights. I can recall no occasion on which I have heard of such a protest and I have watched the BBC’s flagship news for 30 years. Can that level of publicity be achieved? No? Think of Band Aid and ask yourself. The UN’s own “CONVENTION on the RIGHTS of PERSONS with DISABILITIES” starts with the world “preamble” – says it all really – and in its very long list of points, there is not one mention of penalties with specifics or detail given, for those failing to bring about sustainable, flexible and aggressively pursued legislation. There is a great deal of “recognizing”, “recalling” and “considering.”

-The multiple support standalone organisations in each of our three global areas which, we don’t doubt, have the best of intentions and do good work, are too regional. They need to be funded – wholly not partly – by the countries’ governments and be brought together several times annually in very large numbers to hold their respective governments to account publicly – and why not legislate so that the major broadcasters must all fully cover these events? It’s not hard.

-Agreed all-areas of employment law should dictate that every school, university and workplace has a period of induction dedicated to nothing other than disability discrimination, rights, incentives, workplace limitations – (sic) “what it’s like to be a disabled person seeking work”. Let’s move away from individual, small-scale “we’re making great progress in our community” adventures and bring to the forefront a developing ethos of “you will accept that disabled people can – not just should have the right – work as well as all non-disabled. What’s going to be stronger in the 21st century than a large number of woken-up inductees taking to social media and their class / workmates to discuss disability at work – as a positive thing.

Bottom line for me: the disabled – in the broad sense, I accept that: circumstances vary – have experienced things that (thankfully) most of us don’t. Does it make them less capable? No, it makes them – out of necessity – resilient, flexible, communicative, both sympathetic and empathetic, determined and prepared to go the extra mile.

Any employer with an ounce of commercial sense who heard from a recruiter, or saw on a CV, that the candidate has those qualities, would snap them up in a second. Make access mandatory and their disability becomes an irrelevance.

Nigel Benson (10 Posts)

Nigel Benson is a professional career sector specialist with over 12 years' experience writing executive level CVs and expertise in recruitment, job interviews and training.

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1 Comment

  1. Paul Hichens

    Thank you for your article Nigel this is also very interesting, and you make some very good points. I’ve also written about discrimination in the workplace, and unfortunately does seem like this is something that persists. Hopefully the tide will turn, and sooner rather than later. From a company perspective I would like to add that even though we are a relatively small company with a small group of select staff, two of our ex-members are disabled. Both of these did an excellent job, and were very reliable, talented and highly skilled. It actually pretty rare that a team member leaves us, but both left because they wanted a change in direction; one to pursue another creative avenue, and the other so she could work with the disabled. We certainly wouldn’t have any hesitation in employing disabled staff again in the future. The main thing we look for is outstanding talent – and there are a lot of very talented disabled people out there.