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Improve disability inclusion with ‘adjustment audits’

Amy Hextell tells HRNews how disability adjustment audits can help with legal compliance and inclusivity issues

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  • Transcript

    Two in five disabled employees are not receiving the reasonable adjustments they need from their employer. A survey of 400 workers, conducted by Pearn Kandola has found that 27% of individuals who had disclosed their disability to their employer said they were not receiving the adjustments they needed.
    People Management reports on this with various experts urging employers to ask all employees if any adjustments are needed to ‘normalise’ the process and reduce stigma. They quote Jonathan Taylor, managing psychologist at Pearn Kandola, who says the research has showed the need for businesses to raise awareness of disability, of different conditions and, critically, of the practical adjustments that can be offered to colleagues with disabilities. He calls on employers to simplify the process of requesting adjustments.

    Personnel Today’s headline is: ‘Don’t forget workers with disabilities in your D&I efforts’, flagging that too often diversity initiatives fail to focus on workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They say that given that remote working is now the norm, there are growing imperatives to ensure fairness in employment and recruitment and the role that digitisation can play in that. They say: ‘managers should have open and honest communication with candidates to ensure appropriate equipment and technology is in place and roles and responsibilities can be adapted for their needs’.

    We agree with that and it’s what we have been telling our clients for some time. Amy Hextell has been at the forefront of the advice we have been giving on this subject and she joined me by video-link from the Birmingham office to discuss it:

    Amy Hextell: “We've seen a lot of talk about disability inclusion over the course of the pandemic and with the launch of the National Disability Strategy from the government there's a real focus on digital inclusion, which is including things like assistive and accessible technology, but also looking at ways in which we can support employees with disabilities to engage in a new world of working. I know it's not the case for everybody, but lots of people now are working in a different way where technology is a much greater part of their day to day experience and for those with disabilities this can be a real benefit because it does mean that they are able to engage in the world of work in a much more straightforward manner. It's not a panacea, absolutely. It's not a substitute for making changes to the physical world of work which are necessary. There is also a word of warning around the use of technology with those that have particular needs because it needs to be appropriate for their individual needs. So for example, the use of captioning, or transcripts, on certain software platforms is great but actually for those that perhaps use British sign language, or those with neurodiverse conditions who struggle to process information in that way, it probably isn't removing the disadvantage that they suffer. So there's lots of scope for technology and digital transformation to support disabled employees in the world of work but there is a word of caution around making sure that it's appropriately in place for their needs and I think that is where employers need to be putting a bit of time and effort into exploring that.”

    Joe Glavina: “In the last few weeks this subject has been getting a lot of press attention – a lot of talk about home working and new technologies. What’s the legal imperative here for employers?”

    Amy Hextell: “The reason this is particularly important at the moment for employers is because there very firmly is still a duty to make reasonable adjustments which is placed very firmly on employers. It's not incumbent on employees to be raising these issues with employers, it's a duty that the employer has to discharge when they're aware that an employee has a disability and they are placed at a disadvantage. So I think now is a really good opportunity now that things are perhaps settling down slightly in respect of the pandemic and we're all well versed in the use of technology. It's an opportunity now for employers to be meeting on an individual basis with disabled employees to understand how they're working, whether that's working well for them, whether the adjustments that are already in place are still appropriate, or whether there might be other adjustments that are necessary. Those other adjustments might be, for example, things that are associated with the use of technology. I think things have moved on so much in that space over the course of the last couple of years that there are probably things employers could, and should, be doing now to meet that legal duty to make adjustments in respect to providing software and technology solutions that perhaps wouldn't have been reasonable pre-pandemic. So it's a really important thing to be looking at and it's something we're talking to clients a lot about.”

    Joe Glavina: “So what’s your message to employers, Amy? What should they be doing?”

    Amy Hextell: “I think one of the things that employers can be doing, and part of that, is having conversations with individuals, but it's carrying out adjustment audits which are where an employer will sit down with an employee, as I said, explaining and looking at adjustments that are in place and the way that the employee is working but, perhaps, in a more methodical way, looking at what tasks the employee does, how they may disadvantage that particular disabled employee, and how they may overcome that disadvantage and what adjustments might be reasonable, or not, in the circumstances. I think another area within adjustment audits and something that employers can be doing is looking at their recruitment practices because there's lots of data and survey response out there to suggest that particularly those with neurodiverse conditions are put at a disadvantage by traditional recruitment practices and part of an audit that an employer needs to do around adjustments - because, of course, the legal duty applies not only to employees but also to potential applicants, and to potential employees - is to audit those recruitment practices to see whether there are ways in which they could be adapted to remove disadvantage that disabled people may face. So that might, for example, be forgoing the need for a formal interview, or certainly an interview in person, and instead using technology to assess whether somebody is the best person for the role.”

    On the subject of disability inclusion, a reminder that the government has published a consultation looking at workforce reporting on disability, aimed at large employers, those with 250 employees or more. It follows on from the National Disability Strategy, which Amy mentioned, which was published in July last year, aimed at improving the experience of people with disabilities not just in work but across all aspects of life. Last month Amy talked to this programme about that consultation and the steps employers can take to become more disability inclusive. That programme is ‘Disability workplace reporting review underway’ and is available for viewing now from the Outlaw website.

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