AbilityNet Factsheet - March 2024

Disability and Employment

There are more than 4.4 million disabled people in work. (Labour force survey October to December 2020)

This factsheet summarises the steps employers can take to recruit and support people with an impairment or long-term health condition in work. It also highlights the range of high quality paid for and free services that AbilityNet provides to help disabled people succeed at work. Employing disabled people is good for business. It can help you to:

• draw on a much broader talent pool
• employ and retain high quality staff who are skilled, loyal and hard working
• improve employee morale and reduce absence through sickness
• create a diverse workforce that more closely reflects your range of customers and the community where you operate.

Under the law, there can also be serious penalties for treating someone less favourably because of a personal characteristic, such as being disabled.

Learn how to harness the power of technology to support inclusive recruitment across your organisation:'How to do accessible, inclusive recruitment' training course.

Last updated: March 2024

1. What is disability? 


The Equality Act 2010 states that a person has a disability if:

  • they have a physical or mental impairment
  • the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities.

Abilitynet recommends defining disability using The Social Model of

Disability. Disability charity Scope defines the Social Model in the statement below:

“People are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people's attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can't do certain things.

The social model helps us recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people. Removing these barriers creates equality and offers disabled people more independence, choice and control.”

By identifying barriers and being flexible and creative to remove them, it is in the vast majority of cases possible to enable everyone to participate and engage.

Being inclusive and accessible is good for an organisation too. In a study by Accenture, the organisations that prioritised disability inclusion had on average, 28% higher revenue, 2 x higher net income and 30% higher economic profit margins.

Disability Discrimination

There is also a legal requirement to take action to remove barriers for disabled employees. Under the Equality Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee because of a disability, either directly or indirectly. Direct discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently and less well than other people because of their disability. Indirect discrimination can arise when a workplace rule, practice or procedure is applied to all employees but disadvantages those who are disabled.

Any employee who feels they have been discriminated against may take their claim to an employment tribunal – if they have been unable to resolve the issue with their employer informally.

2. What should employers do? 

 The Equality Act places a duty on employers to ensure that disabled employees are able to perform effectively. If necessary, an employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that disabled job applicants or employees are not disadvantaged by their workplace or working practices.

Disabled members of staff should enjoy equal access to everything involved in doing their job and progressing at work as any non-disabled colleague. Employers therefore need to make any reasonable adjustments that may be required. They should also have rules and procedures in place to prevent disability discrimination in every aspect of employment, including:

  • recruitment and selection
  • determining pay, terms and conditions
  • managing sickness absence
  • training, development and promotion
  • redundancy and dismissal.

3. What are reasonable adjustments? 

There are myriad ways that employers can make reasonable adjustments to ensure that their disabled job applicants and employees are not disadvantaged. Any adjustments required do not have to cost a lot of money, and what may be deemed reasonable will depend in part on the size and nature of the organisation.

Making reasonable adjustments involves taking steps to remove or prevent the obstacles a disabled job applicant or worker faces. It could include:

  • adapting the workplace or the working environment
  • removing physical barriers
  • making some changes to how work is organised
  • ensuring that information is provided in accessible formats
  • modifying or acquiring equipment – including assistive digital technology
  • offering specialist training and support
  • providing more flexible employment – including part-time hours and a phased return to work.


It is often more efficient to focus on removing barriers for everyone rather than addressing this on a case-by-case basis. This places less responsibility on individuals to disclose a disability and negotiate individual reasonable adjustments and also demonstrates your commitment and understanding of the needs of all staff.


Continued advances in digital technology mean that an increasing range of assistive devices, hardware and software is now available to help disabled employees overcome potential barriers and succeed in work.


4. Recruiting disabled people 

 Employers must not discriminate against disabled people at any stage of the recruitment process, from advert to selection. They should employ the best person for the job based on their application and performance at interview.

In recruiting new staff, employers must not ask about a job applicant’s health until they have been offered a job, except to:

  • find out whether they need any reasonable adjustments during the recruitment process
  • find out if they can carry out an essential function of the job
  • monitor (anonymously) applications received from disabled people.

Employers who are signed up to the Government’s Disability Confident scheme can use the Disability Confident symbol on adverts to show that they encourage applications from disabled people. Information about how to become a Disability Confident employer is available online. AbilityNet are Disability Confident leaders and can help you on your disability confident journey.

AbilityNet provide expert resources about recruiting disabled people, from free advice to online training and webinars

You may be interested in our online training course: How to do accessible, inclusive recruitment

Attend our online training course to learn how to post job openings, interview candidates and offer jobs with accessibility and inclusion in mind. 


5. Employing disabled people  

Making reasonable adjustments 

Employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure their disabled employees can overcome any substantial disadvantages they may have doing their jobs and progressing at work.

Different people will need different adjustments, even if they appear to have similar impairments. Government guidance on Employing disabled people and people with health conditions includes information on how different specific conditions can affect people. It also gives related examples of potentially helpful adjustments that employers could quite easily make for staff with such impairments.

Making reasonable adjustments is also about understanding the experiences of people living with different disabilities and impairments. This is about two- way communication and training.  AbilityNet’s ‘Don’t Disable Me’ training series is led by individuals with lived experience to help explain workplace barriers and solutions. AbilityNet also has an eLearning option ‘The Accessible Workplace’ which provides the same information in a self-paced package which can also be used as a useful reference guide when supporting others.

6. How do you create a workplace that is inclusive by design? 


Whilst there is a duty to make reasonable adjustments for individuals, much can be done to create a workplace that has accessibility and disability inclusion as core elements of its working practices.

By evaluating the stages in the employee journey, you can provide flexibility and options at each stage that will reduce the need for individual reasonable adjustments and improve the work environment for everyone. Some stages to consider are: recruitment, onboarding, individual ways of working, teamwork and collaboration, meetings, performance and career development and customer facing activities.

AbilityNet’s Employee Inclusion Journey Gap Analysis and associated Workplace Inclusion Training series provide support and guidance to achieve this.

 7. How do you assess individual needs? 


Whilst many adjustments can be made available as standard, no two people are exactly the same and, when it comes to reasonable adjustments, one size does not fit all. The various ways and extent someone may be affected by different impairments are unique to them, their workplace environment, and the particular demands of their role.

It is advisable to have a standard process at recruitment and onboarding stages to evaluate the needs of the individual to be able to perform at their best. To share the standard adjustments that are available to choose from and to identify anything further that would be helpful.

Most disabled people will have some ideas already about what helps them to perform at their best. They may also appreciate the opportunity to consider other options that could help them. 

Tools are available to help you with this. Applicants and employees can fill out a Clear Talents profile which generates an easy-to-use report that can be used by employers to understand the adjustments that are required. If further advice is required, you can tap into the support of expert practitioners such as those found in AbilityNet’s workplace assessment team. They can work with your employee and yourselves to make recommendations for equipment, support and other adjustments that will help.  


How much will it all cost

Many reasonable adjustments cost little or nothing to make. Free and easy changes can be made utilising existing hardware and software, or by making simple alterations to work patterns or responsibilities.

Practical advice on how to achieve the optimum setup for your computing equipment is available on My Computer My Way.

This covers all the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone, and all the main operating systems – Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android. You can use it for free at www.mycomputermyway.com

Access to Work

Where reasonable adjustments are more costly, help for employers may be available under the government’s Access to Work programme. This can assist with the cost of providing an individual with required support or adaptations. Grant support can be provided for:

  • special aids and equipment (including adaptations)
  • travel to and from work
  • communications support, at interviews, and in work.


Specialist advice 

Getting the most out of assistive technology often requires receiving adequate training. Employees also need sufficient opportunity to become familiar and proficient with new products. Generally, training is most effective when it is spread over time and specifically geared towards the individual and their particular circumstances and requirements. AbilityNet has a range of workplace accessibility training that can help.


8. Useful contacts 



Acas publishes extensive help and guidance for employers and employees on all aspects of disability discrimination at www.acas.org.uk 

It also operates a free and confidential helpline providing impartial advice for employers, employees or representatives. The number is 0300 123 1100. 

Business Disability Forum 

The Business Disability Forum is a not-for-profit member organisation that makes it easier and more rewarding to do business with and employ disabled people. It aims to build disability-smart organisations to enhance participation and improve business performance. 

For more information, visit www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/ 


Disability Confident employer scheme 

Guidance and resources about employing disabled people and how the Disability Confident employer scheme can help businesses are available at www.gov.uk/government/collections/disability-confident-campaign 


Disability Rights UK 

Disability Rights UK works and campaigns to create a society where everyone can participate equally. 

Its factsheet on careers and work for disabled people can be downloaded from www.disabilityrightsuk.org/careers-and-work-disabled-people 


Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) 

The EHRC is Great Britain’s national equality body. It aims to safeguard and enforce the laws that protect people’s rights to fairness, dignity and respect. The EHRC publishes extensive guidance to help people understand their rights and responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. For information about disability discrimination visit www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/disability-discrimination 


Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 

The HSE states that health and safety legislation should not prevent disabled people finding or staying in employment. It should not be used as a false excuse to justify discriminating against disabled workers. 

HSE guidance helps those employing disabled people to understand their health and safety responsibilities. Guidance for both employers and employees can be downloaded from www.hse.gov.uk/disability/index.htm 


Evenbreak's Career Hive and Jobs board 

Evenbreak's Career Hive is free careers service for disabled candidates, designed and run by disabled people.  

It offers relevant and accessible careers support specifically for disabled people looking for work. 

Search for jobs on its specialist job board. 





How AbilityNet can help you

How to do accessible, inclusive recruitment

Attend our online training course to learn how to post job openings, interview candidates and offer jobs with accessibility and inclusion in mind. 

My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is an AbilityNet run website packed with articles explaining how to use the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone. The site is routinely updated as new features and changes are made to the Windows, MacOS, iOS, Chrome OS and Android operating systems. The site is broken down into the following sections:

  • Vision – computer adjustments to do with vision and colour

  • Hearing – computer adjustments to do with hearing, communication and speech

  • Motor – computer adjustments to do mobility, stamina and dexterity

  • Cognitive – computer adjustments to do with attention, learning and memory

Use it for free at mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk

Advice and information

If you have any questions please contact us at AbilityNet and we will do all we can to help.

  • Call: 0300 180 0028
    Please note: calls to our helpline number cost no more than a national rate call to an 01 or 02 number and count towards any inclusive minutes in the same way as 01 and 02 calls, and AbilityNet does not receive any money from these calls.

  • Email: enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk

IT support at Home

If you’re looking for in-person support, you can book a free visit from one of our disclosure-checked volunteers. Many of our volunteers are former IT professionals who give their time to help older people and people with disabilities to use technology to achieve their goals. Our friendly volunteers can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones.



Copyright information

This factsheet is licensed by AbilityNet under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. View a copy of this license at creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

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