Disabled people in the workplace and education - your questions answered

After a recent webinar about tips and tools for supporting disabled people in work and education, we received a lot of questions through to the chat and Q&A windows, many of which we ran out of time to answer on the live session.

So, to ensure we address all your questions, presenters on the webinar, Rabia Lemahieu of Disability Rights UK, and Adam Tweed from AbilityNet, have answered some of the remaining questions below. Question topics include bringing up a disability in job interviews, and adjustments employers need to make for employees with visual impairments.

Missed the webinar?

You can access the recording here, and download a transcript and slidedeck from our webinar page.

Please note: Rabia Lemahieu has provided an amended response to the question posed within the Q&A section of the webinar: Do those in voluntary positions have the same rights as those in paid positions? Access the full response on the webinar playback page.

Question: If the educational institution doesn't provide assistive technology, what action can a visually impaired person take against the institution?

Answer: Every university is subject to the Equality Act 2010 and as such cannot discriminate against a student due to disability. That said, there is a difference between ensuring courses and course materials are accessible and providing assistive technology itself (i.e. ensuring a website can be read by a screenreader is different from giving a student a laptop with a screenreader in order to access the website). However, most universities will go out of their way to help so do contact your university's disability support team, as you may be able to borrow equipment or access additional funds. You may also be eligible for Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) funding and we encourage you to check this out. If you believe you have exhausted all options then your university will have a complaints procedure you can then access. 

The Right to Participate project aims to increase awareness of the Equality Act, especially the ways it can protect disabled people from discrimination in everyday situations. It includes information about the Equality Act and ways you can assert your rights. There are links to template complaint letters and videos illustrating how disabled people have campaigned to improve participation and made changes through other legal processes. You can also contact the Disabled Students helpline for more information: 0330 995 0414 or email: students@disabilityrightsuk.org

Q: As a disabled postgraduate student, could you give me some advice on bringing up my disability in job interviews? 

A: This is always difficult as the recruitment process should not discriminate against you under the Equality Act 2010, but we know that lived experience and attitudes may differ. In terms of ‘bringing up’ a disability it’s your choice, but at interview you can make a call as to whether you think it is relevant to what you are being asked or the task you might be required to do, or if you think the employer might need to make an adjustment for you at interview (including health and safety considerations).

More broadly, recognise the skills you are bringing to a job and don't waste time with employers who can’t see past the disability. Do a bit of research on the companies that you are thinking of applying to work for, see if they are reporting to be ‘disability confident’, see what their public perception is like in terms of inclusion and decide whether you think it would be the type of place you would like to work. In terms of work experience, volunteer work is another thing to consider as you job hunt. 

Remember that employers should ask candidates whether they need any 'reasonable adjustments' or 'access requirements' for any part of the recruitment process. 

Five tips for disabled jobseekers video:

Q: My son is doing a nursing apprenticeship. He doesn’t have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) because it is higher level. He doesn’t have a Disabled Student Allowance because it is an apprenticeship. The Open University (OU) hasn't been forthcoming with support. Where should he go for support? 

A: OU is typically very good at supporting a diverse group of learners, but as a huge institution experiences will vary. Levels of available support will also be dependent on your son's specific needs and the evidence required to demonstrate this. Access to Work will be able to provide funding to an employer to support them with providing reasonable adjustments, providing your son meets the eligibility criteria. These resources should help:

Q: What adjustments will an employer need to make under the Equality Act when employing a disabled or visually impaired person? What AbilityNet services may help me get into employment with my visual impairment?

A: If your employer knows you’re disabled, they have a duty to make changes to any working arrangements that disadvantage you. Everybody is different, and it is good practice for an employer to ask if any employee needs support to do their job or to improve their work. There are some obvious steps employers can take such as removing obstacles in the workplace or providing support for a new employee to become familiar with their environment. The employee could also apply to Access to Work for additional support they may need.

You can check the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Code of Practice on Employment for guidance on possible adjustments. There are also examples in the guide on proving disability and reasonable adjustments.

AbilityNet is a charity that provides advice to disabled people on how technology can be used to remove barriers. As such, we don’t provide any direct services to help you get into employment, but we do have many free resources on our website and a helpline telephone number that you can contact that can let you know the sorts of technology that might help you: 0800 269 545.

Q: What protection is there for people who are self-employed and dependent on bidding for contracts or competing with others for work?

Question continued: Why should employers accept someone with disabilities and all the possible complications involved when they can employ someone else without any hassle? This is the situation in the self-employed/freelance/independent sector. My advice to anyone who is self-employed is to make sure you have sickness insurance. I didn't. I never imagined I would need it. As an independent, self-employed person you have limited access to support - practical and emotional - that you would find if you were employed by someone on a permanent basis.

A: Thank you for your question. Unfortunately the point you raise is a very real one and disabled people who are self-employed are often at even greater risk of the covert discrimination that you highlight. Attitudes are slowly changing, not fast enough. But voicing the issue, bringing it to people's attention in terms of the human impact is what drives the change. We also appreciate you sharing your advice to others in your position and hope you have found the support you need.

Direct discrimination is unlawful. Being proactive (having all the information about what support is available to do a particular job might help to demonstrate you can do the job just as well as anyone else when you have the right support. The Right to Participate project can help. Consider and highlight in your bid that disability as an asset – there are disabled people who are very successful in business/sport/etc.

A video of employers sharing why they employ disabled people:

Q: If I face discrimination at work due to my disability, what action could I take, for example, under the Equality Act 2010?

A: The Right to Participate project aims to increase awareness of the Equality Act, especially the ways it can protect disabled people from discrimination in everyday situations. It includes information about the Equality Act and ways you can assert your rights in employment, if you’re facing a problem at work, or even just applying for a job. There are links to template complaint letters and videos illustrating how disabled people have campaigned to improve participation and made changes through other legal processes.

Q: Are there videos that illustrate some changes that are made in work environments, to help encourage others to make reasonable adjustments?

A: Two apprenticeship videos from Disability Rights UK:

Q: Some employees view reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the workplace as preferential treatment and this can become awkward or lead to resentment/confusion from other colleagues. How can a line manager can address this?

A: Management could tackle this with awareness training and develop a diversity and equality policy which includes information on disability. 

Q: Is there a data protection issue with voice assistants? These apparently are or can be monitored remotely.

A: This is a very modern and understandable concern, but in order to ‘train’ voice assistants you need samples of things people say in the real world; the companies should’ve been clear about this, but the press has made it seem like people have been tuning in to listen and that’s simply not the case (we hope!). Essentially you have to make the choice between what voice assistants offer in terms of convenience versus what they may cost in terms of privacy and if you’re not comfortable then you shouldn’t feel required to use them. In the example within  the webinar, it was just an innovative option that McDonald's was exploring that may suit some people, but there are alternatives available. 

Screenshot of slide from webinar about tools to help disabled people in work and educationPlease can you provide a list of useful free apps mentioned in presentation?

Resources referenced during the webinar

Sources of statistics mentioned within the presentation: