Greater action still needed on workplace adjustments for disabled people

Findings from a new and extensive survey on workplace adjustments will be announced today (25 April) at the Business Disability Forum’s annual conference in London. Based on the views of over 1,200 respondents, The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey provides a detailed and up-to-date picture of what is and isn’t working when it comes to making and managing adjustments; how effective  workplace adjustments are, and how far everyone who needs adjustments has them in place.

A not-for-profit membership organisation, Business Disability Forum sought the views of employees and managers working with adjustments to compile what it believes to be one of the most informed pieces of research available on the subject.

The findings show that almost three quarters (73 per cent) of respondents working with disabilities or conditions who had adjustments in place felt that the arrangements had made a positive difference, removing some of the barriers they experience in workplace. However, only 19 per cent of respondents with adjustments in place felt they had helped to remove all workplace barriers.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Concerns over the perceptions of their employer and the reactions of colleagues are some of the key reasons for not requesting adjustments[/perfectpullquote]

The survey raises questions about whether the types of support in place are meeting the needs of employees who have been through the process and secured adjustments. Of all survey respondents with disabilities or conditions who are already working with workplace adjustments, under half (44 per cent) said that they had all the adjustments they needed.

Another 27 per cent had requested other or alternative adjustments that were not yet in place, and 29 per cent had considered them but decided not to request them. Concerns over the perceptions of their employer and the reactions of colleagues were identified as some of the key reasons for not requesting additional or new adjustments.


The case for improvements

In terms of the process itself, whilst it is working well for some, the experiences of respondents with disabilities or conditions and adjustments in place showed instances where improvements could be made:

• The frequency in which respondents had conversations about the effectiveness of adjustments was not as high as Business Disability Forum would advise with 15 per cent saying that they never had these conversations and 3 in 10 (30 per cent) saying they happened once a year or less often.

• The waiting time for adjustments to be put in place, from the initial conservation, showed some signs of improvement on observations made by Business Disability Forum five years ago. Whilst 50 per cent had waited less than three months for adjustments to be put in place and another 20 per cent between three and six months, almost three in ten (27 per cent) were waiting more than 6 months for their adjustments to be put in place (of which, 8 per cent had been waiting over two years).

• Over half of the respondents mentioned that they had experienced difficulties in the process.

• When asked about the future and based on their experience, only three out of ten (30 per cent) respondents were confident their employers would ‘definitely’ respond to adjustment requests, if needed.

The findings also highlighted the need for adjustments to be given greater priority by the board and leadership teams. Approximately a third (32 per cent) of respondents with managerial or supervisory responsibilities agreed strongly that adjustments and support or staff with a disability or long term conditions was a priority at board or senior management level in their organisations. A further 33 per cent agreed slightly and three in ten (30 per cent) actually disagreed. The remaining 7 per cent didn’t know.


An enduring challenge

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum, said: “We were overwhelmed by the response we received to our workplace adjustments survey. This shows how incredibly important the topic of adjustments is. The survey reveals that, when in place, adjustments can have a significant and positive impact on the workplace experiences of disabled people or people with long term conditions.

“Yet, our findings also suggest that at present far too many people do not have any or all the adjustments they need. Many respondents are still worried about asking for adjustments to be put in place, despite feeling that they would benefit from such arrangements. Employees are worried, not just about how their manager would react to them having adjustments, but how other colleagues would as well. It is concerning that this includes many people who have asked for adjustments previously.

“Whilst waiting times for adjustments appear to have improved, managers are still not speaking to colleagues enough about arrangements put in place and whether they are effective. The findings also highlight the need to change attitudes towards disability at senior management and board level.

“If we wish to increase the number of disabled people and people with long term conditions entering into and remaining in employment, then getting it right on workplace adjustments is vital. The findings published today are just a starting point. Over the coming months we will be looking at how we can use the findings to influence the advice we give to businesses and Government, and to demonstrate the need for additional research to be carried out on this very important topic.”