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David Webb: Some people can still tend to shy away from disability

Friday 11 December 2015

David Webb, the principal author of Acas new guide on preventing disability discrimination at work, offers some thoughts about why people can still be nervous about disability.

David Webb

David is a Writer/Editor at Acas and part of a team writing employment relations guidance for employers and employees.

David Webb

Generally, as a society, we're so much better than we used to be. Even so, people can still feel apprehensive and lack confidence around someone who has, or appears to have a disability.

So, in our politically correct world, why is this?

Perhaps, in part, it's because people can be unsure what disability means.

The overriding image that can come to mind is that of the wheelchair - and in our information-clogged lives often the thought process may not move much beyond that symbol.

Then, there's the nagging doubt that disability means much more than that. But then it becomes complicated, and so any continuing thought process may stop altogether.

And what disability really means is only the start of the matter. In fact, disability in law can cover a very wide range of conditions, and they are not all related to illness or visible to other people.

The next hurdle is the package of disability discrimination law in the Equality Act 2010 and the test cases. More complexity.

On top of all this, there can be our image-obsessed society's perception of people with a disability - where they are often seen foremost for their disability rather than for the talents and abilities they may possess. This was tempered by the amazing Paralympic Games in London in 2012  and the Invictus Games in London in 2014, but it seems we need regular reminders.

One of the latest has been chef Michel Roux Jr's admirable TV series, Kitchen Impossible, where he mentored eight out-of-work young adults with disabilities. He helped coach most of them into jobs, and said the series had opened his eyes to how much disabled staff can offer.

But such a happy ending is far less usual than it should be for people with a disability looking for a job. Government research has revealed that 42% of disabled people seeking work found the biggest barrier to getting hired was misconceptions about what they can do.

So, it would seem  more employers need to gain confidence to hire talented people who have a disability. Yes, the law can be complex, but the Equality Act is there to protect disabled people, and help employers prevent employees and job applicants being disadvantaged because of a disability.

With this in mind, Acas has just launched a new guide, pdf icon Disability discrimination: key points for the workplace [601kb]. In plain English, it explains the law, what legal terms mean, offers good practice advice and presents the subject in manageable sections.

In compiling the guide, I had the benefit of help, views and expertise from a very wide range of sources both inside and outside of Acas. They included employers, the CBI, the TUC, lawyers, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Government's Office for Disability Issues, and disability not-for-profit organisations and charities including the Disability Law Service, Disability Rights UK, Business Disability Forum, Macmillan Cancer Support and Evenbreak.

While I have gathered knowledge of the field in the past year, I realise that no one person can really 'know it all'. I'm just someone who - like many others - comes to the subject with maybe a fresh pair of eyes.

These are personal thoughts. I would be keen to hear yours - also, your views and experiences.


  • Posted by Di  |  14 March 2017, 7:27AM
    When using a wheelchair in a nursing home is it restraint to use the belt...
  • Posted by astrid wachenheimer  |  6 February 2016, 11:45AM

    I am registered disabled, claiming ESA, Support Group and has decided to work under the 16 hrs and earned upto £107.50.  I registered and fill in an application form, declaring my disabilities.  I asked that I should do light duties only, sorting letters and packages and no heavy work.  This is due to arthritis in my right shoulder and neck.  I was forced and intiminated to take out yorks at the sorting mail centre using my left side body, which causes bruises and pain as I cannot use my right side or push with both hands.  It  is obvious that I'm disabled.  I felt harrassed, intimindated and doing the work of two people.  For example,  on a very long conveyor belt I was sorting all the packages and parcels.  Then me and this male employee had a break.  I was then put onto something else.  I asked this person later on "Where you moved on".  He replied, "No, I worked with two young girls".  I realised then I was doing the work of two people, constantly stared at, and felt intiminated at all times.  The twist, is 22 years I was assaulted by one of their male employee which leads to my long term sickness.  I went back for closure, as I've no regrets.  They didn't want me to work there and said that if I can't performed all the duties, then Angard will have to know.  I never refused to take the yorks, out and I thought injuries should be reported?  I felt harrassed, intimidated, bullied, belittled, degraded with constant questions from everyone's "Who did I declared my disabilities to?"  This was deeply offensive to me, causing me additional distress.  I'm going to lodged in a complaint to my agency.  I find it strange that the agency didn't contact me informing me that I was dismissed. Just said I was signed off, which was not clear enough to me.  I received nothing in writing, no email. nothing.



  • Posted by Alison Wellemin  |  20 December 2015, 11:44PM

    Thank you Acas for your new guidance and David Webb for your interest in disability and employment. Pleased to see 'Kitchen Impossible' mentioned as my daughter had a wonderful experience being on the show! Hope it will inspire other employers to give people with disabilities a chance.There are still so many barriers to overcome so really good to see Acas promoting debate on this matter.


  • Posted by Alan  |  11 December 2015, 3:55PM


    very interesting read, currently having issues around working from home and after OH have advised work that it would help me maintain in employment.

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