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Gill Dix: Good old fashioned accessibility

Friday 27 January 2017

Gill Dix, Head of Strategy provides her thoughts on the Acas East Midlands event on Improving Lives Green Paper.

Gill Dix Gill Dix

Gill Dix, Head of Strategy at Acas.




Asked about the greatest obstacles to getting one million more disabled people into work, it's perhaps not surprising that accessibility to buildings still gets mentioned a lot. That's making buildings accessible for employees, prospective employees and clients.

At a recent Acas event in Nottingham, hosted by East Midlands Director Kate Nowicki, a mix of 40 employers, unions and local stakeholders got together to debate the Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Health Green Paper 'Improving Lives'.

But the event also highlighted much deeper rooted issues of accessibility than stairs and toilets, reflecting as much on the characteristics of the modern workplace as the questions set out in the Green Paper.

  • Methods of recruitment based exclusively on electronics systems can be a barrier. A delegate cited that as many as 50% of his clients with disabilities didn't have access to the internet. The solution isn't cut and dry. Acas' own research on pdf icon Neurodiversity at work [619kb] found that technology was both an enabler and a barrier to employment, depending on the individual circumstances. And other recruitment methods, such as testing during interviews, were also found to work for and against neurodiverse applicants. Employers, it seems, need to think twice about how best to recruit and it's likely that mixed methods will offer the widest access.
  • Modern contracts: the much debated gig economy was also flagged. The dynamics of modern contractual arrangements are becoming well rehearsed, as commentators consider the trade-offs between the flexibility and insecurity that non-standard contracts can bring to businesses and individuals. This kind of uncertainty can clearly be tough for people reliant on physical support to access work, for those whose income interacts with benefits, and for those who are psychologically less suited to uncertainty. No doubt the current Taylor Review of workplace practices will uncover more on these dynamics.
  • Workplace practices: accessibility is clearly not just about the physical match between individuals and jobs. The fit is also psychological. Two factors seem especially crucial. The first is attitudes and support: in particular leaders and line managers having a 'can do' attitude, rather than a problem focussed one when it comes to employing and engaging disabled workers. Second, and perhaps most overlooked is the need to give due consideration to the management of day to day interactions. Acas own research on pdf icon The Management of Mental Health at Work [601kb] reveals how particular workplace issues, like performance management, conflict handling and organisational change can create particular challenges.

It's two decades plus since the Disability Discrimination Act really raised the game on accessibility. As the modern workplace evolves, so does the complexity of what makes work accessible, in the broadest sense. The question of accessibility has become as much entwined with workplace practices and human psychology as it has with physical barriers. We need to think very carefully about how we can make the workplace not only accessible, but also an enabling and enriching place for those with long term health conditions.

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