Top disability-friendly employers in the UK
When it comes to growing your career, a disability shouldn’t be a barrier. Although there is a gap in employment levels between disabled and non-disabled people, that gap is thankfully shrinking, and the number of disabled people in employment in the UK has increased by 46.5% since 2013.
Knowing about inclusive employment practices and what’s available to you in the workplace as a person with a disability can make all the difference in your job search.
There are companies of all shapes and sizes across many different sectors that are leading the way when it comes to disability employment in the UK. Here are some of the more well-known names:
- Lloyds Banking Group
- Channel 4
- Environment Agency
- UK Athletics
- Network Rail
- Greene King
In this article, we’ll also detail what to look for when it comes to assessing how well an employer might treat and support you on the job. We’ll also share some of the top disability-friendly employers in the UK who are going the extra mile to promote acceptance and inclusion within the workplace.
Disability-confident employers - what to look out for
Firstly, it’s essential to know your rights when it comes to working and becoming employed. The Equality Act of 2010 says it’s against the law for an employer to discriminate against you because of a disability.
That applies to everything from your job application and interviews to pay, promotion, being let go as well as retirement. All of this also applies if you become disabled while working too.
Further to this, employers need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace to ensure you’re successful in your role.
The law is clear. Sadly, research shows that disabled people are still twice as likely to be unemployed compared to a non-disabled person. Despite this, companies across the country are working hard to break down barriers and offer more jobs for disabled people. Some of these are beginning to make strides, as we’ll outline below.
It’s something they’ll want to continue to invest in too; if an extra one million disabled people were working, that would equate to a 45 million pound boost to the economy. Now, that’s not short change.
Nearly every employer claims to be an ‘equal opportunities employer’, but some go much further than others. So what should you look out for to determine whether a company you’re interested in is inclusive (or, still has some work to do)? Here are a few good indicators:
- Are they a member of the Business Disability Forum (or BDF)?
- While an employer can still operate inclusively without credentialing, being a member of the BDF is a good sign they’re taking this responsibility seriously.
- Do they have an accreditation from Disability Confident?
- This is a government scheme designed to encourage employers to recruit people with disabilities. There are three levels: committed, employer and leader, with the first two being self-assessed, and ‘leader’ requiring external assessment.
- You’ll be guaranteed an interview if you meet the minimum requirements for the job. You can search job vacancies from Disability Confident Employers on the DWP website.
- Do they have workplace assistance in place?
- The organisation should be able to make adjustments during the recruitment process and on the job for you to have the best shot at success.
- Do they have any disability-related awards?
- Such as the RIDI Awards, Inclusive Employer Awards or National Diversity Awards?
- Is there an internal disability network already set up?
- Many of the companies on this list foster active employee networks centred around specific diversity groups: mental health, LGBTQ+, etc.
- If the company already has a disability network setup, it shows they are committed to giving disabled employees a voice in the workspace.
- Are they actively working towards employing more people with disabilities, or improving the lives of current employees with disabilities?
- Check out their equality, diversity and inclusion policies which you should be able to find on their website.
- Do they have positive reviews from current and previous employees?
- You can try searching on websites like Glassdoor or LinkedIn, or even see if the company itself has any relevant employee statements on their website.
- Are they promoting or open to fostering further awareness?
- There’s still a lack of awareness among some organisations around disabilities. That means you may need to speak to your boss or HR department openly about what you need.
Remember, don’t be afraid to raise any questions or concerns you have. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are duty-bound to make ‘reasonable adjustments’, and many are inexpensive to implement.
For example, you are entitled to ask to receive or submit the job application in a different format, such as large-print or Braille.
You can even point the employer to Access to Work, a government scheme that can help support them with some of these adjustments. If you need an interpreter, or any extra equipment, for example, or even help getting to the interview, these are the types of things they can assist with.
The more you can help in educating others about what you need, the more awareness you’re spreading, which will, in turn, help others.
Should I disclose my disability to an employer?
Many people have concerns about whether or not they should disclose their disability to their (potential) employer, especially if theirs is a non-visible disability. The choice about if and when you want to disclose it is completely up to you, but there are some potential benefits in doing so.
As mentioned previously, The Equality Act 2010 protects you from direct discrimination, as well as any that might arise from a disability. Refusing to make reasonable adjustments is classified as a form of discrimination.
It is also significant to note that if you do not disclose your disability, then if you do face any kind of discrimination, it will be much harder to prove that it was based on your disability. The protection and assistance that legislation offers is often dependent on the individual disclosing their disability.
The Access to Work scheme can cover many of the monetary costs for the employer, so you should not fear disclosing your disability on the basis of extra cost or being a financial burden on the business.
You may have had unique experiences due to your disability, which could be a positive in the eyes of the employer, and bring many benefits to the role you are applying for.
It can be a good idea to form a ‘disclosure strategy’, and decide when the best stage in the process would be to disclose your disability. Do you want to include it in your CV or covering letter, for example, or wait until the interview stage?
Some applications may ask directly about disabilities, or have a separate equal opportunities monitoring form which is not seen by those in the selection process, so you can choose how much you wish to share, and when.
What types of jobs might be suitable?
Disability covers a whole range of physical and mental impairments, so it would be impossible to say that any type of job would be right for any one person. However, there are some jobs that may be more suited to some types of disabilities.
For example, those with visual impairments may want to explore a career in counselling, research or accountancy, or someone with a hearing impairment could consider a job in marketing, engineering, or cosmetology.
Desk jobs might be most suited to those with physical disabilities, so that could be anything from HR, to a data analyst, to a political scientist.
People with learning difficulties often shine in coding and other tech jobs, or they may enjoy a job in a restaurant or retail, where they can interact with lots of people.
You shouldn’t let your disability limit you. If you enjoy or are good at something, then you may be able to find a job that involves it. After some research, you can hopefully get a better idea of what type of jobs might fit you the best.
A proud official partner of the British Paralympic Association, insurance company Allianz says its involvement with the BPA stems deeper than simply sponsorship. Their involvement has inspired them to cater to a much broader customer base and also hire more diversely.
As accredited Disability Confident employers, Allianz works with the Business Disability Forum to create further support for their employees. Internally, Allianz has also created a network for employees with disabilities and those passionate to support them.
It’s one of several active employee networks which provides support and feedback to the organisation to help Allianz in continuing to remove barriers and foster greater workplace diversity and acceptance.
For several years now, the BDF has recognised Lloyds Banking Group as a leading employer when it comes to disabilities. Over the past few years, they’ve managed to hit and retain their Gold Standard Benchmark.
Central to the bank’s efforts has been its Workplace Adjustment Programme, a groundbreaking initiative that has offered support to over 18,000 workers to date. With the help of Remploy, they’ve also created a work experience scheme for those with disabilities.
All this effort alongside partnerships with organisations such as Power 100 and the BDF make Lloyds a key player when it comes to employing without barriers.
Another insurer on this list with a Disability Confident accreditation, Aviva is committed to building a community of colleagues who have an interest in supporting disability. From interactive design workshops hosted by their UX team to approaching hiring with an open and inclusive mind, Aviva is dedicated to inclusion.
A whitepaper published by the Chartered Insurance Institute includes a case study about an Aviva employee dealing with multiple health and mobility challenges. The employee outlines the support they received from their manager and team in the form of an adjustments passport as well as a phased exit and return-to-work strategies surrounding a surgery they needed.
It showcases what the insurer specifically did to make the employee in question feel supported and empowered.
Unilever UK and Ireland achieved ‘Disability Confident Employer’ status in 2019, and they work with the Business Disability Forum to ensure they are creating an inclusive culture and representing applicants and employees with disabilities.
Unilever have set themselves a global target for 5% of their workforce to be represented by people with disabilities, and for all of their sites to be fully accessible by the year 2025.
As well as a range of flexible working policies, regular health checks and mental health support, Unilever have set up an internal employee network, Enable@Unilever, which supports colleagues with disabilities.
Their website includes a comprehensive section on inclusion and diversity, taking ownership of their responsibilities and showing that they are serious about improving.
For example, they have committed to more accurately reflecting how society really looks in their advertising. Only 2% of characters in adverts in 2019 were disabled, and Unilever wants to change this.
Media and the Arts
Channel 4 ensures that understanding and support of differences, including disabilities permeates their entire organisation. They were the first media company, and are one of only two broadcasters to have been certified as Disability Confident ‘Leaders’.
The media giant’s internal disability network, 4Purple, fosters open conversation about disability in order to promote, educate and inform on a wide variety of disability-related topics. They also train each staff member in mental health first aid.
Channel 4 also makes inclusion and acceptance a priority in the workplace, encouraging staff members to ask questions and speak candidly about their experiences with disabilities. In 2018, the company also published a guide for the broadcast sector on employing disabled talent.
Their ambition is that by 2023, 12% of their workforce will be made up of people with a disability.
ITV is the other of only two broadcasters to be accredited with the Disability Confident ‘Leader’ status, highlighting their continued commitment to championing opportunities and removing barriers for disabled candidates.
Their Diversity Acceleration Plan shows they are committed to increasing the representation of disabled people both on and off-screen at every level, and includes targets to improve the career opportunities for disabled talent working on ITV programmes, and to ensure there are entry-level career opportunities available for them. They also want their commissioning to better reflect the lives of disabled people on screen.
ITV’s internal colleague network, ITV Able, is focused on disability, and aims to educate, influence and connect employees on the issues and support available.
ITV have partnered with the disability equality charity Scope, with a campaign to raise awareness of hidden disabilities. You might catch the adverts showing on TV at the moment!
Aspiring to be a top employer for equality and fairness, the Environment Agency is engaging in several initiatives to achieve this goal.
One of its main areas of focus in addressing inclusivity is a workplace adjustment programme to help employees who need additional support. The Mobilise Network was formed to review where these efforts could be improved.
The government agency is also conducting thorough benchmarking: working with expert organisations to learn best practices when it comes to accommodating disabled employees. Part of this external research has involved reaching out to the BDF to benefit from their expertise as well as consulting with their own internal disability networks.
Diversity, equality and inclusion are vitally important to UK Athletics. As the foremost body responsible for creating and implementing regulations in sport, respect and integrity are central to their company identity. As such, they embrace diversity in a number of different ways.
Back in 2018, the UKA hosted its very first UKAbility meeting. This event marked the beginning of their process to ensure people with a disability or impairment felt included and heard.
The UKA committed to ensuring staff were disability aware, arranging disability equality training for employees and sending delegates to healthcare inclusion events.
They hope to spread this sense of inclusivity and diversity throughout their organisation. As an employer, they encourage people to bring their whole selves to work every day and to make everyone feel valued and supported.
Transport and Logistics
As a Level 3 Disability Confident employer, Network Rail has gained recognition within its peer group of organisations for its efforts to champion differences. They’re keen to show potential candidates with disabilities they are leading the way in promoting Disability Confidence, both in and outside their organisation.
Last year, they hosted Disability week, an employee-run week for events and activities to help staff think differently about disabilities, both physical and mental, visible and invisible.
The company is also committed to maintaining an inclusive work environment where barriers are broken and stereotypes and prejudice lessened.
Retail and Hospitality
Sainsbury’s achieved Disability Confident ‘Leader’ status in October 2017. This is the highest tier of the government’s programme, and with over 117,000 employees, they are by far the largest retailer to achieve this accreditation.
Tim Fallowfield, Sainsbury’s Company Secretary and Corporate Services Director, sits as Chairman of the Disability Confident Business Leaders Group, which brings together business leaders to encourage and raise awareness of employing and retaining disabled people.
In 2008, Sainsbury’s launched the You Can initiative, which supports people who otherwise might struggle to find a job, including those with disabilities. They have worked with partners such as Jobcentre Plus, MENCAP and Remploy.
Alongside this, they have an internal network, EnAble, which supports employees with disabilities and health conditions.
Sainsbury’s have also been the headline sponsor of Purple Tuesday, an initiative that encourages retailers to be more inclusive and accessible, and raise awareness of the barriers that people with disabilities may face, especially those with more ‘hidden’ disabilities.
Pub retailer and brewer Greene King became a member of the Business Disability Forum early last year. They have made commitments in several areas to diversify their workforce, and to employ talent from all kinds of backgrounds, including those with disabilities.
Partnering with a specialist, independent college, Greene King have also launched a campaign to support young people with learning difficulties and disabilities into employment. The supported internships aim to help develop life and employment skills for young people who want to continue in the hospitality industry.
In a further show of their support and commitment to inclusion, the well-known pub retailer has rolled out new disability signage to increase awareness of hidden disabilities and accessibility, in their pubs, offices and distribution centres.
Recruitment and HR
Recruitment company PageGroup have received several awards and accreditations over the last few years for their diversity and inclusion policies, including reaching Disability Confident Employer level, and being a Top 100 Partner with RIDI.
In 2016 they launched Ability@Page, to show their commitment to breaking down barriers that people with disabilities face, and how employers can help. This network helps them communicate with employees, candidates and clients, so they can make effective adjustments wherever necessary.
They have a strong focus on mental health too, with all line managers receiving mental health awareness training, and a network of mental health champions across the country.
As a recruitment company finding talent for other businesses, all of their consultants receive diversity and inclusion training, which includes topics such as unconscious bias, creating inclusive job descriptions, and inclusive interviewing.
Working across all sectors
From insurance to banking, government and media, there are companies across all sectors working to make the workplace a more diversity-friendly environment.
Remember, everyone brings their own unique set of skills and strengths to the table, so make sure to highlight yours during the hiring process so you can really stand out. There are plenty of incredible roles and opportunities available to those with disabilities, more than you might think. So approach every opportunity with a sense of optimism. There are disability-friendly employers out there who are ready and willing to support you throughout your recruitment journey and career. With a little research, you’re sure to uncover many more than just the ones on this list!
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Facts and Stats
There is a common misconception that people with disabilities have a higher absentee rate. However, according to a study by Reed and Disability Rights UK, 88% of employers did not agree that employees with disabilities were any more likely to take time off.
With a 5% increase in the employment rate of disabled people Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would grow by an extra £23 billion by 2030 and the government would receive an additional £6 billion in tax revenue by 2030.