Many organisations believe that being an inclusive employer simply means recruiting staff with disabilities, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Once you employ people with disabilities, you have an obligation to ensure that they are able to work to their best ability.

Fortunately, workplace wellbeing has earned itself a position in the list of top priorities for many organisations, but wellbeing for people with disabilities can often be a lot more complex, given that they can face enhanced physical challenges, unconscious bias and negative co-worker attitudes. However, if you are truly committed to creating an inclusive working environment that embraces diversity, then maintaining wellbeing for staff with disabilities can be easily achieved.

Culture Check

When it comes to improving wellbeing for people with disabilities, creating an inclusive workplace culture is fundamental. Do this properly and many of the other challenges you face will fall into place. This is best achieved by working to create a more positive perception of disability.

Considering disability awareness training for staff members from all levels of seniority- (especially those in managerial positions supervising staff with disabilities), will immediately help develop empathy, acceptance, understanding, and knowledge around disability. This will help management to adequately support and make reasonable adjustments for the staff members they oversee.

Of course, there is an abundance of training formats when it comes to developing disability awareness, and strong consideration towards the quality of these should always be given. Where possible, seek user-led training, meaning the facilitator or trainer has a disability themselves, and can draw on their own lived experiences.  The training should offer a good foundation on topics including etiquette, communication, correct use of language, and inclusive behaviour, legislation, adapting the business environment, hidden disabilities, and disclosure, as a minimum.

Reasonable adjustments

Despite the Equality Act 2010 stating that employers must make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities, many organisations are failing to do so. A recent study[1] revealed this when it found that 78% of employees with disabilities said they had to initiate the process of getting adjustment themselves. 58% of the same study said that actually getting the adjustments relied on how assertive and confident they were to ask for that support, and only 18% said the adjustments made actually removed the barriers in the workplace.

Failure to adequately provide this support will mean that wellbeing is significantly impacted for people with disabilities. Working without the necessary support would not only impede their ability to achieve and progress, but it can also affect physical and mental wellbeing.

A good example of this would be the results of declining remote or flexible working for people with disabilities, as a reasonable adjustment. In a survey from The Work Foundation, it was found that 70% of disabled workers said that if their employer did not allow them to work remotely, it would negatively impact their physical or mental health.

Reasonable adjustments are after all, a request for assistance in being able to perform to one’s best ability.  If the adjustments for people with disabilities are not being fulfilled, we can certainly expect to see a decline in employee health and wellbeing.

Wellbeing for people who hide disability

One of the most challenging areas of improving wellbeing for employees with disabilities, is when a person’s disability is kept a secret. Unfortunately, this happens a lot more frequently than you would imagine. When you stop to consider that 80% of all disabilities are hidden or non-visible, that amounts to almost 13 million people in the UK.

Now, all of those people (when entering employment), will at some point in their lives, consider whether or not to disclose their disability to their employers. Whether they do or don’t will rely on a number of things, one of which will be their expectations of how their employer will react, and whether they consider their employer to be inclusive and supportive of disability.

Sadly, as many as 43% of people with non-visible disabilities choose not to tell their employer, often for the reasons just stated- and this has a huge impact on their wellbeing moving forward.

A recent study in the US[2] analysed the stressful impact and damage to wellbeing of keeping disability a secret and found that employees who do reveal their disability are more than twice as likely to feel happy or content at work than those who do not (65% versus 27%). They are also less likely to regularly feel nervous or anxious (18% versus 40%) or isolated (8% versus 37%). Sadly, another study from Bupa[3] also found that physical health was further threatened through concealing impairments, in that 55% of people would work when they were not well enough and 26% would use their paid time off to attend medical appointments.

Now, ask yourself – would these people struggle in silence if their company declared itself ‘Committed’ through a Disability Confident accreditation status? Or if physical changes to the workplace environment started happening in a bid to become more accessible? Or if all staff were enrolled in disability awareness training?

A shift in culture would inevitably cause people to feel a lot more comfortable disclosing in the knowledge that they would be understood and better supported. In our training sessions, we have actually seen employees reveal they have a secret disability whilst on the course, simply because they feel that the time is right, now that their employer has shown a new commitment to disability awareness.

Attitudes and bullying

You may think the concept of workplace bullying sounds outdated- but sadly it’s not- and for staff with disabilities, bullying in the workplace is even more prevalent. In a recent study from Scope, 53% of people with disabilities had experienced bullying or harassment at work, 21% of people with disabilities had been bullied by colleagues and 27% had experienced bullying from their employer.

Obviously, bullying has a major impact on wellbeing, and can cause emotional distress, workplace anxiety, depression, frustration, and the list goes on. Managing all of this as well of the challenges a disability may present can prove to be enough for a person to leave their job. In fact, further research from Scope showed that 28% of people with disabilities who had ‘fallen out of work’ said they had experienced discrimination, either from a line manager or colleague and 90% of all people with disabilities who had experienced discrimination at work, said it led to them leaving.

A good place to start in developing a plan to ensure bullying is eliminated is to review your EDI strategy and check that clear policies around harassment and bullying prevention exist, particularly around what’s considered to be ‘banter’, often considered by some to be a grey area. If they don’t, they need to be implemented.

If, like many organisations, disability is not as high on your EDI agenda as other protected characteristics- make sure it is. 90% of global corporations report being committed to diversity and inclusion efforts, but only 4% state having a disability inclusion focus[4], so make sure disability is considered equally.

Once these policies are in place, circulate them and make it abundantly clear to all staff members, at every level of seniority, that there is zero tolerance on bullying in the workplace. Also, it’s very important that the processes of making a complaint and filing a grievance are as straightforward and clear as possible and readily available to all. Having a simple and straightforward process of action is essential.

Do more for staff with disabilities!

The more you commit, the more inclusivity will be woven into the DNA of your company and become part of your brand. Do this by constantly raising the bar. Create disability steering groups or networks, with members from all teams, survey staff to see how inclusive the workplace really is. If you have a low number of people with disabilities working for you, ask yourself why. Network with other companies, ask about their inclusive practice, or research those in the Valuable 500 for inspiration. Improve accessibility throughout your recruitment process, audit your building, consider the accessibility of your service, your materials, messaging and gradually embed inclusion into all areas of the business, and monitor your progress.

Taking inclusivity seriously will mean that all staff begin to see disability differently, and the more positively it is perceived, the better your team will feel about asking for reasonable adjustment, about disclosing their disability, about reporting bullying. As well as seeing a vast improvement in wellbeing for staff with disabilities, you’ll soon discover that there is an abundance of benefits to becoming a more inclusive organisation.


[1] The Great Big Workplace Survey- Business Disability Forum

[2] Disabilities and Inclusion (Global and U.S. Findings) (

[3] BUPA

[4] The State of Employee Disability Engagement| Whitepaper Download (

Chris Jay
Chris Jay
Founder at Bascule Disability Training | + posts

Chris Jay is the Founder and Managing Director of the disability awareness training provider, Bascule Disability Training. Born with cerebral palsy, Chris has been a wheelchair user for over 25 years and has used his life experience of disability to provide user-led, awareness training packages and consultation services. As a speaker, author and disability inclusion advocate, Chris' career has been built around his passion for developing accessibility and inclusivity for people with disabilities.