Some questions to ask yourself on International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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3 Dec 2015

Catherine RickardCatherine Rickard

Did you know today is a global day of disability awareness? The annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities has been promoted by the United Nations since 1992. It aims to promote an understanding and action to raise awareness about disability issues and mobilise support for the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities. Today, there are over 1 billion people living in the world with some form of disability, or approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population facing not only the physical obstacles but also the social, economic and attitudinal barriers associated with disability.

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010, states that a person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. About 16 per cent of working-age adults are disabled in the UK and according to the Labour Force Survey, about 46 per cent of working-age disabled people are in employment, compared to about 76 per cent of working-age non-disabled people.

The Equality Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against workers because of a mental or physical disability, or to fail to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate such a worker. However, progress in employer best practice related to disability continues to be slow, with disabled people being significantly more likely to experience unfair treatment at work than non-disabled people. For example, in 2008, 19 per cent of disabled people experienced unfair treatment at work compared to 13 per cent of non-disabled people.

The ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities’ provides an opportunity for organisations and other stakeholders to focus on issues related to the inclusion of people with disabilities; to hold forums; events and information campaigns to help find innovative ways to integrate disabled people and to showcase and celebrate contributions made by persons with disabilities. A major focus of the day is practical action and the day has a different theme each year; this year it is: Inclusion matters: access and empowerment of people of all abilities.

I encourage you to take a moment on this day and consider what this theme means to you and your organisation:


  • For example, this could be linked to access into your organisation and ensuring disabled people are not, in any way, being discriminated against at the point of recruitment or during the selection process? Have you considered the impact of unconscious bias on recruitment decisions?
  • Do your disabled employees have equal access to training opportunities. Do you collect data on training by disability?
  • Do you collect data on whether employees with disabilities are promoted? And are you using this data to inform organisational strategy on the recruitment and retention of disabled employees?
  • Do disabled workers in your organisation have a genuine and equal potential to reach the senior levels of the organisation? Can your senior grades accommodate the flexible working; reduced hours; different ways of work organisation that some disabled workers may need?


  • Is disability visible in your organisation?
  • And is there visible senior support for disabled workers eg. as mentors or sponsors?
  • Do disabled employees feel able to be open about their disability with their peers and line managers?
  • Is there any targeted development of disabled workers?
  • And are your line managers confident enough to have conversations with disabled workers about potentially sensitive issues?

These are just some of the key issues which should be considered in order to foster an organisational culture and values which understand the importance of disability in the workplace and how to effectively develop disabled employees. IES is currently working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission looking at the pay gaps associated with disability and also gender and ethnicity. We are exploring ‘what works’ in reducing such pay gaps and the key challenges to addressing them.

Today extends an opportunity to reflect on your organisation’s approach to disability and start the ball rolling for positive change. So….did you let the day pass you by or have you marked it in some way to increase disability awareness within your organisation? Let us know what you have done to mark the day!

Check out the UN website for more information about International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

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