How do you engage people with disabilities?

What does your organisation do to actively engage employees with disabilities? This is the question being posed by employee engagement agency People Lab via a survey at the moment.

The Office for Disability Issues found that ‘disabled people are significantly more likely to experience unfair treatment at work than non-disabled people,’ and that in 2012, 46.3 per cent of working-age disabled people were in employment, compared to 76.4 per cent of working age non-disabled people.

They also found that people with disabilities were half as likely to hold degree level qualifications compared to non-disabled people – 14.9 per cent compared to 28.1 per cent.

I came across People Lab‘s work the other day and read their report, which reveals that employees with disabilities are ‘often disengaged at work’ – regularly experiencing barriers to employment, further education and professional development.

I have a personal interest in this area and Hayley McGarvey @pottsmcg (pictured), an employee engagement consultant at the company, has written her thoughts for my blog. She has an interest in disability studies and culture, and has been able to explore this area further through this Disability & Employee Engagement research project.

I asked Hayley for a definition of disability. She said: “The general definition of an employee with a disability is someone with either a physical or learning disability. Sometimes, this means that certain adjustments or changes might be required in order for the employee to be able to work to their best – for example, this might be making adjustments in the work environment itself, allowing flexible working, or obtaining specific software or equipment to ensure the employee can do their job well.”

Here she shares an insight into what they have found so far. Over to you Hayley…


Enough is enough: Organisations must focus on improving the engagement of employees with disabilities

We began looking into disability and employee engagement in 2012, after discovering it was a very under-researched area.  We wanted to shine a light on disability and engagement – seeking to further understand engagement with this audience.  We set out to uncover examples of best practice in this area, with one key ambition: to improve employee engagement for employees with disabilities.

We wanted to show that improving employee engagement and encouraging equality, diversity and inclusion could make workplaces better for everyone. We were particularly interested in how employees with disabilities could be affected by the behaviours and attitudes of managers and colleagues – and how those behaviours and attitudes could influence the culture of an organisation, for better or worse.

hayleyDuring the first phase of our research, we interviewed a number of people from all over the world. From the Philippines to the UK, Chicago to Australia, people certainly weren’t shy about raising their hands and getting involved.

The interviews were compiled into a report, which you can read in full here. The key themes drawn from the research revealed the following:

1. We still need to focus on equal opportunities of promotion for both disabled and non-disabled employees: Many of the interviewees felt that non-disabled people were significantly more likely to be offered a promotion at work than disabled employees.

2. We still need to focus on opportunities for progression and development for employees with disabilities: The interviewees suggested that equal opportunity for promotion for employees with disabilities could be improved with the provision of further personal development and progression opportunities.

3. We need to rethink the education of managers and leaders: A key finding from our research indicated that employees with disabilities are often disappointed by the lack of knowledge that managers and leaders have regarding disability. This lack of education can cause frustration amongst employees, leading them to become disengaged at work.

4. We need to change the attitudes of peers (including leaders and senior managers): Our research indicated that attitudinal barriers are often the reason for disengagement for employees with disabilities.  The majority of our interviewees expressed that the attitudes of leaders and colleagues can ‘make or break’ their work experience.

5. We need to give employees the confidence to talk about disability: People don’t always find disability an easy subject to talk about. Our research indicated that some employees with disabilities found that disability was an area that wasn’t discussed often, and that some colleagues were visibly uncomfortable when disability was brought up in conversation.

Research6. We need to ensure that policy meets practice: Our research revealed that many of the interviewees felt ‘cheated’ by company policies; that, more often than not, what was written on paper simply didn’t surface in reality.

7. Disability, equality, diversity and inclusion training must be encouraged and improved: All of our interviewees agreed that leaders, managers & colleagues do not receive sufficient training regarding disability. This can cause people to feel uncomfortable when talking about disability, and can lead to negative attitudes towards employees with disabilities.

8. Education and information on access, adjustments and facilities must be a priority: Education was a key word that arose throughout our research. The education of colleagues, leaders and managers is essential in making change happen. One particular theme that emerged was the lack of awareness and education regarding access, adjustments and facilities. Our research revealed that employers are often daunted by the prospect of access issues – making them less likely to employ disabled people, or provide relevant and essential adjustments for employees with disabilities.

9. Attitudes towards flexible working need to change: Our research indicated that the need for flexible working often poses problems for people with disabilities. Many of our interviewees expressed that some employers fail to understand the need for flexibility – and that in the event that flexible working is agreed, it often causes friction between disabled employees and non-disabled employees.  Some interviewees revealed that non-disabled colleagues can seem ‘jealous’ or ‘resentful’, deeming flexible hours as ‘special treatment’. This causes negativity, which is difficult to dispel or change.

The findings from our first phase have given us a fantastic springboard for the second phase of the research project – the online survey. This will allow us to drill down into the areas that were highlighted during the initial phase, and provide more detail and insight into key areas.  If you’d like to offer your thoughts & ideas, click here to take the survey.

The research has been a great experience so far, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some fantastic people as a consequence of starting the project. I’m really enjoying the progression of the project – and am very interested to see where it will end up!

Post author: Hayley McGarvey.

Thank you Hayley, I look forward to seeing the final results from the survey. What do you think about what you’ve read? You’re welcome to comment below or tweet me @allthingsIC.

Regular readers will know that I often write about employee engagement. If you want to find out more, see some recent articles below including information about Engage for Success:

My blog: Engaging for success in Italy
BlogTalkRadio – weekly radio show, Monday 4pm BST, on employee engagement. Includes a listen again feature
Engaging for success in the UK economy
My blog: How to engage for success
My blog: Milan social media week: Italy gets engaged
My blog:  Engaging workplaces for a sustainable future
My blog: The Sunday night blues



  1. susan says:

    A colleague of mine recently went to a seminar run by vision Australia about online content for vision impairment. I must have a look at the course notes and post some key points. Susan

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How can we help?

All Things IC helps practitioners around the globe increase their knowledge of internal communication.

There’s a variety of ways we can support you including trainingconsultancy and 1-2-1 support to boost your skills and confidence.

Or visit the shop to see everything we offer.

Who has hired All Things IC?

Clients say working with All Things IC leaves them feeling inspired, motivated, full of ideas and ready to turn plans into action.

We’re proud to have been invited to work with, and advise, some of the world’s leading brands.

Get in touch...

Would you like to work with All Things IC? Do get in touch below. Please note we only accept guest post ideas from in-house IC pros who have read the blogging guidelines.

Asking for advertising, back links or pitching services? We do not offer these and will not reply. Thank you.