This year, on the 8 November, it was precisely 25 years since the first significant anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), became law. I was 24 years old and training for the Atlanta Games. It was thrilling to have this new law prohibiting disability discrimination in employment and other fields and I’m sure it had more than a little to do with my move into law when I retired from swimming. The DDA was subsequently incorporated into the Equality Act 2010, which itself marks another, 10 year, anniversary. Anniversaries provide an important opportunity to reflect, to consider progress, to consolidate gains (where they exist) but also to take stock of challenges and consider the future.

Why then, 25 years after a law specifically prohibiting disability discrimination in employment do we still have both a significant employment gap and, although it is not measured consistently, a disability pay gap? Of the 7.7 million disabled people of working age 4.1 million (53.6%) are currently in work. This compares to 81.7% of those in work who are not disabled. This is a significant gap and a stark illustration of an ongoing problem with the under representation of disabled talent in the work force. Similarly on the boards of public bodies, incredibly important roles that impact all our lives, we do not see the numbers of disabled people in public appointments that would be representative of the population. In 2018, when I published a review for the Cabinet Office, 3% of all existing public appointees reported that they were disabled, this compared to 18.3% of working age people and 12.9% of the economically active population.

Today, on the International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd December 2020), I am publishing a progress report looking at what has happened since my review was published; which of my recommendations were accepted by the Government and what progress has been made on each of those commitments. I made twenty-nine specific recommendations connected to:

  • data collection and transparency (diversity monitoring form improvements, mandatory reporting, a central public appointments application portal, target setting)
  • attracting and nurturing talent (showcasing role models, mentoring schemes, disability networks, pro-active recruitment and guidance for executive search agencies)
  • application packs and job descriptions (accessibility and openness standards, pilot innovative and flexible recruitments, use of Disability Confident guaranteed interview)
  • interviews and beyond (pilot innovative assessment processes, guidance on best practice for adjustments, disability training)

These are simple, practical steps that could make a real difference in increasing the number of disabled people appointed to public bodies. This would improve all of our lives in myriad ways, not least the knowledge that the 500 bodies responsible for £200 billion of public funds are genuinely representative of the communities they serve and benefit from true diversity of thought. I am confident that these simple steps should also be applied in recruitment processes outside of public appointments. I know there is some great practice out there in the HR world but I’m equally confident that more should be done.

I strongly believe that at the heart of all of this is a question of talent. Currently, talent is everywhere but opportunity is not. Sadly, this remains true 25 years after the milestone that was the Disability Discrimination Act. This year Covid-19 has caused untold devastation, wreaking havoc on individual lives and impacting the way we all live and work, but amidst the chaos we must not lose focus from an overall goal of true inclusion, an end to a disability employment gap and the small but significant steps that will take us there.

Related posts: Accessibility, inclusion and being human.

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