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Retaining and training disabled staff

Most disabled people in work didn’t start work as disabled people, they gained their impairments during their working life. In fact, around 12% of people gain an impairment after the age of 20. Don’t panic though – most people don’t gain their impairments whilst at work! People over the age of 45 are most likely to become disabled people whilst already employed.

So when considering access to employment, its important to think through all aspects of employment and look to improve…

  • all training offered to staff
  • promotion opportunities
  • appraisal/review processes
  • retention policies


All training provided by organisations needs to be accessible to all those needing to attend. This has implications

  • for location, venues, and equipment
  • for trainers – in relation to their experience, flexibility, approchability
  • for style and content – ensuring there is relevance, representation, alternative options
  • for marketing training opportunities inside organisations
  • for evaluating training interventions

This applies to both formal and informal training opportunities. Imagine a manager always recommends a particular publication to staff. If you have visually impaired staff, you might need to help source an audio tape, Braille or on-line version of the publication. If you often have outward bound based away days and you have a staff member with arthritis, have you considered the health and safety and access implications of such activities? Is there a different, more accessible way you can bond and challenge your team?

Retaining staff

The DDA makes it clear that organisations are expected to make reasonable adjustments to retain staff that gain impairments. The kinds of adjustments expected are the same as when employing new staff, and could include changing some duties or allocating minor tasks to other employees, making alterations to existing premises or moving specific offices to accommodate needs, providing practical aids/technical equipment, provision of a support worker. For existing staff, organizations may also have to consider if a transfer to another post would be possible if it does not prove possible to make adjustments to a current post.

The first question for many organisations is ‘how will we know if a staff member gains an impairment?’

Unlike some questions on an equal opportunities form, disability status can change over time. Staff with hidden impairments may feel more confident about stating their needs, or someone may gain or develop particular needs over time. To capture this information, its important that people are given opportunities to change and amend data on their equal opportunities monitoring form. This can be done by resending data out each year, so that it can be checked or by adding in an annual appraisal question on access needs. Don’t just send data out to someone that you think is gaining an impairment – that would single someone out, and anyway, you might miss someone else who is developing new access needs.

You can help develop a positive organisational culture that would encourage someone to feel supported when disclosing such information by making sure your employment policy contains a positive statement about retention, or by having a separate retention policy.

Remember Access to Work support all disabled staff, not just disabled people you recruit, although you will be expected to make a financial contribution towards supporting access for existing staff. Read about Physical Access for Employment