Businesses have a big role to play in improving the lives of people with disabilities. Small and medium-sized businesses account for 99.9% of the business population and account for three-fifths of the employment and around half of turnover in the UK private sector.¹

14.6 million people in the UK have a disability, which represents 22% of the population and includes 21% of working age adults.² By taking your obligations to them seriously, you recognise their importance as employees, customers and a significant part of our communities. Other benefits include:

  • creating a more diverse workforce that reflects the people you serve
  • adding new skills and perspectives into your business
  • further enhancing your commitment to corporate social responsibility.

Partnering with Business Disability Forum

We’ve collaborated with Business Disability Forum to create this guide. Drawing on our own experiences, it shows why disability matters for businesses and provides tools and insights to support affected employees and improve the workplace environment for everyone.

What do we mean by disability?

According to the Equality Act 2010 - a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Many people do not define themselves as disabled based on the legal definition. This has led organisations to adopt an approach known as the social model of disability.⁵ It argues that people are disabled due to society's barriers and focuses on removing them. As a business, you are advised to (a) identify these barriers, and (b) remove them wherever possible.

Disability types:

  • Physical: impaired physical ability such as Cerebral Palsy, repetitive strain injury (RSI), Parkinson's, loss of mobility.
  • Mental: affecting thinking, emotional states or behaviours such as depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder.
  • Cognitive: the way people think, process and remember such as; Dyslexia, learning difficulties and dementia.
  • Sensory: affecting senses such as sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste or spatial awareness.
  • Health conditions: serious illness such as cancer, diabetes and HIV.

Other important distinctions:

  • Visible: immediately apparent, due to a person’s appearance, behaviour or use of a stick or wheelchair.
  • Non-visible: disabilities that are not immediately apparent, such as mental health or long-term health conditions.
  • Born with: where a disability was present from birth.
  • Acquired: where a condition developed during a person’s lifetime or resulted from an accident.

The benefits of supporting people with disabilities

Attracting and retaining top talent in small or medium sized businesses isn’t easy, but your business can source high-quality applicants by encouraging applications from people with disabilities. You’ll also acquire new skills and a greater diversity of thinking. After all, people who have a disability now represent more than one-fifth of the UK’s working population.²

Your business could also benefit from retaining a valued employee who acquires an impairment. It can be easier than recruiting and training new staff and better for the individual. This matters in a world where 83% of people who have a disability weren’t born with it.

But there’s a broader context. Small and medium-sized businesses are likely to serve a local customer base that includes people with disabilities. By reflecting that diversity, you can better understand and support their needs – particularly as 75% of disabled people and their families say they have taken their custom elsewhere because of poor accessibility and customer service. ³ It is vital that businesses feel equipped to support all their employees’ needs. Only then can your people fulfil their potential.

“Bank of Scotland is committed to creating an inclusive and diverse culture in which all colleagues feel valued, understood, and supported to reach their full potential. Experience and research have shown us that while employees with disabilities may need some adjustments to enable them to work at their best, employing those with disabilities also brings a wealth of benefits to organisations. We firmly believe that a more diverse company is a stronger and more successful company.

“As a Disability Confident Leader organisation, we wanted to share some of the good practice you can use in your business. Our guide, developed with the Business Disability Forum, provides insights into how supporting your employees with a disability can benefit your business and showcases some tools available to help you.”

Jas Singh – CEO, Consumer Lending and Disability & Neurodiversity Executive Ally, Lloyds Banking Group

“We see all too often that disability is parked into the "too difficult" box. Time and time again, people are so worried about saying the wrong thing, that they say nothing. Saying nothing may mean that an adjustment that could make all the difference to an employee with a disability isn’t made. At best, this could mean that a talented employee is unable to perform to the best of their ability; at worst, that they lose their job completely, taking their skills, knowledge and organisational memory with them.

“I am delighted that with our support, Lloyds Bank has created this guide for its small business customers to help demonstrate that disability really doesn’t have to be difficult, and that simple solutions – the kind of things that many small businesses are naturally putting in place every day – are often all you need.”

Diane Lightfoot - CEO, Business Disability Forum

How you can support employees with a disability

The following suggestions help with inclusion and are the right things to do for anyone experiencing challenges.

Remove the barriers

The Equality Act requires businesses to make reasonable adjustments for people who have disabilities by removing barriers to their participation at work. It applies whether you are informed of an employee’s disability or suspect it.

Promote positive and open interaction

Encourage equality of opportunity and positive relationships between disabled and other staff. Do it through open conversations about disability and the support available. Let your employees know this is important to your business and your culture.

Operate an inclusive recruitment and retention process

Your business will then benefit from a diverse range of applicants and talent. You’ll also benefit from the additional skills and insight employees who have disabilities can offer.

Promote effective people management

Train line managers to support employees with disabilities by ensuring they understand the support available and have clear processes in place.  Managers are confident to have sensitive conversations around adjustments needed and understand the importance of regular review to ensure they remain fit for purpose.  

Provide ongoing support

Build business processes that support people with disabilities at every stage of their employment. It should start when you hire and onboard them and continue through their employment, development and advancement.

Support employees who care for someone with a disability

Carers of people with disabilities also have protections under the Equality Act. Be prepared to have open conversations about their needs for adjustment to allow them to carry out required caring responsibilities, such as considering flexible working for them as an adjustment.

How Lloyds Banking Group supports colleagues with disabilities

Inclusivity at the heart of the hiring process

Whether recruiting internally or externally, we interview any suitable candidate with a disclosed disability, who meets the minimum requirement of the role. This reassures applicants that we won’t preclude them from the process.

Making reasonable adjustments

We uphold the legal duty to remove barriers for our colleagues because we believe it is the right thing to do. Our adjustments have received recognition, and we have shared our best practice.

Providing tools and resources

To support conversations across our Group, we regularly share case studies from leaders and colleagues. In this way, we inspire others to seek support. We make full use of our colleague network and provide training and information.

Read Kendall’s story

Once an active sportsperson, Kendall’s life changed following a single rugby tackle that led to him having quadriplegia. However, his employer supported him and he was later recruited by Lloyds Banking Group. He now uses his experience to support Access, our colleague network, which promotes understanding around disability.

“Since starting, I have been offered Assistive Technology (Dragon) and use a fixed desk, at little cost to the bank. Disability has proved no obstacle to my career, and I’ve progressed through several amazing roles.”

On supporting employees with a disability: “You get tenacity, loyalty and a strong work ethic as they’ve gone through the process of working hard to minimise its impact on their lives.”

Kendall Akhurst - Lloyds Banking Group employee

Camille’s Dyslexia journey

“I was diagnosed with Dyslexia at the age of 14. My uninformed ideas of Dyslexia meant that I had trouble accepting I had the disability and spent many years believing I had been misdiagnosed. My biggest challenge is the feeling of having to prove myself. In my experience, people are uncomfortable ‘taking your word’ for things they have not or cannot experience themselves. As a result, there’s unfortunately a stigma attached to many non-visible disabilities like mine.

“Coming to Lloyds Banking Group, I felt like that 14-year-old again seeking to erase this part of my life. Looking back, I realise that fear of being misunderstood was at the forefront of my decision not to disclose that I had dyslexia.

“I eventually confided in my manager. Everything changed. She connected me with our Workplace Adjustment Programme and a specialist coach. I’m grateful that I work for a company that are willing to invest in and support me.“

Camille Lawrence – Lloyds Banking Group employee

Making workplace adjustments for people with disabilities

All organisations are required to make reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities. However, the word ‘reasonable’ is not defined by the Equality Act though it is defined in case law. It is recommended that businesses have a robust process in place for requesting and implementing adjustments so this is clear and consistent across the organisation.

The assessment is made case-by-case based on the size, type and resources available to the employer. Mostly, the cost is minimal. However, where it is significant, support is available for businesses and staff through the government’s Access to Work programme.

Before making adjustments, you should consider the following:

  • Will it remove or reduce the barrier?
  • Is it practical with no negative impacts, including to other staff?
  • Do you have enough resources to do it and have you considered other funding sources?
  • Will it genuinely support your employee or make little to no improvement?

If, after a full discussion with your employee, you feel an adjustment is unreasonable and no suitable alternative is found, you can decline it, but we would recommend seeking advice first. 

Reasonable adjustments explained

There are two types of adjustments (these lists aren’t exhaustive): 

Physical adjustments

  • Assistive technologies or software such as the JAWS (Job Access With Speech) computer screen reader programme
  • Ergonomic items such as a mouse, chair or keyboard
  • Changes to the working environment, such as providing a fixed desk in a hot desk office or a new type of chair
  • Allowing a support worker
  • Offering a parking space

Non-physical adjustments

  • Flexible working
  • Additional or split break times
  • Changing performance or absence expectations
  • Changing working hours
  • Additional training

Start the conversation

You should speak with your employee about any barriers they face and agree on reasonable adjustments that will help remove the barrier. Often non-physical adjustments will substantially improve matters at zero cost. If you and your employee are unsure or disagree on adjustments, get advice. You’ll find some helpful contacts at the end of this guide.

Help available for employers

There’s a wealth of free resources to guide you through supporting employees with disabilities, including the organisations and schemes listed below.

The Business Disability Forum (BDF): A not-for-profit membership organisation that offers information, support and advice on disability as it affects business.

Business Disability Forum SME Toolkit - funded by the City Bridge Trust: The toolkit provides guidance specifically for smaller businesses and start-ups on how to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

Access to Work (AtW): A Government scheme that helps people who have disabilities get work or stay in work by providing employers with a grant to meet costs, which go beyond reasonable adjustments.

The Disability Confident Scheme: This Government scheme helps employers become more confident and knowledgeable about disability.

Scope: A disability charity that provides general information and support to people who have disabilities.

Fair Start Scotland Scheme: Information on the Scottish Government’s free support service for employers.