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Last Updated: Monday, 14 March, 2005, 12:18 GMT
Job loss fears over disability
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News website disability affairs correspondent

Photo of wheelchair user at desk in office
All employers now have to make adjustments for disabled staff
More than a quarter of workers in the UK think their boss would be unlikely to help them to keep their job if they became disabled, a report has said.

The findings come from a MORI poll carried out for the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).

Researchers found that 28% of non-disabled employees thought their company would not make any adjustments to help them to stay at work.

But another survey of employers found most were willing to retain staff.

The fear of dismissal is worst among people who work for small companies - almost 40% thought it would be unlikely that they would keep their job after developing a disability.

When the DRC spoke to small firms, 85% said they would be flexible provided the employee had the right skills and enthusiasm.

Valuing workers

The MORI poll and the survey of employers are part of a DRC campaign to persuade business owners that it is worth while making changes in order to retain disabled staff.

Many good employers recognise the benefits of meeting the needs of disabled employees
Digby Jones, CBI

"Most people are not born with their impairment, they become disabled or develop a long-term health condition during their working life," said DRC chairman Bert Massie.

The DRC said providing support to workers who become disabled made good business sense and sent a clear message that the company values all of its staff.

"It also makes sense, cost wise, to make small improvements that have minimal outlay rather than incur the increased expense of redundancy and recruitment," said Mr Massie.

The DRC campaign has the backing of the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI.

"Many good employers recognise the benefits of meeting the needs of disabled employees," said CBI director general Digby Jones.

"And what's good for all staff is - in the long run - good for customers and business."

Mixed message

The DRC has found both good and bad practice among small businesses.

A horticultural nursery in Cheshire with only three staff employs a visually impaired man because of his passion for plants.

His employer, Anthony Norman, produces literature in large print and gives verbal rather than written instructions.

"And we keep the place tidy which benefits everyone," said Mr Norman.

Photo of John Horan in barrister's wig and gown
John Horan was a high flyer until his stroke in 1999

A building firm in South Yorkshire employs 42 people, eight of whom are disabled.

"Employing staff with disabilities just requires employers to be a little flexible," said Dennis Jolly, finance director of Chantry Builders.

Barrister John Horan's experience was much less positive.

Mr Horan is a Cambridge graduate and was earning 100,000 a year until he had a stroke in 1999 at the age of 31.

Out of 80 solicitors that he dealt with before his stroke, only three are still happy to instruct him.

Much of his work these days is on a "pro bono" or no fee basis.

"When push comes to shove, and you ask for money, it appears that most solicitors are uncomfortable with hiring a disabled barrister," Mr Horan told the BBC News website.

Time for change

In October last year companies employing fewer than 15 people lost their exemption from legislation that requires all employers to make "reasonable adjustments" for disabled staff.

The DRC is launching a radio advertising campaign and hosting briefings for small businesses to persuade them of the benefits of employing disabled people.

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