Byline: LYNNE BATESON
LOOK around. Do you have a disabled colleague? If the answer is no, the chances are you are wrong. Few disabled people use a wheelchair or carry a white stick.
Many disabled people need no help to do their job. Others who long for a career have to make do with a job. And disabled people are, on average, twice as likely to be unemployed.
Their plight is set to improve now that the Disability Rights Commission has replaced the Government-funded National Disability Council. The Commission can back people taking employers to industrial tribunals and court. Last week it won its first tribunal and more cases are being prepared.
Spokeswoman Alyson Rose says: 'We'd much rather meet employers in the boardroom than in court. Our role is to advise first and enforce second. But we will enforce.
'By law, employers with more than 15 workers must take reasonable steps to make sure disabled people are not discriminated against at interview and make reasonable adjustments to enable them to do their job.
'For example, an employer asking for a handwritten application should make an exception for someone who writes poorly because of impairments such as arthritis or cerebral palsy.
'An employer should adapt telephones for someone with hearing problems, or widen doors for a wheelchair user. And there should be no discrimination when it comes to promotion, training, or redundancy.' Susan Scott-Parker, chief executive of the Employers' Forum on Disability, made up of 350 companies and organisations, says employers profit from having more disabled workers.
COMPANIES should recruit from the widest pool of talent if they want the best. And the more diverse the workforce, the more creative it is,' she says.
'There's another bonus.
Disabled people know better the wants of disabled customers - a big market.' Sainsbury's spokesman Greg Dawson agrees. 'We're investing in facilities for disabled not only because it's an important part of caring for customers, but also because there are 8.7 million disabled in the UK - an annual market of [pounds sterling]50 billion.' Asda spokeswoman Zaria Pinchbeck says: 'We concentrate not on what our disabled workers cannot do, but on what they can do. The company, customers and the disabled worker benefit.' Susan Scott-Parker says: 'One in eight of us can be called disabled in that we've an impairment that gets in the way of normal activities.
Most of us have a friend or a relative like this. One day we might become disabled.
'We've got to rid ourselves of deep- seated assumptions, such as the idea that disabled people are sick.
'In fact, they may have better attendance records and often look after themselves better than other workers. And they have faults just like the non-disabled.
'Not all disabled people can do all jobs. But there's a lot of inexpensive technology that can instantly make a disabled person employable in certain jobs. …