Thriving and Surviving at Work: Disabled People's Employment Strategies

Thriving and Surviving at Work: Disabled People's Employment Strategies

Thriving and Surviving at Work: Disabled People's Employment Strategies

Thriving and Surviving at Work: Disabled People's Employment Strategies


To date, studies of disabled people and employment have mainly focused on barriers to gaining and maintaining employment. This report breaks new ground in asking: how do those disabled people who are already in work get and keep paid work?Written in an accessible style, the report details the strategies disabled people use to thrive and survive at work exposes the employment difficulties disabled people face in work environments designed by and for non-disabled people looks at the policy context in which disabled people maintain paid work draws on the experiences related by disabled people themselves frames questions in terms of the issues that are important to disabled workers.


This study has explored the ways in which disabled workers survive or thrive in the workplace. Key areas of interest were the strategies adopted by disabled people to get by or prosper at work. The research also addressed the range of supports that disabled people received which supported their daily working lives.

There is evidence that a wide range of strategies is being adopted, which reduce barriers at work and make employment more successful than it would be otherwise. Strategies range from low-key informal disclosure of impairment through to more direct and formal attempts to address workplace barriers at the beginning of a new job.

Importantly, it would be both inappropriate and, in employment terms, risky to point to any one strategy as the one best way of nurturing workplace success. A range of choices that disabled workers and jobseekers might learn from have been highlighted in this report. One important message from the research is that of an appropriate ‘reading’ or understanding of an organisation before adopting detailed strategies. Awareness of forms of support, advice and information were also seen as central to disabled workers’ workplace successes.

Support was mentioned regularly in the comments of participants. For most workers informal and formal, internal and external forms of support were essential for workplace surviving and thriving. The role of family, friends and disability organisations was significant in increasing the confidence and competence of many of the workers. Working for an organisation of or for disabled people was more likely to allow workplace development for those interviewed.

Colleague support, understanding managers, the government’s Access to Work scheme, employment schemes and trades unions were all seen as playing a part in the daily support of most of the disabled workers in this study. Emotional costs of receiving support were mentioned by a small number of participants. The presence of support did not result in a barrier-free workplace and it is important to note that some physical, attitudinal and institutional barriers remained in most of the working environments described by the workers. The need for more coordinated and reliable Access to Work support was frequently mentioned.

Overall, a working environment in which impairments and workplace barriers were . . .

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