Jane Hatton runs Evenbreak (www.evenbreak.co.uk), a not-for-profit specialist job board to help inclusive employers attract more disabled candidates, while lying flat with a lap top suspended above her and a phone by her side, due to spinal problems. I interviewed her on what lessons employers can take from the games.

Mahtab: The Paralympics have just ended – what’s your take on them?

Jane: I have very mixed views and emotions about the Paralympics. As a disabled person myself, I have tremendous admiration for the work these amazing athletes have put in to hone their skills to a world class standard, and I watch their performances open-mouthed – they really are incredible.

M: You said you had mixed emotions about the Paralympics. Why?

J: Because at the same time that we are all (rightly) marvelling at the remarkable achievements disabled people can aspire to with the right motivation, talent, resources and support, the picture is very different away from the heady atmosphere of the sports field.

M: In what way?

J: Disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people in the UK, and much of that is down to perceptions of disabled people. These amazing Paralympians are seen as “superhuman” (a word actually used in the Channel 4 adverts), and yet other disabled people (mere humans) are seen as benefit cheats, scroungers, problems, unproductive, expensive, and risky. The average disabled person is as unlikely to be a world class athlete as any non-disabled person is. But they still have a tremendous amount to offer in the workplace.

I run a not-for-profit specialist job board for disabled job seekers. Our candidates tell me time and time again how they are rejected for any job they apply for the minute the employer discovers they are disabled – even when, as in nearly all cases, the disability bears no relation on their ability to do the job they have applied for. There is a fear by many employers that disabled people are risky, unproductive, will have time off sick and cost loads in needing expensive adaptations.

M: What would you say to employers with negative views of disabled workers?

J: Research consistently suggests that disabled people are, on average, easily as productive as their non-disabled colleagues and they also have less time off sick, fewer workplace accidents and stay in their jobs longer. They can also give inside intelligence on the disability market – 11 million disabled people in the UK spend up to £80 billion a year! And, just like Paralympian athletes, most will have had to be creative, determined and persistent in overcoming everyday obstacles – great qualities for an employer. In terms of costs, these are usually non-existent, and those that aren’t are usually covered by Access to Work. None of the myths stand up to scrutiny.

M: What lessons can we learn from the Paralympics?

J: Disabled people are hugely diverse with an incredible range of skills and can be a real and commercial asset to any organisation, on or off the playing fields.

Written by Mahtab Khan, director, broadcaster, trainer, E&D specialist & HR change agent, Change Agency Ltd

Born blind, Mahtab headed up the corporate employee relations and health & safety functions for the largest local authority in England.

He has in-depth experience of contract variation, user-friendly HR policy development and is currently developing the UK’s first equality and diversity app with Apple. Mahtab also coaches mentors, as well as trains and develops HR teams, diversity teams and board members.

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One Response to “Paralympics & the workplace – a sustainable legacy?”

  1. Great interview, Mahtab!

    I’d completely agree with Jane that the Paralympic legacy of changed attitudes to disabled people needs careful stewarding to ensure the good-will extends to all disabled people, not just the ‘superhumans’.

    For inspiration, Yves Veulliet – one of IBM’s diversity managers – has written a great book about his experiences of becoming disabled and the challenges and victories he found in getting employment afterwards.

    You can hear his passionate and forthright views in my video interview with him at: http://www.hassellinclusion.com/2012/09/paralympics-2012-superhuman/