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How to find work if you are disabled

Moira Petty / 11 November 2015

Useful tips, hints and resources to help get you into the workplace.

Hands joined to show unity, team work and equality
People with disabilities have a lot of skills and experience which can benefit their employers and colleagues

There are over seven million disabled people of working age in the UK. This equates to 18% of the working age population. Businesses cannot recruit effectively if they ignore or fail to attract this potential workforce.

Additionally, the spending power of the UK’s 11.9 million disabled people – known as the purple pound – is estimated to be £80 billion per year. Yet recent research revealed that 75% of disabled customers left a business or service provider because of poor disability awareness.

Organisations that are disability-smart – including actively recruiting people with disabilities – reap the benefits, including stronger customer relationships.

Know your rights! Read our information on the law and disabled job-seekers.

Disabled people need to work

It isn’t just about income. Employment provides:

  • Meaningful activity.

  • Daily structure and variety.

  • Contact with others.

  • Having a sense of purpose.

  • Contributing to something.

  • Hope for the future.

Don't apologise for being disabled 

  • Don’t limit yourself because of to the way you feel others will perceive you.

  • Don’t make excuses for your disability but turn it into a positive, eg, if you coordinate your own care, this demonstrates management and organisational skills.

  • Be confident in discussing how you will carry out the role and any changes to equipment, working hours, etc, that you may need.

  • Use positive and factual language to demonstrate ability against the essential and desirable skills listed in a job description.

  • Prepare for the interview and seek coaching if necessary – rehearse key phrases while retaining individuality and credibility.

  • Have real life examples of your skills/qualities. Think STAR – Situation, Task, Action, Result. 

Find out more about challenging a benefits decision.

Disabled people have valuable transferable skills

These come from previous employment and life experience. Do not underrate the importance of these skills to businesses.

Identify strengths that can be marketed to employers and pinpoint concrete examples. Look at your skills, experience and knowledge.

Don’t forget to include what you have achieved outside paid work, eg, in a voluntary role, sports, hobbies, family or community responsibilities. These may demonstrate the ability to plan and organise, communication skills and flexibility.

Points to consider

  • What you love to do.

  • The aspects you are good at.

  • Your personal qualities (how do others view you too?).

  • Your specific work or voluntary experience.

Drawing up your CV

This will focus in more detail on the skills used in previous roles, highlight what you have already achieved and what you have to offer. Consider these two types of CV.

Skills or competency-based CV

This gives examples of situations that are directly relevant to the content of the job description you are interested in.

Generic CV

Compile if you are not sure about specific job roles. Refer to some of these key abilities which are valued in many different jobs:

  • Leadership skills.

  • Interpersonal skills.

  • Teamwork.

  • Time management.

  • Problem solving and creativity.

  • Organisation.

Read our CV tips for the over-50s.

Finding an employer 

Large and smaller businesses offer different advantages. 

Larger employers may have well-developed resources to educate and train staff involved in recruitment and staff supervision. They may champion diversity and be working to develop a positive culture in line with this.

Some smaller businesses may be more flexible and offer a more personalised approach.

Look for signs that a particular business is committed to offering employment opportunities for disabled people:

  • They may have won awards and display these on their website.

  • They may include pages specifically about disability on their recruitment web pages.

  • Look for the Two Tickssymbol on recruitment pages - this underlines an employer’s commitment to disability and guarantees disabled people an interview.

Common myths about disabled badges dispelled.

Paper chains of people holding hands to represent inclusivity

Organisations that help disabled people into work

The Business Disability Forum (BDF)

The Business Disability Forum (BDF) is a not-for-profit setup which brings together business people, disabled opinion leaders and government to ensure that disabled people will be treated fairly and contribute to society and business success.

It has a membership of over 300 organisations which employ almost 20% of the UK workforce. It seeks to remove barriers between disabled people and private and public organisations.

The BDF advises employers on advertising and describing jobs in a way which encourages applications from disabled people. It is working to improve the accessibility of recruitment agencies. In one survey, 70% of disabled job applicants responded ‘No’ or ‘Not sure’ when asked if they would use a recruitment agency again.

The Disability Confident programme

Launched in July 2013, the Disability Confident programme is a government campaign that works with employers to ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfill their potential and ambitions in the workplace. Partners include campaigning groups, household name businesses, charities and local government.

British Association for Supported Employment (BASE) 

Formed in 2006. BASE is the national trade association supporting people with significant disabilities to secure and keep paid employment.

Its member organisations have the specialist knowledge to deliver that support – advising on all stages of job hunting including:

  • Building confidence and self-esteem.

  • Training, from basic skills to vocational and professional qualifications.

  • Matching candidates with the right jobs.

  • Providing work trials to try out a job and gain experience.

  • Help through the interview process (even attending interviews with the applicant if required).

  • On-the-job help to support through the early stages.

  • Advising employers on reasonable adjustments.

  • Help you to keep your job if you become disabled or are finding work difficult with an existing disability.

The Poppy Factory’s Getting You Back to Work service

The Poppy Factory was established in 1922 to provide employment for disabled servicemen returning from the First World War.

Getting You Back to Work was launched in 2010 to reach veterans throughout England and Wales. To date, it has supported almost 500 ex-service personnel into work.

Its Employability Consultants – drawn from occupational therapy, vocational rehabilitation, employability, recruitment and the armed forces – meet clients within their region, offering face-to-face, telephone and email contact. There is no cost to clients or employers.

The support offered to disabled veterans includes:

  • Developing employability skills and awareness.

  • Creation or enhancement of a CV.

  • Job search and job vacancy matching.

  • Assistance with job applications.

  • Identifying training needs and getting funding.

  • Facilitating work placements/experience.

  • Interview preparation and coaching.

  • Job start planning and preparation.

  • In work support for up to 12 months.

Work with employers includes identifying companies which to actively seek to employ their clients and partnering with employers to create work placements. Job vacancies are advertised on a bespoke jobs portal.

Are you entitled to attendance allowance?

Access To Work programme

The Access To Work programme is a government funding scheme run by Jobcentre Plus. It has been called ‘the Government’s best kept secret.’

It provides financial assistance towards the extra cost of employing someone with a disability. It includes support for:

  • Equipment or alternations to existing equipment (but not provision of standard business equipment).

  • Communication support for people who are deaf or have a hearing loss.

  • A reader at work for someone who is blind or visually impaired.

  • A support worker if someone needs practical help at work or getting to work.

  • Help towards taxi fares, adaptations to vehicles or other transport costs if someone cannot use public transport to get to work due to their disability.

  • Alterations to premises or a working environment.

  • Personalised support for people with mental health conditions (for up to six months).

The application must be made by the disabled person not the employer. Larger companies will be required to make a contribution to the funding. It applies to any job, full- or part-time, permanent or temporary and is available for self-employed disabled people.

Special thanks for their help in compiling this feature to Christopher Watkins, Business Disability Consultant, Business Disability Forum and Elisabeth Skeet, Employability Manager, The Poppy Factory, Getting You Back to Work service.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.