Disability and ‘hidden’ impairments in the workplace

A Wales TUC Cymru survey report
Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
Key findings

As a result of the findings, the Wales TUC makes the following recommendations for improving the situation:

Recommendations for employers

  • Clear and properly implemented policies that support disability equality
  • Collect data about disability in the workplace to monitor disability equality
  • Awareness raising campaigns
  • Mandatory disability equality training for all managers and staff
  • Action to eliminate discrimination and harassment of disabled workers
  • Improve access to support for disabled people within the workplace, including peer support groups and mentoring schemes
  • Offer paid disability leave, carers’ leave and flexible working practices (such as adjustments to hours and home working)
  • Decent jobs – permanent, secure contracts with decent hours and pay

Action plan for the Wales TUC and unions

  • Development of a toolkit and eNote for union reps
  • Training for union reps and officers
  • Workplace campaigns
  • Negotiate workplace policies and press for effective implementation
  • Press for proper monitoring of disability equality by employers
  • Nothing about us without us’ – encourage greater involvement of disabled workers within unions

The findings have also identified a number of actions that should be taken by Welsh Government and the UK government to improve the situation for disabled people in Wales. These have been put together separately in a list of campaign asks.

Download Disability and ‘hidden’ impairments in the workplace report (English) | (Welsh)

Executive Summary

The Wales TUC carried out this research to better understand attitudes towards and experiences of disability in the workplace in Wales, including those of workers with ‘hidden’ or non-visible impairments. The research gathered statistical evidence as well as the stories of disabled workers to give voice to those experiences.

We used an online survey to reach as many people living or working in Wales as possible (including those who identified as disabled, those who did not, union members and non-members). We wanted to collect individual stories to understand the lived experience of disabled workers and
also gain insight into the perceptions and attitudes of nondisabled workers towards disability in the workplace.

The research was carried out in the context of current evidence which shows that in the UK progress towards disability equality has stalled and disabled people are facing more barriers:

  • With no improvement in the disability employment gap and a widening of the disability pay gap, disability equality is falling further behind in the workplace.
  • Less than half of disabled adults are in employment and stigma and ignorance mean that those with impairments  such as mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism spectrum conditions are even more likely to be out of work.
  • UK government austerity and benefit reforms have had a significant negative impact on disabled people. Changes have been implemented in a way that has often failed to uphold disabled people’s rights and has increased the risk of poverty, disadvantage and exclusion.
  • Disabled people’s lives are negatively affected by a combination of lack of awareness, stereotypes in the media, and wide-spread prejudice and unconscious bias which often goes unchallenged.
  • Wales has a higher proportion of people living with a disability or long-term health condition than the UK as a whole and is therefore particularly impacted by the disadvantage faced by disabled people.

More than 1000 people responded to our survey and many shared their own personal experiences giving an insight into how disability is treated in a wide range of workplaces in Wales including the public, private and third sector. Key findings of the research are:

  • Over a quarter (28 per cent) of disabled respondents said they felt that their employer views disability as a ‘problem’ in the workplace and 1 in 3 (33 per cent) said they felt their colleagues view disability as a ‘problem’ in the workplace.
  • Over half (57 per cent) of disabled respondents said that they do not feel that people were treated equally in their workplace compared to 38 per cent of non-disabled respondents.
  • Over three-quarters of all respondents said that their workplace had policies in place to help disabled workers but a significant number reported that these did not work in practice due to poor, non-existent or inconsistent implementation.
  • Around 1 in 4 of all respondents said that their workplace either did not have or that they were not aware of there being any policies in place to help disabled workers.
  • Around 1 in 3 (32 per cent) of disabled respondents reported that disability had been treated as a ‘joke’ topic in their workplace, and many reported experiencing harassment.
  • Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of disabled respondents felt that disability was treated negatively in their workplace and 1 in 4 (25 per cent) said they did not feel comfortable talking about disability in work at all.
  • 1 in 3 (33 per cent) of disabled workers reported that disability had been an ‘awkward topic’ in their workplace.
  • Around three quarters (74 per cent) of all respondents reported that their workplace had put in place ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help disabled workers, however many disabled respondents reported problems, delays and inconsistencies with the implementation of reasonable  adjustments.
  • Two thirds (67 per cent) of disabled respondents said they felt there was more stigma associated with disabilities that others cannot see.

We asked respondents for their suggestions for resources and support that could help to improve disability equality in the workplace. The need for further trade union action to be taken on the issue was supported by respondents and the findings of this survey:

  • Almost 9 out of 10 disabled respondents said that they would welcome guidance in the form of a model workplace policy on invisible/hidden disabilities. A similar number also said they would welcome training for union reps on this topic.
  • Respondents provided a number of additional suggestions of action and resources that would be helpful to raise awareness of invisible disabilities and improve disability equality in the workplace. These included disability equality training based on the social model of disability, workplace awareness raising campaigns, better implementation of policies and improved monitoring of disability equality in the workplace.
  • The findings of this research have identified a need for wider action and changes to improve the situation for workers with invisible impairments in Wales.

Download Disability and ‘hidden’ impairments in the workplace report (English) | (Welsh)