The Disability Confident scheme explained

Are you familiar with Zbigniew Brzezinski (above)?  I read a quote attributed to ‘Zbig’ which prompted me to find out more about him. The quote is: 

“Commitment and credibility go hand in hand.”

It’s with that in mind that I decided to find out more about the Disability Confident scheme, the logo of which I’ve seen on many company websites. I’ll be answering these three popular questions that people have about the scheme:

  • What does a company actually need to do to be in it? 
  • If you are disabled, is it worthwhile applying to a Disability Confident employer?
  • Who are these employers?

First, let’s answer explore...

What the scheme does

The gov.uk website says that the scheme “supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace.”

It goes on to say that through Disability Confident “…thousands of employers are:

  • Challenging attitudes towards disability
  • Increasing understanding of disability
  • Removing barriers to disabled people and those with long-term health conditions…”

Disability Confident image

Some history

In 2016, the Disability Confident scheme replaced the “Two Ticks” scheme (sometimes referred to as “positive about disabled people”). Two Ticks was a scheme whereby an employer signing up would agree to follow five commitments, one of which was to interview any disabled applicant who met the minimum criteria for a job vacancy. The perception was that only some employers kept to their word, with many paying lip service to the commitments; this played a role in it being scrapped.

What does a company actually needs to do to be in it and who are these employers? 

According to the latest figures (taken from the gov.uk website, October 2018), there are 8347 employers across the UK that have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme. These include large companies and SMEs, ranging across a number of sectors.

This relatively new scheme has been met with scepticism from some quarters. One of the reasons for this is because of self-assessment. Let’s come back to that in a moment.

I hadn’t realised this but employers in this scheme are all at one of three levels:

Level 3: Disability Confident Leader (around 150 companies)

Level 2: Disability Confident Employer (roughly 3000 companies)

Level 1: Disability Confident Committed (about 5000 companies)

Therefore, the majority of employers signed up to this scheme are at the lowest of the three levels: Committed. To reach this standard, an employer does not need to have any external validation meaning they self-assess their own commitments. (Employers receive a template with some suggested criteria that they can fill out in order to keep a record, but this is just for their use). The same goes for the next level standard: Employer.

Those companies at Level 3 (Disability Confident Leader) do have external validation though and also have to evidence what they have done to meet this standard. They are few in number but seem to be particularly well-placed in terms of structures and may well be knowledgeable about, and have experience of, things like reasonable adjustments.

Organisations in this scheme benefit from being able to put the Disability Confident symbol on their website, giving the impression to their staff (and to the outside world) that they are positive about the area of disability and that they are keen to recruit and retain disabled employees.

We know that whilst individuals within companies may well have a commitment to disability (which is great) it’s actually something that needs to be institution-wide for the commitment to be long-lasting and for approaches to be changed for the better. The right policies and attitudes need to be in place right across an organisation for disabled employees to feel valued and motivated.

The claim that through the Disability Confident scheme, thousands of companies are “challenging attitudes towards disability” is certainly bold. No doubt hundreds, if not thousands, of companies across the UK are indeed challenging attitudes towards disability, but not all of them will be signed up to this scheme.

If you are disabled, is it worthwhile applying to a Disability Confident employer?

When I speak to a disabled student or graduate about their job search, I make the point that an employer who has the Disability Confident symbol on their website is an indication, but not a guarantee, that they are positive about employing disabled applicants and are committed to supporting their existing disabled employees.

 I would encourage students to look further:

  • Aside from having the symbol on their website, what else does that company do with respect to disability?
  • Does disability get a mention in their values?
  • What is at the heart of their Corporate Social Responsibility?
  • How many of their employees are disabled?

To find this out, students could contact the company HR / Diversity / Disability Department (if they have one), look on their website / social media platforms or speak to the company face-to-face at a job fair. This doesn’t mean the student needs to disclose their disability when they do this. It is reasonable for any applicant to want to research a company throughout the application process to get more information and see whether they think the company would be a good fit for them.

In addition to Disability Confident, The Business Disability Forum’s Disability Standard has a roll of honour  which lists companies that are deemed to be “disability-smart”.

A symbol not just for disabled applicants 

Whether you have a disability or not, if a company is signed up to (and hopefully committed to) schemes like Disability Confident, Stonewall etc. then it suggests the company may well be inclusive, open-minded and non-judgemental. These are values and traits that would appeal to all applicants and employees, irrespective of whether you have a disability.

Just because somebody has a disability, it doesn’t mean that they have to apply to an employer who is signed up to the Disability Confident scheme. However, it might be that a Disability Confident employer already has the structures, attitudes or infrastructure in place to be the right employer for that person.

A last word on Zbig (Zbigniew Brzezinski). It seems he was a noteworthy and interesting person. At the end of this article, he explains his novel idea about how extra time in football could be revamped .

Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of Westminster

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