New guidance seeks to improve disability inclusion in the legal profession

Employers in the legal sector have been provided with guidance by the Law Society and Cardiff University, outlining the reasonable adjustments firms and organisations could make to help them recruit and employ disabled staff.

It follows the publication of the Legally Disabled?: The Career Experiences of Disabled People in the Legal Profession research by Cardiff Business School and the Law Society of England and Wales’ Lawyers with Disabilities Division in 2020, which found clear evidence that disability has been largely overlooked when it comes to improving diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the solicitors’ profession.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said:

“This guidance for employers focuses on the reasonable adjustments which can be made to help them recruit and employ disabled staff. The aim is to improve awareness of the legal requirement and to give practical ideas on how best to implement adjustments, challenging assumptions on what is possible.

“Many of these adjustments are simple and cheap to implement. Changing the office layout and positioning, providing a suitcase for files, the option for flexible or hybrid working and adjusting roles within teams can go a long way in making disabled colleagues feel comfortable and able to function at their best at work.

“It is important for employers to approach discussions with their disabled employees positively and constructively. The Legally Disabled? research highlighted how stressful and demoralising it is for disabled people within the legal profession constantly to have to ask for and justify adjustments.

“If a disabled employee’s condition is relatively new, employers can tap into expert sources, such as Access to Work or Disabled People’s Organisations, which can help the employee and employer understand how their condition is likely to affect their work and what support they might need.”

The UK government’s Access to Work programme is cited as a particularly helpful asset in supporting disabled people to take up or remain in work. It is a discretionary grant scheme that provides personalised support to disabled people in paid employment, or who are trainees, apprentices or supported interns.

I. Stephanie Boyce added:

“We are most grateful to the 46 firms and organisations which shared their experiences and what they’re doing. Most admit that disability has often not been prioritised as much as some other aspects of D&I, but this is changing, and more are becoming eager to take action.

“This action seems to have been influenced, at least in part, by the Legally Disabled? research, which showed through clear data how challenging things in the profession have been for disabled people.

“Reasonable adjustments often require employers to do more for, or to treat disabled people differently in order to support inclusion and achieve equity at work. Adjustments are aimed at removing barriers and putting disabled people on a level playing field.

“We very much hope that this guidance continues the conversation around the experiences of our disabled colleagues and goes some way to ensuring they are able to work in an environment which meets their needs.”

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