There are 16 million disabled people in the UK. 23% of people of working age are disabled. But only 50% of them are in work.

Family Resources Survey: financial year 2021 to 2022 (GOV.UK)

Disabled people face barriers in the workplace. If you’re a manager, you might be unsure about how to support people. But there is information available to help you. It also means you can meet your legal responsibilities as an employer.

Reasonable adjustments

The Equality Act 2010 is a law that helps make sure everyone is treated fairly. One of the groups it protects is disabled people. The Equality Act 2010 applies in England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland has a different law.

The Equality Act 2010 says you must make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. This could be:

  • giving someone a fixed desk instead of hot desking
  • arranging flexible working hours
  • using a specific font for documents

The goal is to make the workplace more accessible. Reasonable adjustments alone can be enough for some disabled employees. These can be things that cost nothing. Or they can be things that have a low cost.

Access to Work is available if someone’s needs go beyond reasonable adjustments. This could be because they need more specialised equipment. Or their needs are more complex.

It’s important to know your responsibilities as an employer for reasonable adjustments. Access to Work will not provide any support that is the responsibility of the employer.

Employer responsibilities for reasonable adjustments

What is Access to Work

Access to Work is a publicly funded government programme. It can provide financial and practical support for disabled people. The support can be for:

  • attending an interview
  • starting a job
  • staying in a job

What Access to Work can pay for

Access to Work grants will depend on the needs of the employee. Your employee might already know what they need. But Access to Work can also do workplace assessments. These help an employee figure out what they need.

Access to Work grants can cover:

  • special equipment, for example an adapted keyboard
  • adapting equipment to make it easier to use
  • travel costs to get to work if the person cannot access public transport
  • different types of support workers
  • British Sign Language to English interpreters

Access to Work factsheet for employers (GOV.UK)

For a job interview, they can cover communication support, for example:

  • a British Sign Language to English interpreter
  • a lipspeaker. This is someone trained to be easy to lipread
  • someone to help the candidate communicate

Communication support at job interviews (GOV.UK)

What is a lipspeaker? (Lipspeaker UK)

Access to Work can pay for up to 100% of the costs. Depending on the size of the organisation and the type of support, they might ask for a contribution. This will be discussed during the application process.

How you can help your employees

Tell them about Access to Work

Not all employees realise they can get support from Access to Work. They may not be aware of workplace adjustments in general or the Access to Work grant. Others might see the word ‘disabled’ as negative. This means they might not identify with disability. Because of this, they can miss out on support.

Access to Work eligibility is built around the Equality Act 2010. You can support employees to recognise if they meet the Act’s definition of disability. This is especially important for employees who develop a condition or an impairment after they’re a member of staff.

Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 (GOV.UK)

Check if you’re disabled under the Equality Act (Citizens advice)

Support them with the access to work application

Applying for Access to Work can be very stressful. For someone, it could be the difference between being able to do their job or not.

When employees apply, they will need to focus on the impact of a condition on their work. You can talk about this with them so they feel supported. You can help them outline the barriers they face in relation to the role.

This will help them to make sure their application has all the information to get the right support.

For new employees, make sure they know they can apply before starting their job. Ask if they would like to set up a meeting to talk about the application.

Offer any support you can. Your knowledge of the role can help them work out what support they’ll need. Especially if it’s different to jobs they’ve had before. If they apply after starting the job, it is best to apply in the first 6 weeks.

If your organisation has a reasonable adjustments team or specialist, get them involved. They can support you both through the process.

Access to Work will need to be able to contact you. Make sure that you put a contact who can respond quickly. Access to Work could close the employee’s application if they do not get an answer from the organisation.

Action the Access to Work support

You should make sure that you buy any equipment as soon as possible. You will then claim the money back using the forms given. Start the process for arranging support workers or interpreters as soon as you can.

If the employee had a workplace assessment, make sure you and the employee read it carefully. The assessment might suggest extra reasonable adjustments you could put in place.

Benefits to your organisation

Knowing about Access to Work can have a positive impact on your organisation. Thanks to the scheme, you might be able to:

  • employ someone and make sure they’re able to do their job
  • help people stay in their job
  • increase diversity in your organisation

We know that 45% of people have hidden being disabled in the workplace. This is because they are worried about negative perceptions. This means they cannot access protection and support.

Showing you’re an inclusive employer can help people feel comfortable and safe accessing support.

Be proactive in offering adjustments during recruitment. Communicate support to existing staff regularly. For example, lunch and learns, training resources, emails, intranet posts. Ask managers to send out information to their teams.

Also make sure reasonable adjustments processes and policies are easy to:

  • find
  • understand
  • follow to get the adjustments

This includes Access to Work information and support.

How to apply for Access to Work

The employee is the one who needs to make the application. But they need to tell their workplace that they are applying. This is because they need to include a contact from the organisation. This will often be their line manager. So, if you already know about Access to Work, it will make things much easier and faster.

They will also need to meet certain criteria to be able to apply. Employees can check this on the government website:

Access to Work eligibility (GOV.UK)

Employees can apply over the phone or online.

Apply for an Access to Work grant (GOV.UK)

Access to Work also has a mental health support service. The application for this is separate. Employees apply directly with the organisations that provide the service.

Access to Work (GOV.UK)

Related services

Workplace culture training
Disability recruitment training
Workplace disability inclusion programme