employedAlmost half (45%) of UK businesses admit to being apprehensive about hiring someone with a disability because of fears they won’t be able to do the job and concerns about making inappropriate comments or actions, according to new research.

The findings came from a survey of 1,000 businesses to coincide with the launch of Purple, a new not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving employment opportunities for disabled people by supporting businesses and individuals.

The organisation offers consultancy and recruitment services to help businesses drive inclusive employment strategies, while providing disabled people – those with physical or learning disabilities – with greater levels of employment support. The organisation aims to help more than 20,000 disabled people to find permanent jobs over the next decade, while simultaneously matching 25,000 personal assistants to disabled employers.

Purple’s research aimed to determine the current barriers for business in employing disabled workers and found that 22% of business owners and hiring managers admit they are worried about interviewing someone with a disability in case they do or say the wrong thing. Fears include using the incorrect terminology (32%) and not knowing whether they should help with things such as opening doors or pulling out chairs (38%). Meanwhile, 21% of employers said falling foul of discrimination law was a concern. 

The findings also revealed that 43% of employers expect disabilities to be disclosed on an applicant’s CV prior to interview, despite there being no legal obligation to do so.

Currently, of the UK’s 11.5 million disabled people, just 49% are currently in work, compared to 82% of non-disabled people. For people with learning disabilities, the figure is just 7-10%.

This research suggests misconceptions and prejudices are preventing disabled people from finding employment, with many being squeezed out of the job market at the first hurdle, regardless of professional ability, according to Purple. 

Mike Adams, chief executive of Purple, said: “We’ve always known that being disabled means you’re more likely to be unemployed and this has a real impact on both the career opportunities and quality of life. What this latest research tells us is that in fact it isn’t disability that’s the barrier to finding employment, but the worries and misconceptions of business owners themselves. This isn’t just a barrier for disabled people, but for many businesses missing out on valuable employee skills and talent, as well as powerful consumer opportunity. 

“With Purple we are taking a new, brave and bold approach to the problem. We want to work with business to address concerns whilst upskilling individuals to seize the opportunities available. We will give business and individual an equal voice and by not being afraid to tackle the issues on both sides we will change the conversation on disability employment.”