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Disabled staff

Addressing barriers to career development and progression that disable staff with impairments.

People with impairments may face barriers to employment and career progression in HEIs. Providing support and adjustments can remove these barriers and support the development of an inclusive environment.

Barriers may be:

  • Physical, for example the design of the working environment
  • Procedural, for example particular working practices
  • Social, for example negative attitudes from staff towards disabled people

HEIs can provide a range of support and adjustments where people are disabled by barriers. This support can remove the barriers or mitigating their effect. Removing barriers will allow staff with impairments equal access to training, development and promotion. This will help the HEI retain talented, skilled and experienced staff and deliver a high-quality service that meets the requirements of a diverse student population. Support can be provided even if it means treating disabled people more favourably.

In providing support, HEIs must ensure they avoid creating a blame, guilt or negative culture for disabled people that will inhibit access to assistance and reasonable adjustments. To fully address furthering equality for disabled staff, strategic priorities, policy and practice need to understand that impairment forms a positive part of personal identity for many disabled people.

To ensure an inclusive working environment disabled individuals and disabled staff groups must be involved in decisions on support and reasonable adjustments. Seeking regular feedback from disabled people about the institution’s strengths and weaknesses in providing assistance and/or reasonable adjustments can also support the development of an inclusive environment.

Enabling equality: furthering disability equality for staff in HE provides practical, evidence-based advice on areas that are influential in shaping the experiences of disabled staff in the workplace, and offers recommendations for best practice.

What is Access to Work?

Access to Work is a publicly funded employment support programme that aims to help more disabled people start or stay in work. It provides practical and financial support to individuals with an impairment, or long term physical or mental health condition. It can also provide practical support and guidance to employers to help them understand how they can support disabled employees.

Access to Work is available across England, Wales and Scotland, and a similar scheme is available in Northern Ireland.

For further information on Access to Work in England, Wales and Scotland see:

For further information on Access to Work in Northern Ireland see:

What are the changes?

In October 2015, the Government implemented a cap on the amount of Access to Work funds an individual, accessing support for the first time, could receive. This cap is calculated at one and a half times the average salary, and is adjusted annually. For the year April 2017-March 2018 this limit was £42,100.

This cap will be extended to existing Access to Work recipients from April 2018.

This cap is to be applied to Access to Work across England Wales and Scotland, with no changes announced to the scheme in Northern Ireland.

Who is this likely to affect?

When the change was announced in March 2015, the Government stated that only 1% of users (2013-14) received over £35,000 a year. It is worth noting however, that those users who received over £35,000 were recipients of over 15% of the Access to Work funds awarded. This may mean that some users will receive substantially less money for recurring costs.

The cap is most likely to affect D/deaf users of British Sign Language, and others with high-cost support needs. The Department of Work and Pensions has not released figures to show how many people will see their Access to Work support reduced when the cap comes into effect.

What does this mean for higher education institutions?

Staff who received Access to Work support prior to October 2015 will now be affected by the cap and may require a review of the support provided. Individuals who have been in receipt of Access to Work funds above the cap for a number of years, potentially their whole working life, may be anxious about the changes to the cap. HEIs should have records of funds that have been received for individuals through the institution.

HEIs should consider examining internal records to find out which staff are likely to be affected, in order to discuss their support after the cap comes into effect.

It is important that institutions engage affected staff and involve them in discussions about their ongoing support needs.

This will be key to ensuring that institutions can find effective and practical ways of ensuring that staff feel supported through the changes.

The legal duty for HEIs as enshrined in the Equality Act 2010, remains for institutions to make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff.

When determining whether an adjustment is reasonable, the cost of any adjustment is considered in relation to the resources of the institution as a whole.

Access to Work cannot be used to fund reasonable adjustments as defined in the Equality Act, nor to fund items which would usually be required to fulfil the role such as standard equipment, standard business costs or health and safety requirements. The changes to Access to Work funding do not change an HEI’s legal responsibilities.

Higher Education Institutions may want to consider whether additional funds could be made available for staff affected by these changes. In addition to this, HEIs could also look at how support may be offered through alternative measures, in discussion with the staff members affected.

Higher Education Institutions may wish to use these changes as an opportunity to move to a centralised fund for reasonable adjustments, as discussed in our guidance ‘Disclosure and support issues for disabled staff in Higher Education’.

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Further information

For further information please contact