Disabled staff in Scotland’s colleges feel they are overlooked for promotion and disadvantaged by restrictive working policies, according to new analysis by Advance HE.
The research reveals that staff lack confidence in the overall system, leading to many not disclosing their impairment on equal opportunities forms.
Advance HE has published Equality in colleges in Scotland: An analysis of the qualitative data of disabled staff experiences based on qualitative data from research previously published by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). The insights highlight the barriers disabled people face working in the college sector.
Respondents told how strict working and/or absence policies negatively impacted disabled staff, that the merger of Scottish colleges has created accessibility issues for those who may have to travel miles between sites, that there is a lack of promotion opportunities visible to disabled staff and that some cases of mental health were poorly handled.
One respondent who disclosed as disabled said he was overlooked for training opportunities with “preference given to others that do not have any disability” and suggested “promotion tends to be for staff without disability”.
Stephanie Millar, Policy and Programme Advisor (Scotland) at Advance HE said:
“Non-disclosure of both physical and mental impairment is a consistent trend across Scottish colleges. Our research suggests that too many negative experiences in the workplace may have led to staff choosing not to disclose.
“It is vital for disabled staff to have the confidence to provide this information so they can be adequately supported and enabled to do their job. Colleges must also ensure they continuously strive to make the workplace a more inclusive and flexible working environment for disabled staff.
"The research also demonstrates the emerging importance of accommodating mental health issues among staff.”
Equality in colleges in Scotland recommends four key ways to support disabled staff in Scottish colleges:
1. Consider developing mental health and well-being policies for staff and review sickness absence policies to provide greater support to staff with mental health conditions.
2. Review the processes around disclosure such as the request for information and how this is worded, the questions asked of staff and how any changes made due to staff disclosure are communicated.
3. Review existing sickness absence policies to assess how well they might address broader types of leave such as well-being days or disability-related leave.
4. Develop positive action approaches to the recruitment, development and retention of disabled staff, which are underpinned by evidence of need.