Staff are afraid to declare disability

December 8, 2006

Universities are unable to adhere to the law as academics are not reporting conditions, Tony Tysome writes

Academics are afraid to declare disabilities or impairments because they believe that it will damage their career prospects, union leaders said this week as new anti-discrimination laws came into effect.

One in 50 academics has declared themselves as disabled, whereas national figures for the working population in higher education suggest that about one in seven is likely to have a condition that would be covered by the anti-discrimination measures.

The under-reporting of disabilities means that universities and colleges could be unwittingly breaking provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act 2005.

These place a duty on institutions to consult with disabled staff on all aspects of their disability policies. But the University and College said that many institutions that should be unveiling revised policies this week were unable to do so because they were unaware of some staff members' disabilities.

Kate Heasman, equality official for the UCU, said: "Because people feel they are working in a competitive environment where there is a lot of pressure, they fear that if they say they have an impairment and they need support that they will be looked on as someone who is not promotion material or who could be targeted for redundancy."

The UCU published a guide for staff and union branch officials on the new rights of disabled employees under the Act. It calls on branches to take steps to identify disabled staff and to support them and ensure that their views and any problems they have are properly represented.

The regulations introduce a concept of direct discrimination, which can never be justified. This occurs if an employer "treats the disabled person less favourably than he treats or would treat a person not having that particular disability".

They also bring in tougher rules to combat harassment related to disability.

The UCU guide underlines the importance of the duty on employers to consult with disabled staff.

The University and College Employers' Association said that institutions were "fully aware" that they needed to improve their data on disability and were "working hard" to develop an improved culture.

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

LAW-BREAKERS

If the answer to any of these questions is "no", your employer could be breaking the law:

  • Does your institution have a disability policy?
  • Were disabled staff actively involved in writing it?
  • Has the policy been updated to take into account the Disability Discrimination Act 2005?
  • Has your institution begun to monitor its staff profile by disability?
  • Has it begun to publish the results of its staff monitoring?
  • Have disabled staff been involved in assessing the institution's general progress towards achieving equality?

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