Employment and disability

Being disabled need not be a barrier to employment, though there may be some initial challenges to overcome. Here is some information to help.

The value of voluntary work

If you are disabled and starting to look for work it may be worth thinking about doing some voluntary work first. This can help you to discover if you are ready to move into paid employment and how that might fit with any care / other needs.

Voluntary work has many benefits. It can help to develop new skills and experience, which are also helpful for your CV, as you can highlight your experience and the contribution you will make to a new team in a new workplace.

A range of organisations have helpful information about volunteering:

https://www.ncvo.org.uk/ncvo-volunteering and www.navca.org.uk - promote volunteering as a powerful force for change, both for the volunteer and the wider community.

www.do-it.org.uk - information for people looking to do voluntary work in preparation for going into paid employment, plus opportunities in local areas.

Your local Community Volunteer Service or volunteer bureau will have useful information, advice and details of local voluntary work opportunities.

Impact on benefits

It is important to take advice, before starting voluntary or paid work, to find out if this would affect any benefits that you are receiving. It may also be possible to do permitted work, whilst receiving Employment Support Allowance (ESA), but there are complex rules about this, and you need to explore these before undertaking work, to ensure you don’t get into difficulty.

The government’s website has useful guidance about the work you can do while claiming ESA.

Disability Rights UK have a guide for people with a newly acquired health condition or disability about the work, training and educational options and support available to anyone who needs advice and/or signposting. The guide, number F40, called ‘Get back to where we do belong’ was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and endorsed by Professor Dame Carol Black. 

It is available here.

Identify your strengths and interests first

To help you to decide what you want to do, start by identifying your skills, strengths and interests, and be realistic about things you find difficult. It may help to talk these over with someone who knows you well. Use your strengths and interests as the start of preparing a CV (a document which supports your search for employment by outlining your skills, experience and achievements).

If you are already in employment you may want to consider joining a trade union. This would provide you with support and guidance if you encounter difficulties in connection with your job. Some unions also have a union learning representative who may be able to help with training and development. Find more about this on the TUC website.

What you should expect at work

Remember that employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for employees who have a disability. A few examples would be:

  • Making physical changes such as installing a ramp
  • Working flexible hours or part-time to accommodate disability related needs
  • Providing equipment such as specialist seating or a height adjustable desk
  • If you have had time off from work because of a health condition you may be entitled to a ‘back to work plan’ with a possible phased return and briefing sessions to allow you to get back up to speed.

Larger workplaces will usually have an Occupational Health department or service. These can be useful in suggesting and arranging ‘reasonable adjustments’, or providing advice if health issues have an impact on your employment.

If you need extra support to do your job, such as specialised equipment, or have extra costs to travel to work owing to your disability, you might be able to obtain help through Access to Work, a government scheme. Find out more here.

Talking about your health or disability

It is your choice whether and when you talk to people about your disability, including with your employer. Do think about the advantages of being open, such as getting the support you need, access to specialist equipment and external support. Your employer will not be able to make workplace adjustments if they don’t know that any are required.

Employment support services

Employment support services can sometimes be accessed to keep disabled people in work, or to enable someone to start work.

Access to Work

Access to Work is a scheme, run by Jobcentre Plus, which provides grants to help pay for practical support if you have a disability or health condition. Help that can be provided includes:

  • A support worker or job coach to help you in the workplace
  • Special equipment
  • Travel to work if you cannot use public transport, this can include taxi fares
  • Disability awareness training for your colleagues

To find out more see www.gov.uk/access-to-work or call 0800 121 7479.

Disability Employment Advisors

Disability Employment Advisors, based at your local Jobcentre, can help you find a job or gain new skills and tell you about disability friendly employers in your area.

They can also refer you to a specialist work psychologist or carry out an “employment assessment” asking you more about your skills and experience and what kind of roles you are interested in.

Work and Health Programme

The Work and Health programme is designed for people who may find it difficult to find or keep a job, and aims to identify your needs and provide the necessary support. You can access this via your local Job Centre.

Doing Careers Differently

Disability Rights UK’s guide Doing Careers Differently includes lots of advice about approaching employment, getting the skills you need, and finding a job that suits you.

Click here, for more information.


Under the Equality Act 2010, an employer cannot normally ask you about your health or disability history until after they have made a job offer. This means that they cannot turn you down on health grounds without your knowledge.

However employers can ask you, before a job offer is made, questions directly relevant to:

  • Whether reasonable adjustments need to be made in the selection process
  • If you can carry out a task that is an essential part of the work
  • As part of diversity monitoring among their job applicants
  • To increase the number of disabled people they employ
  • If disability is a requirement of the job.

You can find out more from the Equality and Human Rights Commission at www.equalityhumanrights.com

Working Tax Credit

The disabled worker element is a significant benefit for disabled working people who work at least 16 hours per week. To qualify for this benefit you have to satisfy two tests, one relating to your disability, and one to your receipt of a qualifying benefit.

For more information go to www.disabilityrightsuk.org/guide-tax-credits and https://www.gov.uk/tax-credits-calculator


Disabled people frequently have to deal with enormous challenges, which provide extra coping skills and resilience. Emphasising these extra skills and life experience may set you apart from the crowd. Don’t give up on your dreams, but be flexible and realistic when aiming for them.

Need more help?

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