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 Scheme

The purpose of the Access to Work Scheme is to help people with an illness or disability gain, remain or progress in their ability to work. Employers have a duty to make “Reasonable Adjustments,” for their employees and there are legal remedies that you can take under the Equality Act if they fail to do this. If, however, the additional support you need is beyond the scope of the employer, you can apply to Access to Work for help. Access to Work can help to meet needs in addition to any “Reasonable Adjustments” that an employer has undertaken.

What Will Access to Work Pay For?

Under the scheme, you can get a grant towards things like:

  • adaptations to the equipment you use
  • special equipment or software
  • British Sign Language interpreters and video relay service support, lip speakers or note-takers
  • adaptations to your vehicle so you can get to work
  • taxi fares to work or a support worker if you cannot use public transport - for example, if you use a wheelchair and your journey includes a train station that does not have ramps
  • taxi fares to work or a support worker if you cannot use public transport safely
  • a support worker or job coach to help you in your workplace
  • personal protective equipment for your support worker if you employ them yourself
  • disability awareness training for your colleagues
  • the cost of moving your equipment if you change location or job

You can also get help if you work from home and need aids or adaptations there.

Who Can Apply to Access to Work?

  • Anyone Living in England, Wales, or Scotland (Northern Ireland has a similar scheme which is referred to below).
  • Anyone over 16 years of age
  • Anyone with an Illness or disability that makes it hard to get into or stay in work.
  • Applicants can be employees, self-employed, doing work experience or an internship.

How Is the Grant Paid?

The grant can be paid as a reimbursement to the applicant or the employer once they have paid for the item, adaptation, or service.

Impact on benefits

Access to Work grants do not affect benefit entitlements but Employment & Support Allowance claimants can only receive a grant if they are doing “Permitted Work.”

Other Issues

  • Employees of certain Government departments, such as DWP, can’t apply to the scheme because the department has made a commitment to pay for addition support to disabled employees out of its general budget.
  • Access to Work won’t pay for anything that an employer has agreed to pay for in the past but has now stopped for some reason.
  • You are more likely to succeed with an application if you have had a discussion with your employer about any Reasonable Adjustments they can make.

How to Apply for Access to Work

You can apply online https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work/apply 

Access to Work helpline

Telephone: 0800 121 7479
Textphone: 0800 121 7579
Relay UK (if you cannot hear or speak on the phone): 18001 then 0800 121 7479

Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Access to Work (Northern Ireland)

The Access to Work Scheme in Northern Ireland Is similar but, not identical to that in England and Wales.

Access to Work (NI), like in England & Wales helps with the practical problems caused by a long-term illness or disability. It offers advice and helps to meet the needs of an individual in a particular job or getting to and from work.

Access to Work (NI) can help towards the cost of:

  • communication support for deaf people or people who have a hearing impairment and need a communicator in the workplace or at interview
  • provision of special aids and equipment to suit particular work needs arising from disability
    adaptations to premises and equipment in the workplace to help an employee with disabilities
  • support if practical help is needed because of a disability, either at work or getting to and from work
  • support when a person with a disability incurs extra costs in travelling to and from work because of disability
  • support to assist employers where other additional costs arise because of disability - for example, extra 'in-work' travel costs, or provision of disability awareness training
    The Application Process

The application has to be made by the employee who needs assistance. However, a work coach can contact your local Access to Work team for you or give you their contact details. Subsequently, an Access to Work adviser will usually visit your place of work and advise on the most cost-effective option available.

Help will be approved for as long as it is needed up to a maximum of three years.

Apply to Access to Work (NI)

For more information and to apply for help through this programme, contact the Department for Communities.

 You can also contact a work coach in your local Jobs and Benefits office.

If you use sign language:

You can use British Sign Language (BSL) or Irish Sign Language (ISL) to contact Access to Work (NI). To use the video relay service:

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?

If you need to speak with one of Shine’s specialist advisers about spina bifida or hydrocephalus, call us on 01733 555988 or click here to email us.

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