Accessibites: Doing seniority at work differently.

Published Date
Reason Digital

“Disabled people need to be able to be as embedded in an organisation as non-disabled people – this will enable them not just to have a job, but when there, to progress and perform at their very best.” – Tony Walsh, successful finance and occupational psychologist with a physical disability.

Due to experiences relating to our impairments, we usually focus on the barriers imposed by society, but the more we focus on the problems we face and the discrimination known in work places, the less likely we are to be motivated to become successful.

The low expectations of disabled people contributes to the fact that hardly any information or knowledge about highly successful disabled people is heard of.

However, a survey conducted by RADAR (the UK’s largest disability campaigning network) has revealed that some disabled people are getting rid of low expectations – and flying high.

The survey considers the amount of disabled people holding senior management roles across the private, public and voluntary sectors. It has shown that around 110 ‘disabled high fliers’ earn £80,000 a year or above. Nevertheless, it also outlined how disabled people still experience significant inequality on their way up the corporate ladder – in relation to age, gender, ethnicity and impairment type.

Numerous participants surveyed have significant impairments, including paraplegia, multiple sclerosis and bi-polar disorder. Over half surveyed have had their impairment for over 20 years – contradicting the belief that disabled people who climbed up the career ladder had done so before becoming disabled.

The successful senior participants of the survey agreed that senior managers, who were prepared to back their careers, not limit their ambition, made a difference to their progression. From this, it was gathered that spotting and developing talent and aspiration may be even more important for progression than just simply accommodating impairments.

Key findings:
RADAR compared 911 disabled and 550 non-disabled respondents and found that:

  • Senior disabled people do exist and tend to be male, middle-aged and work in the private sector.
  • Non-disabled people were twice as likely to be Board-level directors and were over 3 times more likely to earn £80,000 or above than disabled people.
  • Disabled people are more likely to hold non-leadership roles.
  • Even though the survey proved that with sufficient support and mentoring, disabled people were able to climb up the corporate ladder; disabled people were less likely to get this support.
  • The survey highlighted the inequalities between disabled people itself. Those with mental health conditions were less likely to earn £80,000 or above than other disabled people.
  • 75% of disabled people with an ‘invisible’ disability or health condition would keep it hidden at work as some felt it was not relevant to their field of work, but most of all, because they feared being discriminated, stereotyped or stopped from progressing.
  • People with mental health conditions were more likely to choose to conceal their impairment.
  • Only 39% of disabled people were confident that they would have equal career opportunities to non-disabled people.
  • People with physical impairments were less likely to aspire to be promoted in the next two to three years.

The survey concluded that while some people are ‘flying high’, using their talents and energies (and sometimes being helped by mentors and senior staff), others are frustrated and live in fear that if their ‘secret’ is exposed, their position at work will be jeopardised.

RADAR seeks to work with others to help create a world in which disabled people have the freedom to develop talents and be free from fear, prejudice and low expectations.

 A spokesperson from RADAR said,

“We hope that increasing our understanding of those who have succeeded will add to the pool of disabled role models that gives everyone visions of the possible; and help open doors for new generations of disabled people to pass through.”


As a result of this survey/report, RADAR has decided to launch a Doing Seniority Differently Network in early 2010 offering opportunities to meet inspirational people, pursue career interests, network and hear from leaders – both disabled and non-disabled.

 Trailblazer, Mindi Virdee says,

“Many of us, at some point in our lives, have been cut off from reaching our full potential; whether it was at school or in a job. I really respect how RADAR are trying to raise the expectations of disabled people to ensure we have the equal chance of achieving our goals, whatever it may be. Bringing into the light, the success stories of disabled people, perhaps some companies and organizations will grasp the fact that disabled people have the same skills to offer as others, therefore will be given the chance to progress at becoming an integral part of the company.”

The full report and information regarding the Doing Seniority Differently Network is available on RADAR’s website.

 By Mindi Virdee

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