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Supporting Disabled and Neurodivergent staff at UCL: guidance for staff and their line managers

Contents

A note on language use
1.    What is disability?
1.1. The Social Model understanding of disability
1.2. Disability and the Equality Act 2010
2.    What are reasonable adjustments?
2.1. What is reasonable?
2.2. Process for implementing reasonable adjustments at UCL
3.    What is the role of a line manager?
3.1.  Conversations between line managers and staff members about reasonable adjustments
3.2. Tips for line managers having conversations with staff members about reasonable adjustments
3.3. Inside UCL
4.    Sickness absence related to disability
5.    Sources of support at UCL
5.1. Access to UCL buildings
5.2. Digital Accessibility Services
5.3. HR Business Partnering
5.4. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team
5.5. Funding reasonable adjustments
5.6. Mental health
5.7. Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans ('PEEPs')
5.8. Workplace Health


A note on language use

For the purposes of this guidance, reference to ‘Disabled and Neurodivergent people’, ‘Disabled and Neurodivergent person’ and / or ‘Disabled and Neurodivergent staff’ refers to a person who meets the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 (someone who has a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities). This is because this guidance focuses on the legal duty imposed on employers (such as UCL) to implement reasonable adjustments for job applicants, employees and former employees that meet this definition, in certain circumstances.

Please note, ‘Neurodivergent’ does not have a separate legal definition. However, we have referenced ‘Neurodivergent’ in addition to ‘Disabled’ in recognition of the concept of neurodiversity, where neurodivergence is seen as just perfectly normal neurological differences between people. However Neurodivergent people may still meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010, and therefore require reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

Finally, placing ‘Disabled and Neurodivergent’ before ‘people’, ‘person’ and / or ‘staff’ reflects identity-first language. This is capitalised to emphasise the term’s important political significance.

1.    What is disability?


1.1. The Social Model understanding of disability

The Social Model understanding of disability is a concept developed by Disabled and Neurodivergent people that describes how people are disabled by barriers put in place by society, not by their condition or difference. Barriers can include things like inaccessible buildings, inaccessible documents or computer programmes, or set work patterns. If society was set up in a way that was accessible for Disabled and Neurodivergent people, then there would be no barriers.

Sometimes referred to as a ‘barriers-approach’, the Social Model helps us think about how we can identify and remove these barriers. All staff at UCL, particularly line managers, can act as allies to Disabled and Neurodivergent people as they can help to identify and remove disabling barriers at work.

As an organisation, it is important that we ensure that our working environment is inclusive for Disabled and Neurodivergent employees. We have a moral imperative to ensure that all staff feel welcomed, understood, accepted, and valued at work. The Equality Act 2010 and Public Sector Equality Duty provides the legal imperative for employers to take steps not to discriminate against employees with protected characteristics, foster good relations between groups, and implement reasonable adjustments for Disabled and Neurodivergent staff to remove any barriers that they may be facing at work. There is a lot of research showing that inclusive working environments lead to more innovation and more productive workforces that have better business outcomes (e.g. BCG diversity and innovation survey, 2017; McKinsey diversity wins, 2020).

1.2. Disability and the Equality Act 2010

In the Equality Act 2010, disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

In this definition:

  • ‘long-term’ means an impairment that has lasted for (or is likely to last for) 12 months or more;
  • 'substantial’ means an effect that is more than minor or trivial; and
  • ‘normal day-to-day activities’ means day-to-day activities that most people do on a regular or daily basis (both personally and at work).

Individuals are still covered by the Equality Act 2010 even if the effects of a condition are managed through use of medication, a prosthesis or other equipment. If an individual has a fluctuating condition where the adverse effects on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities comes and goes, this is still considered ‘long-term’ (if the condition fluctuates over 12 months or more).

Certain conditions automatically meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act. These include (but are not limited to) HIV infection, cancer and multiple sclerosis from the point of diagnosis and even if the condition goes into remission or is undetectable.

However, there are also certain exclusions from definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010. These are limited to the following:

  • addiction to, or dependency on, alcohol, nicotine or any other substance (other than in consequence of the substance being medically prescribed or some other medical treatment);
  • seasonal allergic rhinitis, usually known as hayfever (except where it aggravates the effect of another condition);
  • tendency to set fires;
  • tendency to steal;
  • tendency to physical or sexual abuse of other persons;
  • exhibitionism;
  • voyeurism; and
  • tattoos and body piercings.

It is important to remember that not everyone who is protected under the Equality Act will self-identify as disabled. For example, a person with ADHD may not consider themselves disabled, but may still need reasonable adjustments at work. Alternatively, not everyone who will self-identify as disabled will be protected by the Act. For example, if someone breaks their arm, they may experience temporary disability lasting less than 12 months. Always take the lead from the individual as to how they prefer to be described.

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2.    What are reasonable adjustments?

The Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on employers (such as UCL) to make reasonable adjustments to help disabled job applicants, employees and former employees in certain circumstances.

The Equality Act recognises that for Disabled and Neurodivergent people to access employment, barriers must be removed to ensure they are not disadvantaged. This is the duty to make reasonable adjustments. Reasonable adjustments are designed to remove barriers where a Disabled or Neurodivergent person is placed at a substantial disadvantage by

  • a physical feature of an employer’s premises (e.g. disabled toilets, ramp access);
  • an employer’s provision, criterion or practice (e.g. changes to working hours, working from home, sickness absence triggers); and / or
  • an employer’s failure to provide an auxiliary aid (e.g. tailored computer software).

The duty to make reasonable adjustments will only arise if an employer knows, or should reasonably know, that someone is disabled and will likely be placed at a substantial disadvantage because of their disability.

The duty to implement reasonable adjustments does not mean that staff with reasonable adjustments in place have an advantage over other colleagues. Whilst staff with reasonable adjustments in place may have different arrangements to other staff, they are there to remove barriers and alleviate disadvantage.

2.1. What is reasonable?

Adjustments only have to be made if it is reasonable to do so. Reasonability is highly dependent upon the context and the facts surrounding the individual situation.

Factors that will help to decide whether an adjustment is reasonable at UCL include:

  • the extent to which the adjustment is practicable;
  • the extent to which the adjustment would overcome the disabled person’s disadvantage;
  • the nature of UCL’s activities and UCL’s size as a whole;
  • the financial and other resources available to UCL as a whole;
  • the cost of making the adjustment and the extent to which the adjustment would disrupt UCL activities; and
  • external financial or other assistance available to UCL as a whole.

The extent to which an adjustment disrupts UCL activities can be considered in terms of business needs. For example, if a certain job as a receptionist requires a staff member to be present at a reception desk, a request to remote work would likely disrupt UCL activities and therefore may not be considered reasonable. Consideration should also be given to what the impact on others (e.g. team members) may be as a result of the proposed adjustment. Additionally, UCL would be considered in terms of its size and available resources as a whole institution, not at department level (e.g. if a reasonable adjustment request was rejected by a department on the grounds of available departmental funding, if challenged, an Employment Tribunal would not consider the available funding or resources at a department level, but rather UCL’s resources at institution level). For Further information about funding available for reasonable adjustments, see ‘5.5 Funding reasonable adjustments’ below.

If challenged, only an Employment Tribunal can categorically conclude what is reasonable in the circumstances. However, the above factors will certainly be useful when determining reasonability.

2.2. Process for implementing reasonable adjustments at UCL

The process for implementing reasonable adjustments at UCL is outlined via a flowchart:


 

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3.    What is the role of a line manager?

Line managers play a fundamental role in ensuring reasonable adjustments are implemented as soon as reasonably possible and monitored effectively.

3.1.  Conversations between line managers and staff members about reasonable adjustments

Most reasonable adjustments are implemented informally after a discussion between a line manager and member of staff.

It is best practice for line managers to take the lead from the staff member who will, more often than not, know exactly what adjustments are needed. During the discussion, line managers should therefore ask the member of staff how UCL can best support them at work and what adjustments they might find useful.

If the staff member does not know what adjustments are needed, line managers should not ask for in-depth information about the member of staff’s medical history or evidence of their disability. Instead, they should ask if the staff member is experiencing any barriers (rather than the specifics of a condition itself) as this can help identify what adjustments would help them at work.

Remember, UCL supports the Social Model understanding of disability. Line managers should therefore focus on the barriers that the staff member is facing, rather than their condition or difference. Identifying barriers will help to identify what adjustments can be made to alleviate them. For example, a staff member may take medication that makes them feel groggy in the mornings, so having altered working hours (e.g. starting later and finishing later) would help them overcome this barrier. You can read about further examples of common reasonable adjustments here.

Managers are encouraged to provide support for any member of staff experiencing difficulties at work, regardless of legal status and can still make use of UCL support services where appropriate (e.g. from Workplace Health, their HRBP or the Digital Accessibility Team as detailed in '5. Sources of support at UCL' below).

3.2. Tips for line managers having conversations with staff members about reasonable adjustments

  • Read the resources detailed under ‘5. Sources of support at UCL’ below, to aid you in supporting disabled staff members and promoting a culture of disability inclusion;
  • Consider accessibility ahead of the meeting to ensure you are able to communicate effectively. If you are unsure, ask the staff member how they would best like to have the conversation;
  • Use the UCL Adjustments Passport to facilitate and structure the discussion. It can be particularly helpful if you are unsure where to start;
  • Provide a supportive environment so that the staff member feels safe and able to share;
  • Practice active and compassionate listening: try to put yourself in the shoes of the staff member and consider what challenges they may be facing;
  • Be open to accommodating adjustments: consider the request in terms of what is reasonable and if it will remove the barrier they are facing;
  • If necessary, reach out to the UCL teams detailed under ‘5. Sources of support’ below, for further support and advice before agreeing adjustments;
  • Keep records of conversations and agreed adjustments (e.g. via the Adjustments Passport);
  • Implement adjustments as soon as reasonably possible;
  • Signpost the staff member to other sources of support detailed under the ‘5. Sources of support at UCL’ below, where appropriate; and
  • Ensure you check in with the staff member regularly (at least every 6 months, but more regular check ins may be needed if adjustments are new) to ensure adjustments are still appropriate and effective (e.g. during appraisals or 1:1s).

3.3. Inside UCL

Line managers should encourage their staff to update their personal details on Inside UCL and record if they have a disability or long-term condition for the purposes of equality data monitoring and reporting. This data is held anonymously and is used for analysis purposes to help UCL meet the needs of Disabled and Neurodivergent staff by developing targeted initiatives and interventions around disability equity. 

Line managers should flag that this information is not shared with line managers. As such, a separate conversation will be needed with the line manager and staff member to discuss reasonable adjustments.

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4.    Sickness absence related to disability

Where sickness absence is disability related, line managers should employ a supportive and flexible approach when managing sickness absence triggers. This may mean implementing reasonable adjustments in the sickness absence trigger process. Some examples of reasonable adjustments could be:

  • not counting some or all sickness absence related to a disability towards any trigger points; and / or
  • increasing the number of absences that will trigger a review.

Line managers can seek advice and support from their HR Business Partner (“HRBP”) on how to consider disability related sickness absence.

Remember, sickness absence, and any medical appointments, related to disability should still be recorded as such in MyHR (Sickness Absence Policy Appendix A, Section 3.5).

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5.    Sources of support at UCL

5.1. Access to UCL buildings

UCL is committed to improving access to UCL's premises. We do this by carrying out audits through the Estates Department and through ongoing consultation with the community to ensure we are investing in adjustments that have the most positive effect as we work to increase our inclusive footprint. 

In addition, UCL has a Route Finder Service showing accessible routes around the UCL campus.

Furthermore, information on the accessibility of teaching and centrally bookable spaces is held on the estates and facilities website, which has a database of bookable spaces including a list of rooms with the positive and challenging features that may be encountered.

Finally, requests for reasonable adjustments relating to an individual staff member should be made through the Customer Services Centre using the Service Request Form.

5.2. Digital Accessibility Services

UCL’s Digital Accessibility Services Team advises, trains and supports staff and students in assistive technology. They also work on making UCL's digital landscape a more accessible space by improving webpages, advising on and writing accessibility statements, and providing resources on creating accessible content. 

The Team provides in-person assistance through the Digital Accessibility Hubs, located on the Bloomsbury campus and on the UCL East campus. Alternatively, you can contact the Digital Accessibility Team here to find out more.

5.3. HR Business Partnering

The first point of contact for any queries regarding reasonable adjustments is your HRBP. Your HRBP can provide advice and guidance around the appropriateness and reasonability of adjustments, as well as point to other sources of support across UCL.

5.4. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion ('EDI') Team provide:

5.5. Funding reasonable adjustments

Not all adjustments will have a cost. Where they do, funding should be derived from the following sources:

  • For prospective staff members that require communication support at interview stage (e.g. a sign language interpreter), Access to Work provides funding for this. Prospective staff members can apply to Access to Work online, who will respond with a decision within 2 working days. Where departmental funds are available, however, we encourage departments to cover this cost to reduce the administrative burden on prospective Disabled and Neurodivergent staff members;
  • For a new starter that needs reasonable adjustments, they will be expected to apply to Access to Work within the first 6 weeks for 100% funding (within the first 6 weeks of employment);
  • If the combined cost of reasonable adjustments comes to less than £500, departments are required to cover this from their own budgets. In addition, desks, chairs, laptops or any standard office equipment will be funded by departments / divisions even if they exceed the £500 threshold;
  • If the combined cost of reasonable adjustments is to between £500 and £1,000, the cost will be shared between departments / divisions and the central fund for reasonable adjustments on a 50 / 50 basis; and 
  • If the combined cost of reasonable adjustments is over £1,000, the staff member will be expected to apply to Access to Work. The central fund for reasonable adjustments can be used to assist departments to meet the Access to Work funding threshold.

Access to Work

Access to Work is a programme run by the Department of Work and Pensions to support Disabled and Neurodivergent people in obtaining reasonable adjustments. Access to Work is intended to provide funding towards adjustments, such as training, coaching, additional travel costs, services, support or equipment, that would be above and beyond what is reasonable for an employer to supply. You can find out more about Access to Work funding levels in the ‘Funding reasonable adjustments’ section above.

For Neurodivergent staff members, please note that it is helpful to undergo a workplace needs assessment at UCL whilst waiting for an Access to Work application to be processed, as the report produced can be given to Access to Work as evidence of required adjustments. Access to Work do provide workplace needs assessments themselves, however the assessors may not be specialists in neurodivergence.

Find out more about Access to Work here.

5.6. Mental health

For information about supporting mental health at work, see our mental health guidance for managers, as well as Workplace Health resources.

5.7. Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans ('PEEPs')

Every department at UCL has a responsibility to ensure that Disabled and Neurodivergent staff members can be safely evacuated in an emergency. A PEEP is used to provide an assessment for planning an emergency evacuation from UCL premises for people with a mobility impairment or sensory disabilities in case of an emergency evacuation. Departments can organise a PEEP using the online form

5.8. Workplace Health

Staff members and PhD students can contact Workplace Health if they are experiencing stress, issues with mental health and issues with general well-being, impacting their ability to undertake their role at UCL.

Where possible, individuals should obtain a management referral from their line manager or supervisor, as this will allow Workplace Health to create a report following a consultation. For example, after receiving a referral form, Workplace Health will contact the individual to arrange a confidential consultation. With the individual’s consent, they will then generate a report which will be sent to the referring line manager or supervisor containing advice and recommendations around adjustments.

Further information on Workplace Health can be found here. Please note, Workplace Health is not able to offer diagnostic services.

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