Thousands of disabled people 'missing' from tech workforce

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Nearly 90,000 disabled people are 'missing' from the tech industry due to a lack of appropriate support, according to BCS, the chartered institute for IT .

While people with disabilities comprise 16% of the UK workforce, they only account for 11% of technology specialists, according to the BCS Diversity Report 2023: Disability.

In other words, for representation in IT to be equal to UK workplaces as a whole, there should be an additional 88,000 IT specialists with disabilities employed in the UK.

The number of people working in the tech sector reporting disabilities has risen from 196,000 people in 2021 to 208,000 in 2022, the most recent year of ONS figures.

"It's clear that the IT profession itself can and should be an excellent place for disabled and neurodivergent people to work, and digital tools can be a great enabler," said Matthew Bellringer, chair of the BCS' Neurodiversity Specialist Group.

The survey uncovered significant regional differences, with only 7% of IT specialists in Northern Ireland having a disability, compared with 16% in Wales. There was also variation by role, with just 8% of specialist IT managers having a disability, versus 14% of IT operations technicians.

Meanwhile, their unemployment rate – 4.2% – was notably higher than the 1.6% recorded for IT specialists as a whole, with around three in ten of all unemployed IT specialists in the UK having some form of disability during 2022. Average pay was also lower, at £21 per hour, compared with £24 per hour for IT specialists without disabilities.

However, IT specialists with disabilities are more likely to receive job-related education and training, with 32% stating it had been received in the previous 13 weeks during 2022, compared with 25% of those without disabilities.

"We have a severe skills gap in tech, which is a massive societal cost. Helping disabled people to utilise their expertise by providing the support they need is essential to boosting the talent pipeline in tech and other sectors," says Bellringer.   

"Some progress has been made. However, it's disappointing – though not terribly surprising – that many barriers still exist." 

The BCS makes a number of recommendations, from fostering greater education and awareness of disability in the workplace to more inclusive recruitment processes and workplace adjustments such as the use of assistive technology. It also suggests proactive initiatives, for example, consciously deploying neurodiverse individuals as part of teams.


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"More needs to be done to promote the positive side of employing people with disabilities and those who are neurodivergent - such as championing their resilience, and ability to look at issues and solve problems from a different perspective," comments cyber security expert Lisa Ventura, who campaigns for diversity in the tech sector.

"It's also essential to ensure accessible products and initiatives are evaluated as fit for purpose and not just imposed regardless – one size does not fill all of us. Introducing more inclusive practices can benefit all workers."

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.