Conceptualising disability in the workplace: contextualising the responses of managers and employees

Hanley, David (2014) Conceptualising disability in the workplace: contextualising the responses of managers and employees. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

[thumbnail of Thesis Document]
PDF (Thesis Document) - Submitted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.



This research explores how staff and managers conceptualise disabled people within the work setting. Despite anti-discriminatory legislation and government support schemes disabled people remain disadvantaged in terms of employment. The development of the social model of disability has challenged traditional concepts of disability. At the same time the disability movement has sought equality, including within employment. A key factor in the employment disadvantage of disabled people is held to be the discriminatory attitudes of employers and staff.
This research presents a case study of managers and staff within a commercial organisation. To support the data analysis an analytical framework has been developed, utilising existing literature and grounded in Critical Systems Heuristics. The framework identifies different rationalities staff could hold in conceptualising disability within the workplace.
A qualitative approach is used, generating rich data around the concepts the study group hold about disability and disabled people in the workplace. The analysis highlights that people hold ambivalent attitudes to disabled people within the workplace. Whilst generally sympathetic to the idea of greater numbers of disabled people in the workplace, they hold specific ideas that act as barriers to achieving this. These include conceptualising disabled people as less capable, anxieties over the impact on co-workers, and viewing work as generally fixed. This thinking is underpinned by how many people conceptualise work as competitive at an organisational and individual level and their perceptions of fairness, requiring disabled people to fit into work and not be treated radically differently to other workers. Rationality over disability and work is conflicted, with general sympathies over disability conflicting with anxieties over the actuality of disabled people in the workplace. It is argued that individuals rationalise this conflicted thinking by conceptualising disabled workers differently to disabled people. This is seen as significant in determining what is held as reasonable when accommodating disabled people, so becoming a driver of the overall approach to disability within the organisation.
The research offers an original contribution to knowledge in terms of offering new insights about disability and employment. The research offers a new analytical framework based on rationality and a potential contribution to policy on disability and employment.

Repository Staff Only: item control page