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Disabled people are significantly more likely to experience unfair treatment at work than non-disabled people. In March 2013, over one fifth of the working age population in the UK had a disability, and one in six people who become disabled while in work lost their job during the first year after becoming disabled. So, it’s perhaps no surprise that Employment Tribunals in the year ending 2014 awarded payments to 130 disability discrimination cases. The maximum award was £236,922, with an average award of £14,502. The financial motivation for employers to avoid disability tribunals is great.

And while that’s a heck of a lot of money, it doesn’t include the time and effort involved, and the huge emotional price tag, for all concerned. Money, time and pain which could have been avoided if disability mediation had taken place

Disability mediation does take place, but it’s done by mediators who have had no specific training for this type of dispute as the training does not yet exist. This is not good for the parties, for the employers, for the mediators, or for the mediating profession.

Due to the very nature of the issues at stake, disability mediation differs from other types of mediation. Disabled people sometimes feel unconfident in speaking about their disability or are unaware of their legal rights. Employers are sometimes concerned about how to engage in a disability conversation. And so, the dialogue never takes place. Result? Frustration on all sides. Potentially a poor performing employee. And a slippery slope downhill to a tribunal.

As a trained mediator, I know that it doesn’t need to be like this. Trained mediators can help to engage the parties in that all-important conversation before the situation even approaches the top of the slippery slope.

Some mediators may already be trained and working in SEN, but mediation for adults in the workplace is a very different context. It requires an understanding of disability, and what that means to the individual disabled person, it needs knowledge of legislation surrounding disability in the workplace, and it needs the skill to enable open conversations about disability to take place.

And the need for trained disability mediators is growing as increasing numbers of people with disabilities are having to seek employment; as the working population ages, the number of workers with acquired disabilities will inevitably rise. Having the skills and knowledge to mediate cases involving disability issues, and to mediate with people who have disabilities, is becoming more important than ever for mediators.

I am on the Steering Group of the College of Mediators, working to establish standards for disability mediation.  So far we have drafted the skills and knowledge requirements specific to disability mediation. We have presented this to the annual conference of the College and to the Scottish and Midlands Mediation Networks. We shall be presenting these findings to the College’s Professional Standards Committee in February.

What are you doing to ensure that the mediators you use in your workplace have the expertise to ensure that they will facilitate a positive result for the person with the disability and for your organisation?

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