Access to Work

Access to Work (AtW) is a government grant scheme which enables people with disabilities or long-term health conditions to meet the costs of specialist equipment or even human support they might need to do their job. For the employee, the principle is that the funds enable them to do their work on an equal footing, while the employer is spared excessive financial outlay. The scheme is designed both to help new starters with disabilities or health conditions, as well as any existing staff member whose circumstances should change suddenly.

In the case of blind and partially sighted people, they might need to purchase specialist and expensive software such as screenreaders or print enlargement packages. Similarly, they may require hardware such as Braille displaysBraille embossers, large monitors, voice recorders or a wide variety of other notetaking devices.

Depending on the role, quite a few blind and partially sighted people also opt for support workers. These are staff paid for from the Access to Work grant, meaning they are not on the employer’s payroll. These could be vital if the job in question demands such things as reading a lot of handwriting, presentations with lots of graphics or a large amount of lone travel to people’s homes.

Unsurprisingly, there is a process involved so the sooner an application gets underway the better. Once a job offer has been made, it is particularly helpful if HR departments are aware of the AtW Scheme, as all parties working together speeds things up considerably. This process will almost certainly demand an on-site assessment by a professional, meaning the successful candidate will need to visit the employer’s premises for this before they’ve actually started in post.

It is also helpful when employers understand that this is often a difficult and sensitive process for the employee, involving disclosure of no small amount of personal information. As with any benefit, unnecessary expense will be avoided which places the applicant in an awkward and intense position what feels like minutes after the good news of landing a new job. In fact, while most others might reasonably start a new job with some elation and optimism, a disabled starter coming out of this process can be a little jaded or just plain relieved, somewhat overshadowing those more positive emotions they will surely still be feeling underneath. This is particularly acute for people in their first roles. As with everything though, those who have been through the process will have gained useful experience and resilience.

It is worth noting that the equipment purchased through Access to Work becomes the property of the employer but for the express and exclusive usage of that employee. If they leave, the employee is not entitled to take it with them. In reality, they usually do because the employer has no need of it, while all parties generally agree that it will help the person settle into their new role. There would need to be a severe absence of goodwill for this not to happen. Employers must be aware they have responsibility for maintenance and insurance.

On a similar point, any Support Worker required is not an additional employee. This means the employer does not manage such assistants and, strictly speaking, can’t give them instructions either. Once again, common sense generally applies – if you employ the disabled staff member, it follows that instructions to your disabled staff member do effectively pass on indirectly to their support worker. It is important to remain aware of how the lines of authority work however. The support worker will almost always be hired by an agency used by Job Centre Plus. This means both employer and employee can register a complaint with that agency if anything should go wrong, but neither has the right to discipline the support worker in the standard sense. Employers may naturally act on something like a code of conduct breach on their premises, as they would with any office visitor, but even then the complaint should be lodged with the agency.

For more information on the Access to Work scheme visit this website.