Disabled police officers have been left behind in the force’s drive towards political correctness, the head of the association that represents them has said.
Simon Nelson, president of the Disabled Police Association, told the Sunday Telegraph it was time officers with disabilities were afforded the same consideration as those from other minority groups.
While unacceptable language used to describe black, Asian and gay and lesbian officers has largely been banished from the locker rooms and canteens of stations, figures show many disabled officers still suffer taunts and insults.
A recent survey found that more than 40 per cent of disabled officers had been subjected to derogatory comments from their colleagues, while almost 30 per cent had been on the receiving end of jokes about disability.
Mr Nelson said: “Where we are in terms of disability and what language is unacceptable, we need to be in the same place as some of those really offensive terms for LGBT and black and ethnic minority colleagues.
“There are words and phrases that are currently dressed up as banter at the moment which are truly offensive.”
He said even the very word “disabled” was loaded with negative connotations and he would prefer to see the term “diverse abilities” used to refer to his members.
Mr Nelson said it was not about political correctness or being “woke” but about improving the way officers felt about themselves and language was a major part of that.
“In the past you might hear those officers who were not fully deployable referred to as the lame, the sick and the lazy and that is not many years ago,” he explained.
While huge progress had been made, he said, there was still a long way to go in ensuring that policing was an environment that welcomed those with disabilities and got the best out of them.
“The term is disabled is not a badge that anyone is quick to put on. It just suggests basically that you are deactivated and in no way does it reflect or respect the mass of other abilities that an individual has,” he said.
“The issue is around perceptions and a lot of the perceptions are archaic. There are such a broad range of conditions but there is often misunderstanding because people sometimes talk about disabilities as if people have caught them as if every disabled person has got an illness.”
People with disabilities overlooked
Mr Nelson said many well meaning line managers were rightly quick to support officers from under represented groups in policing but sometimes overlooked those who had disabilities.
He said: “I know an officer who is black and there are plenty of managers who want to have a conversation with her about how she might be supported with her race or faith, but she also has Multiple Sclerosis but really struggles to get any engagement or support around reasonable adjustment around her condition.
“The risk to the service particularly in terms of retention is that we lose her because her greatest need is around her disability and then of course we lose further racial representation within the service.”
Around 18 per cent of the working population in the UK has some form of disability, but according to the most recent Home Office data, there are less than 3,000 disabled police officers currently serving.
Mr Nelson said it was hard to know whether that figure was accurate. “There is no reliable data. At the moment the Home Office is only able to produce reliable data for Black and Minority Ethnic Groups and gender,” he explained.
Also with around 90 per cent of disabilities not visible, many officers try to hide their conditions from their colleagues and bosses in order to avoid being stigmatised.
“If they don’t have to share their difference, very often they will work around it and struggle to get things done,” he said. But the introduction of the compulsory fitness test in 2013 which all officers must now complete has resulted in some disabled officers being “outed”, he said.
“I often compare disability to where LGBT colleagues were 10 to 15 years ago. You may have an officer who is really effective and then they will fail their fitness test and as a result they will be outed as disabled by process.”
He said while there would always be a need for mobile, physically robust response officers, the nature of police work had changed dramatically in recent years with many roles now requiring office based skills.
“One of the things we have to recognise and come to terms with is that policing is a very different beast now. Rather than there being a job related fitness test I would like to see a role related fitness test,” he explained.
“I would never pretend or suggest we don’t need some mobile capacity. We need a certain number of officers in every part of the service to chase, restrain and detain.
“But I am not convinced that the current fitness test is an accurate or proportionate indicator of someone’s ability to operate.”