The first – fronted by Paralympian Sophie Christiansen – took place today (Thursday) in Birmingham, with delegates from companies such as Santander, Sainsbury’s, Boots and E.ON.
The government says it wants the conferences to increase confidence among employers in recruiting and retaining the 3.6 million disabled people not in work.
The events are part of the Disability Confident campaign, launched by the prime minister at the government’s Working Together conference in July.
That conference was attended by 300 businesses and disabled entrepreneurs, but was criticised for its “non-confrontational” approach.
One Working Together delegate pointed out that it was difficult to encourage businesses to take on disabled staff when the government was suggesting through its welfare reforms that disabled people were all “wasters” and would be “completely unsuccessful” in work.
Mike Penning, the new Conservative minister for disabled people, said this week: “Research shows that more disabled jobseekers cite employers’ attitudes as a barrier to work than transport, which is why we’ve arranged the first ever national roadshow to support employers to become more confident about hiring disabled people.
“Although the employment rate for disabled people has increased gradually over the years, we know that all too often the talents of disabled people in the workforce are left untapped.”
Simon Weston, the Falklands veteran and businessman, said: “What I want employers to take away from this conference is that disabled people can be some of your best employees.
“We’re some of the most determined workers, who go the extra mile to secure results. To overlook the skills and talents of people because they have a physical or mental disability could ultimately cost you money.”
Phil Friend, a leading disability consultant, welcomed the conferences, but said he believed it was time to shift the focus from training employers to supporting disabled people themselves to be “confident”.
In a guest blog on the BBC Ouch website, he wrote: “Disabled people need to be better equipped to support themselves, to know what helps and what hinders, and to understand how to sell their abilities and to manage and mitigate the impact of their impairments.
“With knowledge and new confidence under their belt, disabled people will become motivated and less frightened about how they will cope in the workplace.”
The disabled activist David Gillon (@WTBDavidG) was less positive about the conference.
He told Disability News Service via Twitter: “I don’t need my talents demonstrated… I need my disability to not be an issue. Disability+talent is irrelevant, the issue is disability and employer competence.”
21 November 2013