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"Putting Ability First": What does it really mean?

Category: Pro-Opinion, Disabilities, ability, employment

"Putting Ability First": What does it really mean?

Remploy, an organisation established more than 60 years ago to provide jobs for wounded military personnel returning from the Second World War, has significantly expanded its role. Today the company provides a range of specialist employment services, supporting disabled and disadvantaged people into mainstream employment - and helping them stay there.

But what support does it give to its own employees who are disabled? Alisdair Forsythe, Remploy's Head of Workplace Development, explains the company's forward-thinking strategy.

Many disabled people we work with have been offered little realistic chance of gaining mainstream employment. But with advances in technology, support available, and new willingness to embrace inclusion, we can all help open up more mainstream employment opportunities for disabled people. All that is really required is a mind-set that says "how can we make this work?", rather than "how can this work?"

The Remploy of 2014 will look a lot different to how it looked just a few years ago. But it will still employ a far higher than average amount of disabled people across all our job roles and at all levels in the organisation. According to the Office of Disability Issues, 15 per cent of working age adults are disabled. (cite Family Resources Survey 2010/11) 25% of Remploy Employment Services workforce has a disability or health condition.

We actively seek to put ability first in all our recruitment as a model for other employers to follow, and help us achieve our aim of transforming society and the lives of disabled people by creating equality in employment. Our future focus will be on narrowing the mainstream employment gap for disabled people through gaining fair and equal access to sustainable employment and career opportunities for all. We believe that sharing our experience of overcoming barriers to employment for disabled people is a key factor in achieving our future aims.

Case Study: Could you manage a team with 93% of your people having a disability or health condition?

Our contact centre is a rich and diverse employee mix of age, gender, ethnicity, beliefs, backgrounds and of course disabilities and health conditions.

The centre is responsible for a variety of operations including verification, auditing and monitoring of contractual paperwork tracking calls to candidates and employers, in work support, sales and so forth. Contact centre manager Caroline Richardson, has been in her role for nearly two years and recruited 60% of the current team as well as eight disabled apprentices through the National Apprenticeship Programme.

Caroline has ensured reasonable adjustments are in place for colleagues with a range of different disabilities including mental health, Asperger's syndrome, diabetes, visual impairment, dyslexia, heart and lung conditions and hearing impairments to name a few. These adjustments include adjusting hours of work, providing ergonomic chairs, adapted keyboards and mice, accessible software, and buddying and coaching.

Caroline understands that each person is unique, whatever their disability. She said:

"The benefits of implementing good and effective reasonable adjustments outweigh any potential cost and have minimal impact to the business. You can't make assumptions, you need to take time to get to know the person and find out what they can do well and what they can do less well. Our ethos is to maintain a real culture of opening up opportunities for disabled people to demonstrate their capabilities. I would advise not to be afraid of asking questions and don't make assumptions, every person's disability affects them differently, don't pigeon hole people by their disability.

As a manager, Caroline's success in creating a high performing team has been attributed to coaching, listening and empathy. Due to the high proportion of disabled people, Caroline has been in the position to learn of the barriers her employees have faced when trying to secure employment. A frequent experience has been a potential employer focussing on what the person can't do, as opposed to what they can do. Also Caroline has learnt that very few people disclose their mental health status at interview stage because they have been made to feel, in their previous experience, that mental health issues put potential employers off.

Maintaining performance, whilst accommodating a wide variety of adjustments, can be challenging but Caroline and her team have identified their critical success factors:

  • Tailored support to the individual, with the focus on what can be done, not focusing on disability.
  • Getting to know the individual as a person, not just as an employee or just assigning a mentor.
  • Talking to people and getting to know what drives them. This can mean looking at being able to influence change by getting them involved early on, and encourage opportunities, independence & positivity.
  • A concentration on the things that many others take for granted through developing life skills that can make a real difference to wellbeing and reducing individual stressors including transport to work, social skills, starting times, general wellbeing and health, money etc.

At Remploy we believe everyone can make a valuable contribution to the success of our business, our economy and our society. If we all felt the same way we could considerably narrow the employment gap for disabled people. Many employers use transparent recruitment processes, policies and procedures. But how transparent is the thinking of the recruiter?.

Ultimately, we believe "Putting Ability First" means a willingness to overcome preconceived ideas of what a disabled person can do, and focus on ability, not disability. We welcome any opportunity to work with employers to increase understanding and awareness of overcoming barriers to employment.

Find out more about Remploy here.

Vercida works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with Vercida to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please call 02037405973 or email info@vercida.com for more information.

We are also officially recommended by Disability Confident as a step on achieving Employer status, please click here for more information.

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email info@vercida.com for more information.

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