Every so often in my job something happens that is really inspiring. The Disability Confident conference organised by the Department for Work and Pensions at the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce fell into this welcome category.
It was inspiring partly because of the stories of local employers who had taken on workers with a disability and found them brilliant staff to have. But also because of the personal testimonies of some of the disabled staff, who revealed that having and holding a job, especially after a lifetime of rejection, had transformed their lives for the better.
The Disability Confident scheme helps employers to be more inclusive and to support their disabled staff, while addressing the many misconceptions that surround disability. One of the interesting points that came up at the conference was the number of employers who were worried about saying something offensive or using the wrong language.
Various people around the room manage to re-assure them that if they were genuinely trying to be helpful any awkwardness would be quickly smoothed over. As one of the participants said, “just treat me as Donna, not as someone who is different.”
I have always been keen on the scheme because not only is it great to help more people into work, it is very necessary for the economy at a time when unemployment is low. The employment rate is now the highest ever at 76%, but for disabled people it is only 50%, even though nearly a million disabled people have found work in the past six years.
There is a specific Access to Work scheme run by the DWP which provides funds for employers who have to make adaptations for a disabled worker. I hope many more Ashford employers sign up to Disability Confident—there is a huge pool of hidden talent out there.