International Day of Disabled People.

Author - Helen Cooke, Director, MyPlus Consulting

A time to celebrate progress

Since its launch in 1992 by the United Nations, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3rd December) has steadily gained momentum and recognition with an increasing number of events taking place to provoke thought, start conversations and promote awareness. It is also an opportunity to pause and reflect on success and progress not least that it is far too easy to concentrate on the ‘bad news stories’ or how far we still have to go to achieve equality.

The subject of employment is precious to me not least that I am a great believer that work is ‘good for us’. Work is how we contribute to society; we develop our self worth and our confidence; we develop and utilize our skills and talents; it provides us with our social interaction.

To be excluded from this, for any reason, is to exclude someone from society.

This is one of the key reasons why it is so important for employers to be inclusive of disabled people and enable them to be part of something. And whilst we may not be there yet, we have made progress. Progressive organisations are recognising the unique talents that many disabled individuals develop as a result of managing their situation, and work hard to bring them into their organisation and provide the support they require, as well as to support those already working from them

25 years ago – I got ‘lucky’. I applied to 8 graduate recruiters; I was offered 8 first round interviews, 2 assessment centres and one job. I was offered a place on the Marks & Spencer Graduate Management Programme.

I don’t necessarily think M&S was intentionally progressive it was more that I was fortunate to have the ‘right’ people involved in the process – who saw past my disability and recognised my ability. From Michelle Mendelsson who headed up Graduate Recruitment and Mr Beere who conducted my first-round interview to Mr Eyre who ultimately said he would take me in his store. As I said, I got lucky.

There was a time when few students who had a disability or long-term health condition went to university – not least that inclusive education was only just beginning (my parents fought through the courts to enable me to take up my grammar school place). And even fewer went into mainstream roles, let alone onto graduate recruitment schemes. Disability just wasn’t on the agenda – anywhere.

We should therefore celebrate the fact that individuals with disabilities don’t have to rely on ‘luck’ as employers recognise the talent that exists and that having a disability can provide individuals with unique skills, abilities and strengths that are an asset to their organisation. Skills such as tenacity, resilience, determination and problem solving. And they also recognise the need to open-up their recruitment processes and their workplaces if they are to benefit from these.

At the same time, individuals are raising their aspirations in relation to having the career they dream of. The number of disabled students at university is at an all time high in the UK as they are able to leverage the excellent resources available to them enabling them to achieve success in their education, and benefit from careers advice as they look to enter the world of work. And as employers work hard to become disability confident, individuals can apply to them feeling more secure than ever that they will have a fair chance at success.

I am not naïve to think that we are there, that all firms are disability confident or are doing the right thing. However, it would be wrong not to recognise that progress is being made, and continues to be made as more and more employers wake up to the benefits that being disability confident can bring.

Going forward, we need to ensure that it isn’t ever about luck and instead is about all organisations being open.