Disabled Talent: Progressive organisations search out the ‘smarties’

Author - Helen Cooke, Director, MyPlus

People are an organisation’s greatest asset. In the last couple of decades, progressive organisations have recognised that, to recruit the very best talent, they have to broaden their search far wider than they ever have done before. These organisations recognise that being inclusive enables them to harness a more diverse range of experiences and skills, than if they weren’t.

Disability is obviously part of that diverse talent pool. However, rather than thinking about the talents that individuals with disabilities can, and do, bring to an organisation it is all to easy to think about the things that they won’t be able to do; or can’t do; or may find difficult to do. It is this mindset that slows organisations down in being inclusive of talented disabled individuals.

Read through any job description and employers will inevitably look for attributes such as problem solving, resilience, determination, flexibility, good communication skills, and so on. These are the same attributes that many disabled individuals develop to manage their disability on a day to day basis, in a world that isn’t really geared up for it.

Think about the individual who loses 80% of their sight in 3 weeks; who breaks their back and is immediately paralysed from the waist down; who is diagnosed with kidney failure and has to schedule in dialysis every night; who suffers chronic pain as a result of a routine operation that doesn’t go according to plan. These people don’t ‘give up’ but instead develop resilience, determination, flexibility, problem solving skills and so on to cope with their new situation and go on to meet, and indeed exceed, their dreams and goals that they had before. Including their careers goals. They also develop humility and exceptional interpersonal skills to deal with those who struggle with their ‘difference’.

From my own experience when I think about what it takes to just go to work in the morning, the list of skills that I draw upon is endless. I can’t just hop on the train at Windsor and off again at Waterloo; I wish it were that simple. In the last few years I have drawn on my powers of persuasion, my influencing ability, interpersonal skills and communication skills, to name but a few, to persuade SW Trains to install proper disabled parking bays at Windsor station; to ensure that the guards will help me onto the train at Windsor which is an unmanned station; and that assistance will be in place at Waterloo. And when all that fails – to request the assistance of fellow passengers to help me on or off the train. And that is just the start of my day – there is then navigating taxis, the London underground and inaccessible buildings.

Whilst I am not naïve enough to sit here and say that all disabled individuals are ‘super human’ as the Channel 4 adverts would have you believe, I do urge employers to think twice about the skills that a disabled individual may bring to your organisation and the positive difference that they have on the organisation. As the progressive employers amongst you have already realised to their benefit, disabled individuals bring with them ‘allsorts’ of talents and amongst those who apply, you may just find some real ‘smarties’.