Extraordinary People: Disability Does Not Mean Inability
Disabled people with extraordinary talents succeed and contribute to the world every day.
Imagine the world of science without Stephen Hawking.
Sport without Tanni Grey Thompson.
And the horrendous thought of television without Stephen Fry.
While every person has a different set of circumstances and needs, for many people with disabilities the traits they share with these heroes is strength of character, resilience, and determination.
The government has committed to the ambitious goal of halving the disability gap by 2020. This will require an additional 1.2 million disabled people moving into work.
Achieving this goal won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick; the TUC recently claimed that at the current rate of progress, the gap will not actually be closed until 2030.
But the benefits of seeing more disabled people in employment are vast and significant. In addition to employers accessing a wider pool of candidates, disabled people gain from the positive economic, social and health improvements that accompany employment, and their colleagues, customers and society as a whole become more diverse and inclusive.
So what lessons should the government learn when determining what employability support for disabled people should look like?
At Kennedy Scott we have worked with many thousands of disabled people to place them into lasting work, and we regularly consult with government, policy groups and the wider health and welfare-to-work sectors on how we can improve employability services for people with disabilities and health conditions.
As someone who works every day to support those who want to find work in spite of disability, I want to share a few thoughts from my experience, particularly around the important roles that integration and empowerment play in this process.
The first thing is this: very few people with disabilities will have straightforward barriers to employment. Most unemployed people with health challenges and disabilities face complex barriers that they must overcome to be successful in their search for work.
A disability, health issue or the experience of long term unemployment might, for example, have an additional impact on mental health or self-esteem. Our research shows that approximately 40% of our customers suffer some sort of secondary depression.
For those referred to programmes like the new Specialist Employability Support (SES), which Kennedy Scott delivers nationally in partnership with YMCA, these barriers can be even more complex. This is why an integrated approach to each individual and their support needs is vital.
Addressing one barrier on its own is pointless and counterproductive if the individual is then held back by another.
Support therefore should be holistic.
It should seek to simultaneously address all the factors impacting a customer's ability to gain work.
At Kennedy Scott, we do this by embedding specialist services, such as benefit advice and debt counselling, within our centres, as well as offering co-location to other agencies and offering the customer a single wraparound package of support.
This kind of integrated support works. I believe it should be at the heart of all future provision.
Secondly, following on from an emphasis on integrated support, employability support cannot work if it is provided in total isolation from the rest of the client's life.
Multidisciplinary case conferencing, as utilised through our Circle of Support© model, can help bring together relevant stakeholders in the customer's life. This might include carers, community mental health practitioners, the Housing Authority, Access to Work, friends and family and, of course, their employer.
As a result, it allows for coordinated support services to provide a solid foundation for employment, the enormous benefit of which is two-fold. Not only does it support the customer as they seek work, but it continues to enable them in the legacy it leaves behind once they are in work. In other words, this network of support should sustain long after a person leaves their programme.
Unfortunately, there currently remain limitations as to what employment support services can do, and integration with some NHS services remains notoriously difficult. I would, therefore, like to see the government consider employability support for the disabled integrated with health and social care; enhancing GP engagement and our ability to interact with other social services.
Lastly then, our own work and that of other providers shows time and time again that the more empowered a person is over their own support, the greater the likelihood of success.
One way to make an individual feel more empowered is through quality contact time with advisers who can work on confidence and identifying the primary barriers holding someone back.
This is why the SES programme is a great opportunity for helping more people with disabilities back into work, as it provides more hours for this personalised and advisory care. However, further flexibility of delivery would be ideal, especially if it means greater ability to utilise additional support like talking therapies provided by specialist agencies.
There is also room for deployment of digital technology to allow customers to do more for themselves between appointments. For example, though much development is still necessary, simple processes like automatic text messaging allows people to be contacted specifically for job vacancies or recruitment drives relevant to them.
Effective employability support for the disabled is support that puts the customer at the heart of the service; it is truly integrated with other agencies, and it creates and leaves behind a Circle of Support© that ultimately empowers the client.
It supports individuals so that regardless of their physical or mental abilities, they can be extraordinary.
Chief Executive Officer, Kennedy Scott