Event report: how to make Croydon Disability Confident

By - Thursday 25th June, 2015

Janet Richards reports on a day with a can-do message for Croydon’s employers

This council-run seminar on pathways to employment for disabled people took place at Fairfield Halls on Wednesday 20th May. The seminar was part of Croydon’s follow-up to last year’s Disability Awareness Week, and aimed to promote pathways into employment amongst people with disabilities by gathering real input from these groups and their representative agencies.

The council’s Growth Plan for the borough has identified some of the barriers to progress into work for disadvantaged groups including disabled people, and the focus is now on identifying the specific barriers to this group and the services they could utilise to overcome these.

The seminar was packed out with representatives from the Department of Work and Pensions, the Shaw Trust, Croydon Care Solutions, local councillors, MPs, the team from Sainsbury’s and staff from Croydon Council, as well as disabled employees themselves. All those present spoke out about their experience of working together. The goal of the day was to ensure that employers feel positively about potential employees with disabilities.

There is great value in including all groups in the workplace

The starting point was that not enough disabled people are given the opportunity to go to work and feel themselves making contribution to society. As a result, too many feel purposeless. But what needs to happen to change this? The day was about encouraging everyone to consider what is involved in terms of support and understanding, as well as the true benefits in being an inclusive employer with disabled people working as part of the team.

One disabled employee, Simon Tobin, spoke about his experience of autism. He currently has three part-time jobs, two of which are voluntary and one of which paid employment. He stated that his real goal was to be able to have one full-time paid job, and that his ideal role would be as an advocate and speaker on autism, educating employers, schools and other interested agencies on support about exactly what is required to help and empower employees with autism. The talk he gave was word perfect and concise, convincing attendees of the value of including everybody in the employment experience.

Speakers felt passionately that everybody who wanted the chance to feel fulfilled at work should be given the opportunity, regardless of any disability. Of course, in certain cases, a level of support would be required, but the rewards received were to both employer and employee.

We need to really invest in disabled people as talented employees

An interesting question and answer session was an important part of this seminar, with disabled attendee Julie Brickley, a Croydon Council employee, raising the issue of organisational culture. She was particularly interested in the grave issue of bullying of disabled people in the workplace. Other questions asked were about creating fulfilling roles for disabled people – really investing in them as talented employees rather than just giving them the jobs that nobody else wanted to do, thereby accessing talents which would otherwise go to waste.

Key themes emerging from the day were the need to raise awareness of national and local support for employers who want to recruit people with disabilities and of national and local support available for jobseekers with disabilities, the need to ensure that Croydon’s disabled residents have the right skills for them to compete effectively in the jobs market, the value of work experience and apprenticeships for all jobseekers, and training and education in areas such as autism and mental health.

I found this a constructive and excellent event with truly committed speakers. This debate should continue in every borough and around the country as a whole. I believe that employers and society need to think in a much broader way on the true benefits of inclusion in the workplace and am pleased that Croydon has made such a constructive start.

Janet Richards

Janet Richards

My name is Janet Richards and I am disabled. I have had an artificial leg for nine years due to diabetes complications and I also had a triple heart bypass 18 months ago again, due to diabetes. I spend my time getting involved with charitable organisations like Croydon Disability Forum where I have done valuable advocacy work for disabled members to resolve important on-going issues ranging from inclusion and requisitioning relevant equipment for use in the home. I am passionate about the rights of disabled people within an inclusive society and, as a spokesperson, I have highlighted the issues of disability hate crime, disability awareness and dignity insSafeguarding. There is still a lot more to accomplish in today's society and I will keep banging the drum so that those who can, will hear and be affected by this message and make changes for the common good.

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