James Lee, Project Manager, City of London Corporation’s charitable funder City Bridge Trust

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), 3 December 2017 

It is a ritual in our household that bedtime for the children is accompanied by a story.  Normally these tales involve dinosaurs, monkeys and the Paw Patrol (sometimes all in the same anachronistic setting). So imagine my surprise when last night I was called upon to share a story about transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all.

I jest, of course. My three year old son’s only concept of transformation relates to the Transforming Rescue Bots on TV and his only reference for sustainability is derived from Rocky, the recycling pup in the Paw Patrol.

This year’s theme for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is that of ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all’.  It’s a real mouthful with a great message at its heart; provided that you’re able to grasp the concepts which underpin it.

Therein, I feel, lies the problem. I’m not saying that the disability rights movement needs to work solely in concepts and constructs that my three year old son could understand, but it could certainly do with a change in how we frame and express our arguments.

I say ‘we’ because I myself am a disabled person.  I also say ‘we’ because I too am guilty of dressing messages about accessibility in inaccessible terms.

Much of my work of late has revolved around the employment of disabled people; promoting equality of opportunity, inclusive recruitment and working practices.  I’m managing a £3.3m programme of funding from City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charitable arm, which is supporting leading charities across London to work with disabled people and help them to find and sustain employment.

I’ve been working very closely with human resources professionals and senior decision makers to forge links between the private and voluntary sectors.  I’ve used the words ‘transformation’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘resilient’ over the last few months far more times than I care to recall because these are words that land well with the audiences I’ve been speaking to.  But when I tried to explain what it is I actually do to my mate Peter over a pint one afternoon, all I got was a blank expression.

The employment rate in the UK is the highest on record *.  That’s a fact.  The disability employment gap stands at over 30 percentage points, a number which has barely shifted over the last decade. That is also a fact.  Neither of these statistics resonate with Peter (or my son).

I’ve spent a lot of time hammering people with statistics when what I should have been doing is sharing a few simple truths which I hope you will agree are self-evident.

If you are an inclusive employer with inclusive recruitment practices then you will be able to draw from the widest possible talent pool.

If you are an inclusive employer who actively fosters an inclusive workplace then you are more likely to retain that talent.

Diversity of talent leads to diversity of ideas.  If you have a diverse workforce you are more resilient, more adaptive and more creative.

The work which City Bridge Trust is supporting with our £3.3 million programme of funding aims to provide an evidence base to back these arguments.  We are funding six different voluntary sector organisations who will work with a pan-disability range of beneficiaries over the next five years to support young disabled people into and in employment.

Alongside the efforts of our voluntary sector partners we will also be working closely with the private sector to make more employers aware of the simple things they can do to ensure they are able to access the wealth of disabled talent out there.

For me, a key part of building a sustainable and resilient society means equality of opportunity.  In this particular instance, that means ensuring disabled people are able to bring their talents to the table for the benefit of all.

Over the next few years I hope that the work we are doing at the City Bridge Trust can help to shift the discussion around disability and employment away from the realms of charity and corporate social responsibility.  The employment of disabled people should be seen in the context of the economy as a financial imperative.

Suggestions as to how I can turn that into an easily digestible bedtime story are very welcome.

By James Lee, Project Manager, City of London Corporation’s charitable funder City Bridge Trust