We were of course more than delighted when Ian Duncan Smith decided in 2013 – inspired by his joining our annual Business Disability Forum (BDF) President’s Group dinner for ‘captains of industry’ and disabled opinion leaders – to help us to promote wider recognition of the term ‘disability confidence’- which we created back in 2005 in an effort to make it easier to engage and equip business leaders to improve their corporate disability performance.
I can still remember walking round the office chanting: “Disability Confidence”; “Disability Competence” over and over – trying to persuade myself that the phrase was both say-able and usable and that we could define it in such a way as to make it useful… – before we launched our guide to the business case for becoming ‘Disability Confident’ in 2005 .
It was vital that the term be more than a slogan, catchphrase, empty rhetoric – so we launched not just the phrase but our formal definition. We said that a disability confident company would:
- Understand that disability impacts all parts of the business.
- Identify, and remove barriers, for groups of people.
- Be willing and able to make adjustments for individuals.
- Not make assumptions based on someone’s disability.
In other words – we sought to equip the business community with a visualisation of what they would be doing differently when they started to deliver disability best practice.
It is a source of much delight that Government recognised we were making it easier to open a new conversation with employers – moving from blaming them for their failure to ‘get it’ – to encouraging business in very practical ways to build its capacity to employ and do business with disability people.
Indeed Maria Eagle, then Minister for Disabled People, not only joined us in Madrid at the garden of the UK Ambassador, as Barclays Spain promoted the concept of business disability confidence to the Spanish business community– she joined us at the hotel for the ‘thank heavens that went to plan’ glass (or two) of wine afterwards.
DWP officials presumably saw the impact the concept was having on business in Hong Kong (Community Business launched their guide for employers in Hong Kong and Singapore: “Towards Disability Confidence” in 2011) and in Australia where it has long been integral to the work of the Australian Employers Network on Disability and Workfocus.
We were more than delighted when Ian Duncan Smith announced that he would help us to reach the SME community and in the process enable those funded to help disabled people into work to understand that it is absolutely their job to help employers understand how disability affects them directly, learn how to remove obstacles for groups, make adjustments for individuals and to stop making assumptions about what people can do on the basis of labels. This is more important than ever given the Government’s priority of moving more disabled people off benefits and into employment.
The phrase ‘disability confidence’ must be understood as much more than a campaign slogan– we created it because we needed to open a new conversation with business (and indeed the public sector as service provider and employer) given that all too often the ONLY conversation any employer had on this subject started with the rather scary sentence: “Why don’t you hire more disabled people…?” followed by rather futile efforts to generalise about millions and millions of human beings.
Disability confidence on the other hand (or as we say, the corporate best practice we brand ‘disability confidence’) enables us to demonstrate the business and ethical rationale for learning how to recruit on the basis of merit; for learning how to adapt so that human beings in all their diversity can contribute to business success; and learning how to deliver excellence at every step of every customers’ experience.
Disability confidence is about leaders and managers across the private and public sectors feeling more confident at a personal level as they interact with ever more disabled applicants, disabled colleagues and disabled customers.
I look forward to closer working with the DWP to explore how, in collaboration, we maximise the impact of the Government’s Disability Confident campaign by communicating what this corporate best practice looks like – and encouraging as many organisations as possible to measure and improve their performance by using our Disability Standard – recognising that securing and sustaining best practice in disability performance requires changes across the whole organisation.