Our annual conference and the hidden barrier preventing organisations from becoming disability-smart

By George Selvanera

At Business Disability Forum (BDF) we have the pleasure of working with many businesses and public sector employers and service providers that are increasingly more innovative and creative in enabling their colleagues, candidates and customers who have needs related to disability, health conditions, caring responsibilities and age contribute at all levels and make their businesses more productive, inclusive and sustainable.

Increasingly, there is recognition that their own ambitions to manage legal and reputational risks and to deliver on corporate priorities to be more inclusive and accessible for staff and for customers depend on whether suppliers are delivering products and services that are wholly accessible. That is about suppliers to some extent, but is much more about how business interacts with that supplier too.

This is why disability-smart approaches to working with suppliers and partners is the focus of our annual conference this year, on 11 April at the Royal College of Nursing.

Business Disability Forum Conference

Our latest piece of research, ‘Disability-smart approaches to suppliers and partners’ revealed the extent to which businesses use outside suppliers for functions as diverse as recruitment, HR, facilities, training and ICT but also revealed how it is extremely rare that organisations procure goods and services in ways that will achieve disability-smart outcomes[1].

For example, in more than half of cases, access and inclusion outcomes are not built into service specifications, procurement/category management departments lack the know-how to manage supplier relationships to secure good disability outcomes and disabled colleagues are not involved in feeding back that the supplier is delivering good outcomes. In just one in four cases is there review through contract and performance management processes about the progress of suppliers and partners in delivering on access and inclusion requirements.

These findings run counter to what works in securing disability-smart outcomes and leave an organisation aspiring to do better at recruiting, retaining and doing business with people with disabilities, who are ageing or have other adjustment needs, limited in their ability to do so.

Our conference will have a strongly practical focus; equipping delegates with the tools and the language for engaging business and procurement colleagues to secure more disability-smart outcomes in work with suppliers. There will be specific sessions on technology, recruitment and approaches for engaging disabled colleagues in the design, selection and review of contracts.

Sessions will be led by experts from across different businesses and include representatives from diverse organisations such as Barclays Bank, Microlink and Evenbreak.

We will also be launching a definitive guide for business about how to secure disability-smart outcomes in how we engage suppliers and partners, prepared in collaboration with the generous assistance and insight of BDF Partners American Express and BT, two businesses keen to extend the evidence base about what works and striving to do better for their staff and customers with disabilities and other adjustment needs.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Disability reported that central government spent a massive £246 billion on goods and services in the last year. With the Government intending to secure greater disability outcomes from their own procurement processes in coming years, the future is now. We all have more to do and more to learn about how we work with suppliers to deliver on ambitions to become progressively more accessible and inclusive.

So one of the things I am really looking forward to at the conference is the exchange of ideas about what works and the sharing of best practice.

You can find out more about the event on the conference pages of our website, where you are also able to book a place.

[1] Selvanera G., Disability Smart Approaches to Engaging Suppliers and Partners: Research report Key aids and barriers to effectively engaging suppliers and partners, October 2016 see; http://app.pelorous.com/media_manager/public/86/Disability%20smart%20approaches%20to%20engaging%20suppliers%20and%20partners.pdf

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