Disabled People Going Places in Scotland and beyond – why venturing out of London was such a good idea

The bridge leading to RBS's headquarters in Edinburgh

The bridge leading to RBS’s headquarters in Edinburgh

By Bela Gor

Nearly ten years ago I decided to make Scotland and the beautiful city of Edinburgh my home. During that time my employer has remained the same; Business Disability Forum in London. Over time I have come to realise how London-centric this country (by which I mean the United Kingdom) can be.

That is why I am delighted that Business Disability Forum is now expanding its horizons to work with disabled people, businesses and governments who are committed to improving the chances of disabled people here in Scotland and indeed globally.

Sign for RBS Business School, Edinburgh

The conference was held at RBS Business School, part of the organisation’s headquarters in Edinburgh

I first discussed the idea of a disability conference in Scotland with Stefan Springham at RBS (at his initiation) nine months ago. We’d had a couple of very well attended Roundtables in Scotland and Stefan felt the time was right for something bigger – a proper conference.

We knew we were taking a big step in moving to a full-scale conference, but with the support of our new CEO Diane Lightfoot and encouragement from RBS, we did it anyway and any doubts there might have been were quickly dispelled. The agenda almost wrote itself because there was so much good work to showcase and the conference was fully booked two months in advance.

The Conference took place on 5 December, to mark the UN International Day of Disabled People at the RBS Headquarters in Edinburgh. We called the event Disability in Scotland – Going Places and, if I say so myself, it was a real success. This was down to truly inspiring speakers, a stunning venue and not least, an eager and engaged audience who proved that there really was a demand for an event like this outside London. I knew it was going to go well when the first round of applause was for merely saying “welcome to this first ever Business Disability Forum Conference in Scotland!”

If you want to see pictures from the day check out the BDF Facebook page.

Career development – how disabled employees learn what’s holding them back and how to develop strategies to dismantle barriers

Phil Friend leading a discussion with RBS employees at the Scottish Conference

Phil Friend leading a discussion with RBS employees at the Scottish Conference

Much is said about the disability employment gap but what was clear from the panel discussion led by Phil Friend and disabled participants of the RBS Career Development Programme is the importance of worthwhile jobs that allow employees to grow and develop. Disabled employees from RBS’s Enable network described the “life changing” impact of a career development programme specifically designed for disabled people.

Phil explained that “Personal development programmes provide disabled people with a unique opportunity to explore and identify what’s holding them back and what they need to do in order to be more effective.

“The programme explores what belongs to the individual and what is the responsibility of others. Participants are encouraged to develop a strategy which is designed to dismantle disabling barriers and enhance their personal effectiveness.”

I will be following up from the interesting and inspiring panel discussion with a report that features the participants’ experiences of the RBS programme as well as interviews with career development coaches like Phil, Simon Minty and Kate Nash who have been doing such important work in this area for many years. I have been aware for years of programmes specifically for women or Black and Ethnic Minority employees (BAME) but why are there so few for disabled employees and which one should you go on if you are a BAME disabled woman?

Doing it their way – entrepreneurs determined to make a difference

Niall McShannon talking as part of a panel of entrepreneurs at the Scottish Conference

Niall McShannon talking as part of a panel of entrepreneurs at the Scottish Conference

The entrepreneurs’ panel provided a really different perspective on the world of work for disabled people. These are people, some with disabilities themselves, who have chosen a different path and provided work for disabled people and/or are trying to improve the lives of disabled people in new and innovative ways. Bruce Gunn, Niall McShannon and Gavin Neate provided a frank and often very funny account of what it means to take the plunge and start your own business because as Gavin said “if you want to see change you have to make it happen”

We’ve already invited Gavin Neate from Neatebox to speak at our Technology Taskforce event in London in February on Technology and the Future of Disability. His app could really help businesses change and improve the way disabled customers are served and the beauty of it is that the change will be driven by disabled people themselves asking venues for better service via the technology in their hands.

Find out more about these businesses on their websites:

  • Neatebox: https://neatebox.com/
  • Delivered Next Day Personally: http://www.dndp.co.uk/
  • Clydesdale Community Initiatives: http://www.cciweb.org.uk/about-us

The NHS Scotland and Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living programme demonstrated the power of partnership working and how it can change lives by providing real career opportunities and again meaningful work for a young disabled graduate, Jen Calder, who was able to realise her potential. I’m sure we will be hearing more from Jen Calder in the future.

Transport and tourism – literally going places

Delegates enjoy the Scottish conference

Delegates enjoy the Scottish conference

Finally it is clear that nothing operates in isolation. Employers providing meaningful work and career opportunities is not enough. Disabled people, indeed all people, need to be able to get to work and travel for work and that requires a joined up and accessible transport system and this something that Business Disability Forum is going to concentrate on next year as we continue the Going Places campaign. Contact Angela Matthews if you want to be involved in our research.

We all also need to relax after work and so it is equally important to provide easy access to the many attractions and leisure facilities that the beautiful country of Scotland has to offer. Chris McCoy from Visit Scotland really did show that Scotland is Going Places and leading the way in accessible tourism. You can find the Visit Scotland Business Support accessibility guides online.

So we’ve started to Go Places in Scotland and I can see this campaign really “Going Places” all over the country and the world for years to come. If you want to join us find out more here. 

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