By Diana Sterck, Merton Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive

On 16th February, as part of our support for local business, we brought together an event focusing on disability.  We wanted to stimulate a discussion between policy makers, those who are in business to support people with disabilities and employers – as part of Mental Health Awareness week it seemed the perfect opportunity.

Theatre and BroadwayWe were hosted at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s amazing headquarters building in Wimbledon town centre and were privileged to have their Research and Policy Adviser for Diversity as one of our speakers.  Dianah Worman OBE has over 25 years experience in the field of diversity and set the scene, saying we need employers to work in a progressive way and there is huge potential for them to make a real impact – the secret is always to look at the person and not the disability.

GuestsDianah went on to say that for small employers there is a huge fear factor in relation to disability – and that’s not just about breaking the law but also the fear of getting it wrong for the individual itself.  There is actually a 32% gap between people with a disability and those without a disability in work – a very worrying statistic when we know that, with an ageing demographic and with most people acquiring a disability whilst in work, employers are going to have to get to grips with dealing with this.  In addition we know that 32% of people with a disability would like to work.  They can be amazingly loyal and hard working and not being successful in getting to interview stage or getting a job can be immensely de-motivating.

SpeakersOur next speaker was Ayda El Deweiny, our local disability Employment Adviser from the Department of Work and Pensions.  She works with employers through the Work Choice programme to advise on infrastructure changes or technology changes.

Finally we heard from local business owner, Clare Jefferies from Home Instead, a company that provides care in the home and employs around 100 people.  Clare really brought to life what a disabled employee can bring to the business through her stories of individuals she employs.

Our audience did have a stimulating discussion and I think we all left the event feeling much more disability confident and wanting to contribute to the organic change that only employers can make happen.

My summary is as follows:

  • We all need to make a noise about disability, spread the work and raise awareness
  • We must not be fearful and need to look at the person not the disability
  • We should look at how we recruit to make sure we aren’t putting barriers in place that stop people with disabilities being able to apply or get the job

So why don’t we act together and “Take One”?

Diana and Cllr David Chung, Mayor of Merton (2)

Diana Sterck pictured with Cllr David Chung, Mayor of Merton