Why Sheffield firms should be Disability Confident

Disability Confident roundtable at The Star.
Disability Confident roundtable at The Star.
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Any business can make things better for disabled staff and customers – and employing disabled people can bring in new skills and ideas to business.

From making offices more accessible to people with mobility issues, to raising awareness of mental health problems, there are all sorts of simple things firms around the region can do to attract and retain disabled workers.

Clare Froggatt of SIG.

Clare Froggatt of SIG.

And for those who are unsure where to turn next, the Disability Confident scheme offers a wide range of free expert advice, support and even grant funding to enable companies to easily move towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace. This can help a business keep and recruit the skills it needs.

Explaining the scheme to Sheffield employers at a roundtable event at The Star’s offices, Katie Woodward from the Disability Confident scheme said there were plenty of simple changes any business could make.

“Level 1 is when you become a committed employer,” she said.

“You are committing to provide opportunities for disabled people.

Darren Tidmarsh of Sheffield College.

Darren Tidmarsh of Sheffield College.

“You are probably already providing them. Things like making sure job adverts are accessible, and the process is accessible.

“Anything you can do to make sure anyone can apply for the job.”

Companies only have to demonstrate things they are already doing, plus try one inclusive practice , like offering work experience. It’s the place for employers to get started on the journey.

The Disability Confident scheme provides information on low or no cost reasonable adjustments. If an employer has greater needs, Access to Work, a government scheme, can provide grants for workplace mental health support service.

The roundtable discussion.

The roundtable discussion.

The scheme is an easy way for employers to help disabled people fulfil their potential. But what was clear from the roundtable is that there is still uncertainty among city companies about how best to tackle issues around accessibility and equality.

Clare Froggatt is communications manager for SIG UK, one of Sheffield’s biggest employers. She said it could be tough to come up with policies that covered both head office and smaller sites.

“We have workers needing assistance in terms of access, and it would help to have guidance with that,” she said.

“There are also disabilities that you can’t see that potentially people aren’t telling us about.

“We have got a figure registered with HR, but that’s only if people have declared. We need to look out for those signals where we need to be noticing where people need help.”

That kind of guidance is easily accessible to companies that sign up to be Disability Confident.

Debbie Lynch, HR advisor for Morgan Sindall, said it would come in handy. The company has been working with Mind to raise awareness of mental health problems, but has found it tough to communicate with all staff.

“We predominantly have guys working on site,” she said.

“People do have problems and it’s how to help them with the problems and how they talk to us.

“Sometimes they are not always forthcoming.”

Being Disability Confident does not just apply to staff. It also take customers into account. This is something football clubs have been trying to address for some time to attract more fans.

Sheffield United’s health and safety manager Mel Jackson said the club regularly spoke to disabled fans.

“We communicate with the disabled supporters group regularly. Supporters are confident to come forward -they bring any issues straight to us.”

But Mr Jackson admitted that more could be done.

The Disability Confident scheme can also highlight situations that employers may not have considered.

Jackie McCarthy of NOCN, a firm that creates qualifications, said recent equality, diversity and inclusion training had thrown up problems that would not have necessarily been considered disabilities.

“We were all quite surprised that cancer was one of them,” she said.

“It makes you more aware, and Disability Confident is something we would be very interested in.”

Employment lawyer Mark Serby, of Wake Smith, said disabled people should be encouraged to point out changes which would enable them to do a better job.

But he also said it could be difficult for employers to know the best way to approach people who were off work long term.

“Individuals really find it threatening when an employer wants to talk to them,” he added.

And Mr Serby said it was important for firms to give disabled people a chance to work.

Offering a placement can be a good place to start.

“People just take so much from it,” he said. “Disabled people can find it hard to access work and if they can just get going, it’s so hugely beneficial to them.”

The importance of being Disability Confident is highlighted, according to Ms Woodward, by the fact that 83 per cent of disabled people acquire their disability while in work.

More open and inclusive workplaces can help companies both recruit and retain employees.

“This person could be your best employee, and it’s how you keep them,” she said.

Sheffield College is already a Level 2 Disability Confident committed employer, and is fully behind the scheme.

With several thousand staff and students, the college has to consider a wide range of disability issues, and is taking a forward-thinking approach.

It had already taken part in a Jobcentre Plus scheme, so had plenty in place to support disabled people.

The college is working towards being Level 3 Disability Confident, which will mean it is a leader and will be asked to share best practice.

Executive director of HR and management information systems Darren Tidmarsh said the Disability Confident badge was worn with pride.

“Recognition is symbolic to the potential talent who want to come and join the college,” he said. “It’s symbolic to staff, that we mean what we say when we say we are an inclusive environment.”

The college has staff and students with disabilities ranging from serious mobility issues to mental health.

Mr Tidmarsh said there was an opportunity to ‘take a fresh look and think if there are some things we can do more’.

He added: “We could do more with regard to mental health and it’s really challenged us to think about what we do.

“We are working with the Camerados charity to create a place where people can go and discuss issues. It has been very well received. It just challenges you to think a bit differently.

“We have done a lot of the baseline things, but can we do something that’s different?”

The college runs a number of supported internship schemes - something large firms can use to get on the Disability Confident ladder.

It works with big city employers such as Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Streets Ahead and John Lewis.

“Companies aspire to employ someone with a disability but they are a little concerned about how to go about it,” he said.

“Those who have supported internships have improved awareness, and people are more confident to talk about disability.

“They see an individual who adds value and it encourages an open environment.”

Mr Tidmarsh spoke about one student who took a placement in the Northern General’s catering department.

“He’s genuinely adding real value to that organisation.

“It’s about developing employability skills that will allow him to be retained or move into other employment.

“Part of what we are about as a college is improving the economy and allowing every person to be employable.

“Confidence levels with students improve massively. They felt they had done real work. They had earned some money. It’s a really positive message.”

And key to employers looking to join the Disability Confident scheme, said Mr Tidmarsh, is that it is ‘risk-free’.

Support at every level

The Disability Confident scheme aims to help employers make the most of the opportunities provided by employing disabled people. It is voluntary, free and has been developed by employers and disabled people’s representatives.

The Disability Confident scheme has three levels designed to support you at every step on your Disability Confident journey.

You can start your Disability Confident journey by making a commitment to ensure your business is inclusive. This ‘Level 1’ commitment reflects current good practice, much of which you may already be doing. Signing up will give your business the recognition it deserves.

When you complete each Disability Confident level you will receive a certificate in recognition and a badge to use on your website and in other materials.

For more information about becoming Disability Confident and to complete the simple registration process, visit www.gov.uk/disability-confident.