Helping business community become ‘disability confident’

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U.K.-based organization spreading knowledge across borders
Thursday August 16, 2012 — Kristian Partington

A leading expert in building the capacity of the business community to become disability confident says Canada is moving in the right direction with a government-supported panel seeking best practices in the employment of people who have a disability.

Susan Scott-Parker’s ties to the inclusion movement are linked across oceans and time, stretching from Alberta, where she worked as an eager university graduate helping people transition from living in institutions to the community, to present-day London, where she is the CEO of one of the world’s leading employer’s forums focused on disability as it affects business.

She founded the Employer’s Forum on Disability (EFD) 21 years ago with a handful of businesses on board because she says the “system” then failed both employers and people who have a disability.

Today, a host of some of the most recognizable international corporations are on board, focusing not on people who have a disability but on helping businesses understand the importance of adapting to the needs of their workforce and capitalizing on untapped human resources.

She’s committed to helping spread the knowledge she’s gained over the years to other countries and is watching Canada closely, connecting with government officials on provincial and federal levels here on a regular basis, and meeting with support agencies.

When she was in Vancouver earlier this year, for example, team members from the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI) met with her to gain further insights on how to boost economic inclusion for the people they support.

While EFD promotes the business case for corporate investment in learning to adapt to the needs of all potential employees — whether they have an intellectual disability, a physical one, or a health issue — the forum also advises policy makers about the benefits of supporting those same investments.

She sees the recently-announced Canadian Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities as a good step forward, and will be watching closely as the panel scours the country over the next few months to determine the best approaches to increasing opportunities for the private sector to gain from employing more people who have a disability.

“I’m planning . . . to reach out and try to share some of the work that we’ve done with government here because what we find, of course, is that the system — be it the NGOs, the helpers, the government agencies — don’t understand the transformational power generated when you ask, ‘What can we do to make it easier for the employer to say yes?’ ” Susan says.

The system must transcend the idea of simply helping an individual find work, she says, and instead help employers find ways to fill vacancies with capable people by giving those employers the tools they need to adapt to the needs of their workforce.

She points to a program in the United Kingdom called Access to Work, which supports employers in adapting to meet the needs of people with a disability or health condition.

The program might fund an interpreter for a person who has a hearing impairment, or might fund transportation where accessible public transportation is limited.

“For every pound (C$1.55) the government spends paying for the significant extra costs associated with employing some disabled people . . . the government is getting £1.40 (C$2.18) back to the treasury,” Susan says.

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you move someone from 20 years dependency on the state benefit to being a taxpayer, someone’s going to win and it’s not just the person.”

This is but one example of how the business community and governments can work together, and Susan looks to the Canadian panel, which is scheduled issue its initial report in December, as an important piece of the economic inclusion puzzle.

“The panel, with luck, will be able to open up a new conversation,” she says.

If you have questions or comments, please contact kristian(at)axiomnews.ca, or call 800-294-0051, ext. 24.

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