Disabled people with extraordinary talents succeed and contribute to the world economy every day.
Imagine the world of science without Stephen Hawking.
The Olympics without Tanni Grey Thompson.
And the horrendous thought of television without Stephen Fry.
Many unemployed people with health challenges and disabilities face complex barriers that they must overcome to be successful in their search for work. But for many people with disabilities, the main thing they have in common with these heroes, is a strength of character and determination to succeed.
Not everyone is a genius, but a great many people can be extraordinary and I strongly believe that with the right support, many more people with disabilities can secure work, making a valuable contribution to society and leading a fulfilling life for themselves.
So what is the right kind of assistance? And what lessons can the government learn as it considers the future of employability support for these customers?
As someone who works everyday to enable those who want to find work in spite of disability, I want to share a few thoughts from my experience.
The first thing is this: very few people with disabilities will have straightforward barriers to employment.
A disability, health issue or the experience of long term unemployment might, for example, have an additional impact on mental health or self-esteem. In fact, our research shows that approximately 40% of our customers suffer some sort of secondary depression. There may also be complex financial issues in coming off benefits, housing difficulties, or transport etc.
For those referred to programmes like the new Specialist Employment Support (SES), these barriers can be even more complex.
This is why an integrated approach to each individual and their support needs is vital.
Addressing one barrier on its own is pointless and counterproductive if the individual is then knocked back by another.
Support therefore should be holistic.
It should seeks to simultaneously address all the factors impacting on a customer's ability to gain work.
At Kennedy Scott, we do this by embedding specialist services, such as benefit advice and debt counseling, within our centres, as well as offering co-location to other agencies and presenting to the customer as one wraparound package of support.
This kind of integrated support works. I believe it should be at the heart of all future provision.
Secondly, following on from an emphasis on integrate support, employability support cannot work if it is provided in total isolation from the rest of the client's life.
Multidisciplinary case conferencing can help bring together relevant stakeholders in the customer's life. This might include: carers, community mental health practitioners, the Housing Authority, Access to Work, friends and family and, of course, their employer.
As a result, it allows for coordinated support services to provide a solid foundation for employment, the enormous benefit of which is two-fold. Not only does it support the customer as they seek work, but it continues to enable them in the legacy it leaves behind once they are in work. In other words, this network of support should sustain long after a person leaves their programme.
Unfortunately, there currently remain limitations as to what employment support services can do, and integration with some NHS services remains notoriously difficult. I would, therefore, like to see the government consider employability support for the disabled within moves towards health and social care integration; enhancing GP engagement and our ability to interact with other social services.
Lastly then, our own work and that of other providers shows time and time again that the more empowered a person is over their own support, the greater the likelihood of success.
One way to make an individual feel more empowered is through quality contact time with advisers who can work on confidence and identifying the primary barriers holding someone back.
This is why the SES programme is a great opportunity for helping more people with disabilities back into work, as it provides more hours for this personalised and advisory care. However, further flexibility of delivery would be ideal, especially if it meant greated ability to utilise additional support like talking therapies provided by specialist agencies.
There is also room for deployment of digital technology to allow customers to do more for themselves between appointments. For example, though much development is still necessary, simple automated processes like "Liquid drop" allows people to be contacted specifically for job vacancies or recruitment drives relevant to them.
Effective employability support for the disabled is support that puts the customer at the heart of the service, that is truly integrated with other agencies, that creates and leaves behind a circle of support ultimately empowers the client.
It supports individuals so that regardless of their physical or mental abilities, they can go on to become extraordinary.