Promoting disabled people’s employment at Conservative Party Conference

Emma Satyamurti, an employment lawyer who specialises in discrimination reports from Scope and the Centre For Social Justice’s panel at The Conservative Party conference. 

Last week I attended the Conservative Party Conference, to participate in a fringe event co-hosted by Scope and the Centre for Social Justice. I had never been to a Party conference before, so it was in a spirit of curiosity that I boarded the train for Manchester.

The event was to discuss the government’s welcome pledge to halve the substantial employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people. I was keen to hear what Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP, would have to say about his plans to achieve this.

The scene was comprehensively set by interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Scope, Mark Atkinson, drawing together the wide range of issues that impact on disabled people’s access to employment and ability to flourish in work, and Scope’s work to address these.

Reasonable adjustments are key

I was able to contribute some observations drawing on my experience both as a disabled person, and as an employment lawyer specialising in discrimination. I was particularly keen to raise the issue of reasonable adjustments and how employers approach this important area, as I feel that this is often the key to unblocking the obstacles disabled people face. I wanted to share my impression that employers generally want to do the right thing, but often lack confidence in exploring and dealing with the needs of their disabled employees.

The good news is that the adjustments disabled people need are often cheap, convenient, and will often benefit others too. I was able to share examples from my legal practise to illustrate this, and from my own experience. As Scope has also highlighted, flexibility is probably the most commonly needed adjustment, and this usually costs little or nothing.

The reasonable adjustments framework is a powerful engine for positive change, not just for disabled employees and job applicants, but for employers too. For individuals, it is an important tool for ensuring a working life free from avoidable disadvantage and from the blight of reduced career opportunities.

For employers, it provides a structured space for having a meaningful dialogue with their disabled employees to ensure that all the talents, commitment, and potential that disabled people bring to work are fully tapped. Everyone wins when this happens. This isn’t about employers kindly giving their disabled employees special treatment. It’s about doing what good employers do anyway – for all their employees; listen to them, nurture their talents, and above all trust them.

“We all have different talents and different needs”

I suggested that an (optional) formal process might help people to request adjustments to make their working life easier, and to begin to break down one of the deepest barriers of all; thinking of disabled people as somehow inherently different from everyone else. We’re not. We all have different talents and different needs; in that sense we really are all in it together.

It was great to hear from the Minister what he is doing, and plans to do, to promote disabled people’s employment. His acknowledgment that this must be meaningful, properly paid work was particularly welcome.

All in all it was a constructive and wide-ranging discussion, with excellent contributions from the packed audience too. I left feeling that it had been a great opportunity to talk about some really important issues and that everyone had made the most of it. Now for the important part – seeing how the words will be translated into action, and action into progress.

Find out about Scope’s event at the Labour Party Conference discussing how we can address the extra costs of disability 

Q is for Questions

Enhance the UK’s Love Lounge, is a safe space on their website where people can ask questions related to sex, relationships and disability. Their two ‘non-expert sexperts’, writer Emily Yates and activist and media personality Mik Scarlet are ready to answer your questions – nothing is off-limits!

Q is for Questions is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability.

Mik Scarlet and Emily Yates
Mik Scarlet and Emily Yates

They encourage questions not only from disabled people, but their partners and parents too. They want to encourage discussion on seemingly ‘taboo’ topics and create a caring sense of community.

To give you some ideas, here are a few they’ve had on the Love Lounge so far…

Q is for Questions is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability.

P is for PDAs (Public Displays of Affection) – #EndtheAwkward

Ever been put off your food by couples’ café canoodling, or been caught getting steamy with your lover in public? We’ve all had awkward PDA moments… For disabled people and their partners, getting intimate can lead to particularity  memorable PDAs. 

P is for PDAs is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability.

Marie from Milton Keynes

Marie and Dan kiss outside the church on their wedding day
Marie and Dan share a kiss on their wedding day

“Dan and I had just started dating. It was midnight and we were on the way home from the pub, holding hands. Dan’s into astronomy so we stopped to look at the stars. What could be more romantic on a beautiful evening? A kiss seemed like the natural thing to do. After a moment, I became aware that a police car was driving past very slowly.

The officer was staring out of the window – eyes on sticks – like we were committing some kind of crime. He was concentrating so hard on us that he ended up mounting the pavement and crashing into a street sign. We couldn’t believe it! A few seconds later we heard the wail of the sirens and he sped off, clearly embarrassed. We still laugh about that incident now.” Read more from Marie and Dan.

Martyn from Cambridge

Man in wheelchair hugging woman
Martyn cuddles up with fiance Kasia

“My fiancé Kasia and I were out in a pub. Someone was doing the typical thing of talking to her and not me. After breaking through the stereotype that I couldn’t speak, the person engaged with me. To then say how great it was that my sister had got me out of the house! We just laughed and kissed each other.”

Kate from Truro

“I went on holiday with my other half last year and we got talking to two really sweet old ladies from America. They thought he was my brother, but rather than setting them straight I made sure they saw us kiss. The look on their faces was priceless!”

Kelly and Jarath from Birmingham

Man leaning over woman in a wheelchair, looking at each other and smiling
Kelly and Jarath get intimate at a festival

Kelly: “My husband Jarath and I got married this year. The asylum where we got married had steps at the front and a ramp at the back. My brother is in a wheelchair as well and he’d come round with us to the back and a lot of the residents of the place were saying, ‘Congratulations!’ but they were saying it to me and my brother! Because my brother’s in a wheelchair like me, they thought we’d got married. Like I couldn’t possibly get married to someone who’s not in a wheelchair.”

Jarath: “In the cinema, (which is probably the weirdest place where people would have a problem with people cuddling), we’re in the carer wheelchair space, where it’s kind of a bit awkward to cuddle anyway. So I’m normally a bit leaned over to Kel, and she’s a bit leaned over, and you will get the row behind you going ‘whaaa?’ Just having a good old nose. Whatever they’re talking about they go silent for a good few minutes! They’re thinking ‘what are they doing? Is she alright? Are they meant to be doing that?’ You get that quite a bit, it’s entertaining.

You know people are stopping and staring but you do kind of tune it out. You can spend forever getting wound up. You can look, but it doesn’t bother us.” Read more about Kelly and Jarath.

P is for PDA is part of Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability. Read the rest of the A to Z.