Change where change is needed

Tara Rowe, Project Manager of Change100 speaks to about the accessibility of the work place for disabled students

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IMAGE: LEONARD CHESHIRE DISABILITY

Naturally, as a university with such a diverse community, York is home to an abundance of students with disabilities that vary in both scope and severity. In such a thriving and prestigious institution, it only makes sense that those with disabilities are given the same platform of opportunities as those without. After all, does a wheelchair mean you cannot sit at a desk like anybody else? Does a physical disability reduce brain power in any way? Does a developmental disability such as autism make you less open minded and incapable of thinking up new ideas?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is quite clearly, no. Bearing this in mind then, although skills and interests vary, there are a multitude of talented students with disabilities who would be prime candidates for many roles in business and industry.

Change100 provides this chance.

Leonard Cheshire, the company behind Change100, is currently the UK’s leading charity in support of those with disabilities, working tirelessly to ensure that people with both physical and learning disabilities are able to fulfil their potential. Change100 functions as an internship programme, which offers paid placements to successful applicants, lasting three months.

They have access to some of the top UK employers, offering a plethora of unprecedented opportunities to gain guidance and experience, and to network in order to facilitate future employment.

During their placement, participants receive mentoring to ensure that they make the most of their time there. Some employers who took on students under the Change100 scheme last year include Barclays Bank and SABMiller, the multinational brewing and beverage company. Evidently, these are neither small nor insignificant companies; a successful placement in and good references from institutions such as these can understandably have a profound impact on students’ future career options.

Unfortunately, it appears that a large proportion of the public fail to recognise the broad range of disabilities that exist, and simply seem to be immune to the fact that having one disability does not necessarily hamper your ability to do everything.

There are more than 11 million people in the UK who have a disability, but these people are much less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people; 75 per cent of non-disabled people are currently employed, compared to less than 50 per cent of those who suffer from a disability. Change100 came about through a campaign to change the employment landscape for people with disabilities, and according to the programmes website: “If the employment rate for disabled people matched that of the rest of the UK, an extra two million people would be working”.

With UK unemployment levels remaining an ever prominent issue, despite minor improvements, it seems largely nonsensical to not fully embrace this initiative.

Change 100 crew

IMAGE: LEONARD CHESHIRE DISABILITY

Nouse had the unprecedented opportunity to speak with Tara Rowe, who is the project manager for this initiative, in order to find out more about it. We asked Tara how Change100 works, why it is so important and how beneficial it can prove to be to those who partake.

Tara answered: “At Change100 we work hard to make employment opportunities accessible to people with a variety of disabilities and long-term health conditions. We do this in a number of ways.

“Firstly, we run an inclusive and accessible recruitment process that’s tailored to get the most out of every individual. Then, if you are successfully and are made an offer, we work alongside you and your host organisation to ensure they understand what adjustments may need to be put in place in order for you to reach your potential. Finally, we offer you mentoring, coaching and guidance for a full year to support you both in your internship role and in securing longer term employment when you finish.”

However, the advantages of this scheme do not stop there. Going into the second year of the programme, there are a further 15 companies taking on board students from a variety of sectors and business areas, alongside the pilot employees from last year (SABMiller, Barclays, Prospects, Experia and Leonard Cheshire Disability). As noted explicitly by Tara herself, the benefits for these businesses truly are extensive:

“I’m often saddened to hear disabled students say to me ‘What’s in it for the employers, why would they hire me over someone who isn’t disabled?’

“The fact of the matter is that one in six people in the UK have a disability so if businesses fail to understand or make the most of disabled jobseekers and employees, how can they be sure they are accessing the best talent?

“People with disabilities often demonstrate significant skills and behaviours, such as resilience, problem solving abilities and self-awareness that are far beyond their peers who may not have experienced the same challenges in their lives. Furthermore, if the estimated spending power of disabled people in the UK is £80 billion, can businesses afford not to have access to the insight that comes with having disabled people embedded in their workforce? As such, the employers that we work with appreciate the value that talented disabled students can bring to their organisations and see Change100 as a great way to access a large pool of currently untapped potential.”

Change100 seeks to enlighten society as a whole as to what a disability really is, and draws attention to how a minor disability in the present day can make finding employment so much more difficult. Frankly, it is shameful that many employers do not recognise the potential of bright, talented, and disabled young people. A change really is needed.

This scheme was piloted for the first time last year, proving to be a roaring success. So much so that the programme has expanded its reach for 2015, offering far more places than the mere 17 last year. Thomas Ron, the Disabled Students Officer and newly elected Academic Officer here at York was one of the lucky few who was able to experience the programme last year. We asked him what he thought about Change100 and for advice for any students wishing to get involved.

He said: “I loved the Change100 scheme, it was a fantastic experience and every moment of it was golden. I think that anyone who gets involved should really take the opportunity to know their workplace and think about going to work in the place [that Change100] have matched up [to you] as they tend to be absolutely spot on.”

The website offers a further look into the positive impact that Change100 can have on the lives of the people who take part. It gives an insight into the inspirational ‘success stories’ of two more participants from 2014: Anna McCarthy and Sophie Stowell.

Anna served her internship at SABMiller, working in a subsection of their HR department conducting psychometric assessment in Africa and also assessing demand and supply of talent for future employment at SABMiller. Anna describes the confidence that this opportunity has given her, and hugely praises the warm attitude shown by her employers. She says it was nice that they knew you had a disability and, for once, weren’t made to feel like “the awkward one”.

Sophie echoes this sentiment when giving an insight into her Change100 experience. She spent nine brilliant weeks working with Barclays Bank in Canary Wharf, London and describes the experience she gained there to have been “vital”.

Currently, the University of York does in fact offer a good support programme to those students who do have disabilities, aiming to make university life as accessible to them as they possibly can. However it does appear to be that although the student life of those with disabilities is fulfilling thanks to this support, there is a distinct lack of assistance in the students’ lives post-University.

There exists a huge gap in the University’s disability assistance programme where increased awareness of the Change100 scheme would fit perfectly. The vitality of experience in the workplace is unprecedented to all students, but will prove particularly invaluable to those who may struggle to find employment due to a disability.

In the UK, 1 in every 6 people will be affected by a disability at some point during their lives, so this issue should be pertinent across society. If we are empathetic and place ourselves in the shoes of those 11 million, bearing in mind that we could end up in that tally, we just cannot underestimate how influential this initiative could one day prove to be. This scheme truly is a hidden gem, with unfortunately what appears to be very little publicity.

It is absolutely vital that the University pushes this initiative to aim to make it more well-known, and subsequently allow the employment prospects for those with disabilities to be just as plentiful as for those without.

IMAGE: LEONARD CHESHIRE DISABILITY

To find out more about Change100, visit https://www.leonardcheshire.org/what-we-do/change100.

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