The disabled talent pool is there – use it, says speakers at Scottish business conference

At the recent event, Business Disability Forum's CEO Diane Lightfoot explained how the disabled talent pool could benefit Scotland's tourism and hospitality sectors

Business Disability Forum (BDF), a pro-disability non-profit organisation, recently held a two-day virtual conference entitled ‘Disability: Let’s Talk About It’, attended by business leaders and small business owners interested in disability inclusion.

The event sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland took place from 15-16 September 2021, where BDF CEO, Diane Lightfoot, asked businesses and the Government to “take action on disability.”

“There is a lot to learn from the legacy of COVID-19 and living with the pandemic, its lasting effects on the health service and all of us, to the effects of climate change with COP26 coming up in Glasgow later this year. But these things affect disabled people too. It isn’t a question of either-or,” said Lightfoot.

“Disability has to remain on everyone’s agenda from Governments to the smallest business because it affects everyone. We need to act. By ‘we’, I mean everyone from ministers of state and business leaders to disabled and non-disabled individuals working within the Government and businesses – however small. Your action might seem small but starting small is better than not starting at all. If everyone started to take some action towards improving disability inclusion collectively, it could add up to big change.”

She also spoke about how disabled talent could stem the skills shortage in Scotland and the rest of the UK. She said: “No business can afford to exclude a significant proportion of its talent pool, and yet that is what too many are still doing by failing to make their recruitment disability smart.

“There is a real opportunity to reach out to and attract disabled talent, and with the disability employment gap still stubbornly at around 30%, it’s the right thing to do too. This is particularly pertinent for the tourism and hospitality industries – well represented in Scotland – which has historically been very dependent on a migrant European workforce.”

Ian Hamilton, a senior broadcast journalist, also addressed the conference. Hamilton, who has been blind since birth, shared his experiences of living and working through the pandemic:

“I was asked to make a documentary to look at experiences of disabled people during the pandemic. I feared that some elements of the business community would hide behind the pandemic, and there are some examples where that did happen. I went to a supermarket where they wouldn’t guide me around the shop. I felt that I had been robbed to have something so fundamental taken away from me. Something I had fought for for years. I have never been back to that supermarket.

“Fast forward to my work on the ‘My kind of town’ series, and my confidence has come back, and I saw more kindness than negativity. But businesses need to think about how they offer business to disabled people and what disabled people bring to their business. Otherwise, people will leave and not come back, which is the same with their friends and family. If I can’t get in somewhere, my camera crew don’t go in either.”

Other conference speakers included Allan McKillop, Disability Lead, BBC, Oliver Holbourn, Director of Strategies and Venture, Natwest Group PLC, as well as representatives of the Scottish Government including Andrew Busby, Employability Policy Manager, and Alison Carmichael, Head of Health Workforce Experience. Vicki Carss, Head of Psychological Development, Lexxic, a neurodiversity training partner, also spoke at the event.

To access resources to help your business become more disability-inclusive, visit the Business Disability Forum’s website here.

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