7.6m working age people in the UK have a disability

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Tap into the talents of people with disabilities

“Having an employer who actually took the time to understand me has been life changing. I now feel that I have something to get up for every morning and I am a valued member of the team. It’s changed my life.”

The powerful and inspirational words of Simon Cooper, a project administration apprentice at Activate Learning in Oxfordshire.

Simon has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism which affects how people make sense of the world, seeing, hearing and feeling the world differently to others. They have average or above average intelligence and as Simon say, although living with a lifelong disability, he offers other benefits for his employer.

“I have Asperger’s Syndrome – that means I’m very organised, very efficient. It is part of me and nothing is going to change that.”

Simon’s father Timothy Cooper is grateful for giving his son a chance to show the qualities he can bring to the workplace.

“We would like to thank Activate Learning for giving Simon a chance to show that people with disabilities can do a good job. Simon is enjoying his apprenticeship and the reports we receive are all very positive.

Activate Learning is one of more than 15,000 organisations and companies who’ve signed up to the government’s Disability Confident Scheme. With 7.6m working age people in the UK with a disability, the scheme aims to make the most of the talents people with disabilities can bring to the workplace. It’s all part of the Government’s ambition to get one million more people with disabilities in work by 2027.

Sally Dicketts, Chief Executive, Activate Learning, said: “We know from our experience of working with young disabled learners and developing learning companies to give these students a chance to get first-hand experience of a proper job, how much value an employee with disabilities can add to a business.”

Historically there has always been a significant gap between the proportion of disabled people in work compared with non-disabled people. In Oxfordshire, there were 417,000 working age adults (aged between 18 and 64) according to Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) in July this year. Of those 81% were in employment, but only 66% of working age people with disabilities were in paid work.

For Simon, businesses need to open their eyes to the potential of taking on a person with disabilities: “I think just because someone has a disability it doesn’t mean they are not capable of working.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about what people are capable of, but being in the right environment with the right sort of support people can really thrive. It is easy to say they’ve got a disability I’m not even going to look. I think the big thing to do is to say what are they good at, what are their key assets.”

Oxfordshire businesses are being invited to get behind the Disability Confident campaign to dispel the myths and reduce the stigma around employing people with disabilities. A conference to encourage more local businesses to join was held earlier this month sponsored by Unipart Group. Entitled Dispelling Disability Myths in the Workplace, it was hosted by Activate Learning, Oxfordshire Business First, OxLEP and Job Centre Plus to inform companies of the support that is out there to help recruit, train and retain staff.

Speakers included Angie Matthews from the Business Disability Forum, a not-forprofit membership organisation that makes it easier and more rewarding to do business with and employ disabled people, and Keshav Sankla, AI programme lead at Solutions4Health, on using artificial intelligence (AI) to support people with disabilities in the workplace and improve health outcomes.

The Disability Confident scheme has three levels designed to support businesses at every step of their journey. Support is out there for placements including funding and training options.

Paul Essery, former Commercial Director, Business Disability Forum, said: “We’re encouraging businesses to look beyond the disability. This is an untapped talent pool with people with huge potential who don’t get through the selection process.“There are myths that it is costly, time consuming or that a person with a disability cannot perform tasks as well. Businesses just need to be a little more flexible and do a few things that make it easier for people to perform in the workplace.”

Meanwhile Simon’s father Timothy Cooper, describes the enormous difference it has made to their son’s life: “Simon now has a good goal in life and is excited for his future. We as parents can now look at our son and see this and we are excited for him also.”

The National Disability Confident campaign

More details about the national Disability Confident campaign, can be found at and from the Business Disability Forum at

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