Yes we can – How the NHS can lead the Disability Confident movement

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If you haven’t seen it yet, you will soon. And when you do, it’ll blow you away.

It’s the ‘Superhumans’ trailer for Channel 4’s coverage of the 2016 Paralympics that comes hard on the heels of this summer’s Rio Olympic Games.

Set to the Sammy Davis Jr. track Yes I Can being stunningly performed by a band of disabled musicians, the three-minute film features world-class athletes as well as a rock climber with one arm and a rally driver who steers cars with his feet. It also shows people carrying out everyday tasks – a woman without arms efficiently changes her child’s nappy; another writes notes during a phone call while gripping her pen with her toes. Cut to a gloomy room where a careers officer is telling a young man with a disability, ‘No you can’t’. His message is swamped by a kaleidoscope of people who’ve been featured in the trailer who take it in turn to chorus ‘Yes I can’.

The message is a simple one - see the person; recognise ability; help it flourish because that way everyone benefits.

Within the NHS, it’s easy to think of disability in terms of us and them. In fact, one in three people have some form of disability or limiting condition. The reality is that disability is a part of everyone’s life whether this means friends, family or colleagues, and any of us can become disabled at any time. Disability is everyone’s business.

The Government recognised this recently when, as part of its Disability Confident campaign, it made a commitment to halve the UK’s disability employment gap. That’s the difference between the percentage of people with disabilities who are in work and that of the working age population as a whole. That difference is currently around 33%. To achieve this ambition – in other words to close the gap  will mean one million additional people with a disability or a health condition in work.

Pretty much everyone agrees that this would be a good thing  for the individuals themselves, for employers, for all of us. For NHS Trusts in particular, it makes sound business sense, not least because the NHS Confederation reports a huge problem in recruiting – especially to the 60% of its lower tier jobs. Trusts need talented and resourceful staff, but how best to bring them on board?

There’s a mountain of evidence that workers with a disability are at least, if not more, productive and reliable than their non-disabled colleagues. From Pluss’ experience, disabled employees also bring to work those can-do attributes that they’ve needed to develop in their everyday lives. And having a workforce that is representative of the people being supported by NHS Trusts can only help inspire recovering patients, and help Trusts better understand and respond to their patient base.

For this to happen, Trusts need to think creatively about recruitment if they are to tap into this pool of talent. Employment rates amongst people with a disability or health condition (that’s one in three of us, remember) are low because stubborn preconceptions stop us seeing beyond the disability; and because inflexible recruitment procedures can prevent that pool of people from showing Trusts how they could shine if they were given the chance.

There are some simple steps that Trusts can take to develop a more inclusive approach to recruitment, one that is flexible enough to include some innovative routes into employment for people with a range of disabilities and health conditions. Traditional recruitment procedures such as panel interviews and group sessions are one of the biggest barriers for people with complex disabilities. Working interviews or time limited work trials offer a far better opportunity to judge whether a person has the skills and capabilities to do a job really well. Job carving, with the help of an organisation like Pluss, can ensure a job fits a person’s unique set of skills. Longer term recruitment techniques including traineeships and internships such as Project SEARCH help people grow steadily into outstanding employees.

A yes we can willingness to make small adjustments in work pays dividends too. The changes a Trust might need to make to support dedicated disabled employees are frequently tiny and, almost always, those changes are worth the investment.

The NHS is the most iconic health brand in the world. As an institution, it is uniquely placed to see the whole remarkable person, to recognise not what people can’t do but what they can. Showing innovation in how it recruits its workforce can put an NHS Trust where it should be – at the forefront of the Disability Confident movement, and be good for business too.

If your Trust isn’t sure about the best place to start, or how to build on the steps you’ve already taken, the Disability Confident campaign offers some really good ideas to raise awareness and challenge perceptions. And you can always talk to Pluss. We love hearing from employers and we’re always happy to help.

You can view the Superhumans Paralympics 2016 trailer here.