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Scotland conference: Disability must remain on everyone’s agenda

blue taxi driving past Royal Bank of Scotland buildingBusiness leaders and small business owners have attended a 2-day virtual conference (15-16 September) entitled ‘Disability: Let’s Talk About It’. The annual event was organised by leading business and disability organisation, Business Disability Forum, and was sponsored by Royal Bank of Scotland.

Addressing the Scotland conference, Business Disability Forum CEO, Diane Lightfoot, called on businesses and Government to take action on disability. She said:

“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. 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 Government and business – however small that business might be. 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.”

Addressing the current skills shortage facing Scotland and the wider UK, Diane Lightfoot said:

“No business can afford to exclude a significant proportion of its talent pool and yet that it 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, reporter, and columnist, also addressed the conference. Ian, who has been blind since birth, shared his experiences of living and working through the pandemic. He said:

“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 and that’s the same with their friends and family too. If I can’t get in somewhere, my camera crew don’t go in either.”

Other conference speakers included:

Andrew Busby, Employability Policy Manager, Scottish Government

Alison Carmichael, Head of Health Workforce Experience, Scottish Government

Vicki Carss, Head of Psychological Development, Lexxic

Aidan Healy, CEO, Lexxic

Oliver Holbourn, Director of Strategies and Venture, Natwest Group PLC

Allan McKillop, Disability Lead, BBC

Business Disability Forum has created resources aimed at helping businesses to become more disability inclusive. To find out more, go to the toolkit section on Business Disability Forum’s website

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