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Are the smaller businesses you work with showing the same level of commitment to disability inclusion?

woman in black crew-neck t-shirt standing near counterParma Sira, Small Business Disability Adviser, Business Disability Forum

Here at Business Disability Forum our Members and Partners do fantastic work to improve the life chances of disabled people as employees and consumers, and work with us to instil a culture of positive change throughout their organisations.

Something you may not be aware of is your ability to influence the smaller organisations you work with, as part of supply chains or service providers, to show the same level of commitment and improve their own levels of disability awareness.

Behind every big business are many smaller businesses

In the UK there are close to six million small businesses employing more than 16 million people, making up more than 99% of all businesses and around 61% of the total UK workforce. They play a vital and understated role for big businesses to provide specialist services such as facilities management, deliver goods and outsourcing of various business functions.

Small businesses jump through several hoops in a highly competitive space to become suppliers and providers for bigger organisations. This normally involves a procurement process bidding against other small businesses to become a chosen supplier, proving themselves against a set of requirements typically including a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In the public sector the Government uses a list of approved Disability Confident suppliers who have achieved a level 2 employer certification on their Disability confidence scheme. Many public sector organisations choose to only give contracts to businesses on this accredited service provider list as a way of making sure they meet their minimum disability standards.

Influencing change

There are several reasons as to why our membership might want to help the smaller organisations they work with do better with disability inclusion. As ‘parent’ organisations setting requirements of operation, they are in a unique position to directly influence and make impactful changes.

As an example – many big businesses outsource facilities to smaller service providers such as catering, cleaning, waste management or security. These are public facing functions in organisations that are difficult to differentiate, and at face value are not always seen to be delivered by separate companies.

Raising disability awareness in the smaller businesses they work with helps our membership ensure the level of service and support for their clients and staff is consistent and equal as possible in all areas of their business.

What can our membership do?

  • Mentor and share knowledge

Small Businesses most likely do not have the capacity for specialist disability and inclusion departments and tend to rely on staff performing this function as part of another job role. Our membership can support them by asking their D&I teams to mentor their suppliers to advise on best practice, explain disability guidelines, share knowledge and offer solutions.

  • Invite supply chains to join your employee networks

Including the small businesses you work with to your employee networks gives them a chance to be part of your organisational disability strategy, make changes alongside your own, and is an opportunity to get their feedback.

  • Expand on procurement requirements

Many businesses already ask prospective providers to make some sort of commitment to disability, this might be in the form of a diversity statement, or in the case of many public sector bodies – to have achieved DCS certification. Expanding these requirements to include specific measures is a good way to ensure your suppliers are operating in line with your own expectation. For instance, this could include criteria on specific inclusive recruitment targets or accessibility of information.

  • Encourage London based small businesses to join BDF’s Smarter London SMEs

Smarter London SMEs is a free disability advice service from Business Disability Forum,  available to any London based small or medium sized business with fewer than 250 employees and annual turnover of £40m. The small businesses you work with could join the service to receive a huge range of support from their very own dedicated small business disability adviser, including access to a confidential advice service for day to day operational queries, as well as tailored SME resources. The free service provides high level advice and could be an invaluable resource for support on all types of disability related business support.

We know that many small businesses want to improve their disability standards but often don’t know where to turn for support, or believe that making positive inclusive changes to their business to be a costly exercise. Some simply do not consider disability awareness as a priority and are unsure of the benefits for their businesses.

Our Members and Partners know that working towards becoming a disability smart employer isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s fantastic for business. Supporting small businesses connected to your organisation do the same is not just great for your disabled customers and staff, it helps make all areas of your business accessible to everyone.

If you know a Small Business in London who would like some support, please ask them to contact us at Smarter London SMEs at or visit us at

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