Comment: Businesses should look beyond disability and see talent

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While there have been many slogans and campaigns, urging people to see the capability and not the disability, it is all too clear that disability representation is improving at too slow a rate.

You might have missed it over the Christmas period but I had the privilege of meeting some remarkably gifted but differently-abled people.

Founder of Harrogate-based charity Artizan International, Susie Hart MBE. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Founder of Harrogate-based charity Artizan International, Susie Hart MBE. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

To hear their stories was not only eye-opening but also inspiring.

One of the things that struck me was the prejudices that are still held against disabled people by wider society.

When I spoke to Susie Hart MBE, who set up the Harrogate-based charity Artizan International, I was expecting her to share horrors faced by disabled people in the developing world.

Artizan runs craft workshops to help tackle social isolation faced by disabled people here in the UK. It also helps set up social enterprises in the developing world – giving disabled people an opportunity to learn craft skills and earn a living.

Callum Gamble and his mum Caren Launus-Gamble have set up KreativeInk.  Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Callum Gamble and his mum Caren Launus-Gamble have set up KreativeInk. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

However, it was the stories closer to home that really resonated. Ms Hart spoke about her own daughter Rosie, who has Down’s syndrome, and is often shunned by strangers in public.

In fact, her daughter went missing for a couple of hours recently.

Ms Hart said: “When we eventually found her we asked her ‘why did you go out on your own?’ and she said ‘I was looking for friends’, that just broke my heart.”

Not only is it heartbreaking to hear that disabled people face social isolation, it’s also a detriment to our society that they suffer in this way.

“Don’t treat the person like they’re invisible and definitely don’t move away,” Ms Hart says. “Don’t treat that person like they are any different.

“If you have an opportunity to engage that person in conversation, you’ll probably be surprised by their sense of humour and the great stories that they have to share.”

Not only would you be surprised at some of the stories they have to share but also some of the skills they possess.

At the craft session that I visited they were making wreaths ahead of Christmas. And it’s not just art and crafts that disabled people excel at.

I had the pleasure of meeting Callum Gamble and his mother Caren Launus-Gamble.

Callum was an ace creative media technology student at Leeds Beckett University. He, in fact, came away with a first class honours.

However, Callum suffers from autism. It means that some tasks take him a bit more time to understand and process. He disclosed his condition to his first employer at the interview, got the job at the web development agency but left after three weeks.

The reason? He was humiliated in front of the entire office for making a mistake. His mother decided that it would be best if she and Callum were to set up their own business and just a few months in they’re already impressing clients and have plans to develop a fully fledged web development agency employing a neuro diverse workforce.

What struck me was how articulate and talented Callum was.

As I was leaving their client Leodis Wealth’s office, they had a query about their website and Callum was straight onto it.

It was refreshing to see the wealth management firm take a different view to working with someone who has autism. Phil Organ, a director at Leodis Wealth, said: “I saw it as a real bonus because it meant that we had to try to be as clear as possible about what people were trying to achieve, which isn’t always easy in the world that we operate in.

“We had to be very focused as to what we wanted. It was very helpful to get us to the end result, which is a great website.”

Business has a great opportunity to once again lead the way in society by giving people like Callum a chance.

By taking a leaf out of Leodis Wealth’s book and viewing people with disability differently, businesses could really reap the rewards commercially.

As it stands, more progress needs to be made but if as a business you make one resolution and that is to support people with disabilities in a meaningful way then there’s no reason why that change can’t happen faster.


How a lack of understanding of autism led this mother and her son to set up their own web agency

We need to improve how people with disabilities are treated - founder of Artizan International