Cllr Carole Williams, Cabinet Member for Employment, Skills, Human Resources and Equalities writes in support of International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The theme for this year’s celebration of disabled people is ‘Not all disabilities are visible’. This is something we are very conscious of in Hackney, and it guides our work across the Council.

Key to our commitment to create public spaces that are attractive, safe, secure, accessible and inclusive, is the need to remove barriers by working to eliminate public spaces that disable people, and putting inclusivity and equality at the heart of everything we do. 

Not all disabilities are visible, and many people with invisible disabilities – such as chronic pain and fatigue, mental health conditions, sight or hearing impairments, or neurological disorders – often face stigma, a lack of understanding, and barriers to participating fully in education and employment. This further fuels systemic inequality, as employment and access to good quality jobs is central to creating an equal society for everyone. 

The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted these growing inequalities, not least for our young people who have left school or college and need support to start their careers. Disabled young people seeking employment have to overcome these challenges alongside a lack of understanding from potential employers about their disabilities. 

Only 50% of disabled people in the UK are in work, compared to 80% of non-disabled people, and less than 6% of learning disabled people are in paid employment. These disparities are unacceptable – and we are committed to working with our partners to remove the systemic barriers faced by disabled people looking for work. 

This includes through our supported internship scheme Project SEARCH, which helps young people with Special Educational Needs and/or Development (SEND) into work. 17 local residents graduated from the scheme this summer, and we are so incredibly proud of their commitment to their placements despite the limitations and challenges of working from home. It has been brilliant seeing our interns’ confidence grow over the duration of their placements, and I hope that more organisations commit to supporting young people with SEND into the workplace. If you’re a young person aged between 16-25 years old with SEND, you can apply for next year’s Project SEARCH programme.

We know that the pandemic has been particularly tough for disabled people, who have reported feeling more isolated. Our Supported Employment advisors are continuing to provide support to disabled residents through online video sessions and over the telephone, including residents whose mental health has been adversely affected by the pandemic. Disabled residents can register for free employment support on our website. 

We recognise that we must also lead by example, which is why we’re committed to ensuring that Hackney Council is an inclusive workplace for everyone. In the coming months, over 100 managers at the Council will undertake in-depth training on inclusivity and equality in the workplace. We’ve also launched an Inclusive Champions programme to promote fairness, equality and diversity throughout every department, and created an Inclusive Management toolkit, to ensure excellence in inclusive leadership and anti-discriminatory practices. 

These are just some of the ways we’re working to support disabled people into the workplace – however, we recognise that much more work needs to be done, and we will continue working with our partners and communities to address and remove the barriers faced by disabled people. 

While many disabilities may not be visible, it’s important we do everything we can – as a Council, as neighbours and communities – to speak out, support people and do all we can to make Hackney a fairer, more inclusive, borough. This International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I’d urge everyone to reflect on the steps we can take to do this.

Cllr Carole Williams, Cabinet Member for Employment, Skills, Human Resources and Equalities 

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