Celebrating disabled people's contribution to the world of work

13 June 2014

Our chief executive, Clare Pelham, spoke at a reception hosted by Samantha Cameron at 10 Downing Street on 20 May 2014.

I’d like to start by thanking Mrs Cameron and the whole team at Number 10 for this wonderful event.

It’s just over a year ago I rather boldly wrote to some inspirational women to ask if they would be founder members of ‘Me and My Shadow’ (some of them in the room today).

I was asking for one day in their lives for a disabled young woman to shadow them at work — to gain inspiration and ambition for their future careers. But Mrs Cameron kindly did so much more than that in giving us this wonderful event to celebrate the contribution of disabled people to the world of work — both what it is now and what — with your help — it could be.

I would like to take only a few minutes of your time today to talk to you about three things:

  • first, I’d like to talk to you about your first job;
  • second, I’d like you to hear from Dominic about his first job — and how long it took him to get it; and
  • third, and most importantly, I’d like to ask you please not to leave the room until you’ve done one thing to make it possible for one more young person to feel like Dominic today.

You are all powerful people. You have the power to make that happen.

First job

While many things make our lives meaningful — friends, family, faith, the arts, hobbies, intellectual pursuits — for many of us what provides us with financial independence, a sense of purpose to our days and the opportunity to contribute to our society is work.

And that is why I believe none of us ever forgets our first job. I bet each of us can remember that awkward uncomfortable nervous feeling of our first day, our first week, our first month. Where do you eat lunch, how often exactly can you ask questions without becoming a nuisance to your boss, and that lovely moment when you first got paid.

That’s a rite of passage that all of us who are working or have worked will share. Imagine just for one moment how lonely, how isolated, how different you’d feel if — unlike all your friends — after all the letters and application forms you didn’t end up with a job. Never shared the joy of that first day. Just faced endless rejection.


Now rejection can occur for many reasons.

But one important reason many disabled people face rejection when they apply for a job is not because they lack the skills to do it well. It is because — and we know this because many of you have told us so — every time an employer looks at them, he or she gets anxious. Anxious because they can’t see past the disability.

And what would reassure them? And help them to feel disability confident? And we know this again because many of you have told us so. The answer is experience. The knowledge that the candidate has successfully held down a job of similar calibre with another employer. But the candidate can’t get experience because no employer can see past their disability.

No employer can see their ability to do the job - if only they could be given exactly the same opportunity to demonstrate it as everyone else.

And that’s why at Leonard Cheshire we created Change100 to break that vicious circle: to match employers who are desperate for talent with highly capable undergraduates looking for work experience in their last summer. And who just happen also to be disabled.

We only launched the programme last year but already we have feedback from employers that they are simply delighted at the quality of the candidates. And I will not even try to tell you how excited the students are to have this opportunity. Because some of them are here tonight and will tell you far better in their own words.

So, in conclusion I would like to thank you for coming this evening to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled people — both what it is already and what it could be.