Liz Sayce OBE Deaf Learners National Conference Speaker

liz-sayceMy name is Liz Sayce and I am the Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK. We are disabled people leading change: our Board and staff include Deaf and disabled people, people with lived experience of mental health issues, long –term health conditions, physical impairments, learning disabilities and more. We are working for a world where everyone can participate – and our top priorities are getting a life, and getting a job. I am happy to be speaking at Deaf Unity’s Deaf Learners Conference. My topic is Breaking Work Barriers: Providing Deaf People with Employment Support to Find and Keep Jobs.   

I started my working life in mental health. I had my own experience of mental health difficulties, and I had jobs in research and policy – and then, as Policy Director of Mind, I got to lead some campaigns for social justice. We highlighted the discrimination that prevented people reaching their potential, and changed the mental health field’s focus from just ‘treatment’ – to opportunities for housing, education, employment, friendships, and relationships.

Then I spent a year in the USA, joining forces with others in the disability movement, learning how laws and policies in the US had begun to help break down barriers in employment and services. When I came back I worked for the Disability Rights Commission – leading programmes like letting employers know how tapping into everyone’s talents would help their business, and influencing policy makers to see that policies need to work well for everyone. We also supported some legal cases to show that discriminatory behaviour is not acceptable – for instance, if employers pass deaf or disabled people over for promotion or development opportunities. There needs to be ‘an iron fist in a velvet glove’.

Support, opportunity and mentoring

We did research to find out from disabled and deaf people who were succeeding at work what had enabled that to happen – what were the secrets of success. They were very clear – it was about senior people’s support, being given a real opportunity, and mentoring. We asked people succeeding in their careers whether they would value a network – and when they said yes we set one up. We also shared stories of success – including through our guide Doing Careers Differently. Often projects like this start from the problems and the barriers that people face.

We turned that on its head and started with successes – so we could spread that success. We also have a Helpline/email service for people considering going to college or university, or doing an apprenticeship; and we are starting a project to find out what the barriers are to doing apprenticeships and how we can overcome them.  We have booklets written by and for disabled people on higher education – and we hope to do one on apprenticeships as well. Information on these is on our website.

We do a lot of lobbying and influencing. At present Government is developing a disability employment strategy. We pressed them to expand and improve the Access to Work programme. They have made some changes – made Access to Work available for some work experience (not just permanent jobs), marketed it more, torn up the list of things the scheme WOULDN’T fund (this is important because it needs to facilitate people to work – not tie them up in red tape). As a result the numbers of people using Access to Work are beginning to increase, after a decline.

It is early days – this is a positive step; but we need government to go much further. We would like one great personalised specialist disability employment service – with far more information easily available to everyone (employees, job seekers and employers), and a really personalised service – so we could hold the budget if we wanted, for instance, interpreters. We also need a benefit system that makes it easy to work. And we need opportunities to get new skills. All of this is about getting a life – and getting a job.

Disability Rights UK can make change happen because of its members. You can join – as an organisation or as an individual. We have regular email bulletins, we are on Twitter and Facebook, we hold events, we have campaigns you can get involved in. You can also get hold of lots of useful factsheets on benefits, independent living, employment and skills on our website.

Liz Sayce, OBE, is the CEO of Disability Rights UK. She has worked with many campaigns and organisations, including Mind, the Disability Rights Commission and Radar. She was awarded an OBE in 2008 in recognition of services to disabled people. 

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