The first ever conference to showcase the talents of disabled people and their huge value to the economy of the west takes place tomorrow.
Fronted by Falklands veteran and businessman Simon Weston, the Disability Confident event at the Steam museum, Swindon, is designed to increase confidence among local employers to recruit and retain more disabled people of working age in the region not in work.
Half of the 210,000 disabled people of working age in the region are employed at the moment.
Among the 200 businessmen and women, public sector organisations, politicians and community leaders attending will be Nationwide Building Society, Royal Mail, Airbus, British Airways, Wiltshire Police and local authorities.
The conferences are part of the celebrity-backed Disability Confident campaign launched by Prime Minister David Cameron in London in July, which already has the backing of major businesses such as Easyjet, Barclays, Asda and Honda.
Mr Cameron told business leaders that it was time to dispel the myths about the complexities of employing disabled people - who account for 20 per cent of the population.
Mike Penning, Minister for Disabled People, said: “Research shows that more disabled jobseekers cite employers' attitudes as a barrier to work than transport, which is why we've arranged the first ever national road show to support employers to become more confident about hiring disabled people.
"Although the employment rates for disabled people have increased gradually over the years, we know that all too often the talents of disabled people in the workforce are left untapped.
"One in five of us has a disability and doing more to employ disabled people and provide services for them could help businesses tap into the £80bn purple pound - and I want businesses in the west of England to do just that.”
Falklands veteran and businessman Simon Weston said: “What I want employers to take away from this conference is that disabled people can be some of your best employees.
"We’re some of the most determined workers, who go the extra mile to secure results.
"To overlook the skills and talents of people because they have a physical or mental disability could ultimately cost you money.”
Research shows the significant value of employing disabled people:
• Disabled people can help increase the number of Britain’s 12m disabled customers who use a business or service;
• Disabled people generally stay in the job for longer, have a strong commitment to their job and lower rates of absenteeism;
• Adjustments and support that can be funded through the specialist employment scheme Access to often also benefit other staff and customers.
Sophie Christiansen, Disability Confident ambassador and 2012 Paralympics gold medallist, said: "I’m proud to back the Disability Confident campaign, which is all about showcasing the talents of disabled people.
"As my story shows, we all have unique talents and deserve the opportunity to fulfil our true potential.”
Access to Work – the flagship government programme to help disabled people get or keep a job - provides financial help towards the extra costs faced by disabled people in work. It can cover expenses for travel costs, specially adapted equipment or support workers.
Richard Day, of Honda Manufacturing, said: “At Honda we believe deeply in respect for the individual. Talented people are at the heart of any good business.
"Being able to attract people from the widest possible talent pool is absolutely vital in keeping a business competitive and moving it forward. I would urge all of our local businesses to seriously consider what they can do as employers to attract more disabled talent to their organisations.”
As part of the government’s long-term economic plan to increase the employment rates for disabled people, advice and support for employers on hiring and keeping disabled people is available at http://www.gov.uk/dwp/disabilityconfident website