Skip to main content

Accessing Leadership: supporting disabled leaders and future leaders in the voluntary sector – Part one: Scoping Review

4. What support is out there already for employers and employees?

There are already a number of schemes run by charities, businesses and government to help disabled people develop their careers, and employers to create the spaces in which people are able to do so. This section briefly outlines some of these. Some of the examples below include public evaluations, and where possible learning from these has been included. Others detail the key elements of the programme or resource. These are not programmes endorsed by this report, but rather examples to learn more about.

Voluntary sector-run programmes for leadership and employment

Leadership Academy Programme: Disability Rights UK

The Leadership Academy Programme provides leadership training for an annual cohort of employees with lived experience of disability. It works with employees in large private, public and voluntary sector organisations, looking to develop their skills or identified as potential leaders, through workshops, a cohort and alumni network, and mentoring. to Disability Rights UK reports that 80% of participants have gone on to achieve new promotions, joined committees and networks, and increased their self-confidence and motivation.

Developing Deaf and Disabled Leaders for the Future: Inclusion London

Inclusion London’s 18 month Leadership Training and Development Programme began in August 2019, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. It is being trialled with ten Deaf/Disabled people who ‘have shown an interest or potential for leadership’ within the DDPO movement. Unexpectedly, this has included developing leadership skills and responses to new challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Change100: Leonard Cheshire

Change100 is a programme in its seventh year, providing paid internships for disabled students and graduates in businesses and other workplaces. It helps people at the start of their careers to learn about the workplace, build their networks and begin to develop the skills they will need to continue their careers.

Leonard Cheshire reported in 2018 that 70% of participants were in or had secured employment after taking part in the scheme, and 84% of employers reported that it had prompted them to consider how inclusive their recruitment is.(7)

Learning for Leadership: Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities

Learning for Leadership offers adults with a learning disability access to a personal development programme to help them develop the skills and knowledge to thrive in leadership roles. It works through coaching, mentoring and skills workshops, as well as shadowing an existing leader in the field. They are also expected to complete a demonstration project to complete the course.

Business support

Purple Space

Purple Space describes itself as ‘the world’s only professional development hub for disability network leaders’. It provides training, consultancy and networking for disabled employees and their employers from all sectors, and supports leaders to build disability networks within organisations, of the kind identified in a number of charity annual reports in section 2. A guide to disabled employee networks produced by partner organisation Kate Nash Associates identifies three types of networks: peer group or alumni networks (often set up by disabled employees themselves), consultation forums and leadership or champion groups (often set up by the organisation).(44) Purple Space’s vision is to build disability confidence among employers ‘from the inside out’ through these networks.


Purple is an organisation seeking to ‘change the conversation’ between businesses and disabled people. In part this means helping businesses to develop inclusive products and services in order to tap into the ‘purple pound’ – the spending power of disabled people, estimated at £249 billion per year. It also supports organisations to achieve different levels of the UK government’s Disability Confident employer accreditation scheme, offers training and consultancy on disability in the workplace, and provides a jobs board for organisations looking to advertise their roles to a wider talent pool.

Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI)

RIDI works with recruiters and employers to give them the tools to become ‘disability confident’, and create a level playing field for disabled candidates. It also hosts an annual awards scheme, promoting and celebrating best practice across sectors in disability confident recruitment and employment. It has a number of guides and resources on recruitment and other human resources practices freely available.

Government support for legal requirements and reasonable adjustments

What equality law means for your voluntary and community sector organisation: Equality and Human Rights Commission

A detailed guide bringing together and explaining different parts of equality legislation, including organisations’ responsibilities under the law. This is a guide for charities and groups providing services. There is also a separate set of guides for employers.

Access to Work

Access to Work is a government benefit scheme to support disabled employees, in partnership with their employers, to pay for adjustments, aids and equipment to help them do their job. This means that employers do not have to fund expensive support themselves (including support workers, specialist equipment and help getting to and from work), but employees can still get the help they need.

There are some considerable problems with the Access to Work scheme. The programme did not grow significantly in either number of grants or value overall between 2010/11 and 2017/18, despite rising costs. Not all employers know about Access to Work, and people will get less support if they apply after having worked for their organisation for some time. 69% of disabled people who had received Access to Work reported having to wait for more than three months for their application to be approved.(7) Research in 2017 found that half of survey respondents had seen changes, normally cuts, to their Access to Work package, as well as more frequent reassessments and tighter eligibility criteria. One in four respondents reported severe difficulty in using the scheme. Respondents also reported a negative impact on their productivity and standard of work, and on their levels of stress, health and confidence.(45) It can be an onerous application process, which has to be completed on paper, and requires substantial evidence of need. It also does not cover all costs; for instance, while it will pay for travel to and from work, it will not necessarily pay for travel to meetings during the working day. There are challenges when moving from a previous employer to a new one, which requires a fresh application each time. A cap on awards also limits support for the small number of disabled people with high cost and complex equipment and support needs.

With these challenges in mind, employers in the voluntary sector need to make sure they are aware of how Access to Work functions, how to streamline their own involvement in the process, and how to best support employees who may be struggling, either professionally or personally, as a result of delays, cuts or uncertainty. The rules are extremely complex, and it is difficult to find clear guidance on them. This may be an area where voluntary sector infrastructure organisations, working with disability specialists, can offer organisations support.

Disability Confident employment accreditation scheme

Disability Confident is a government-run scheme that invites organisations to sign up to three levels   of membership – committed, employer and leader – to demonstrate their willingness and ability to employ and support disabled workers. Currently over 18,000 organisations have signed up, including 3,583 voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises (20% of total signatories, but only 2% of the total voluntary sector).

However, as Independent Living points out, the scheme involves a lot of self-assessment, only requiring external validation at the final ‘Leader’ tier. This makes it difficult to tell how much the scheme has translated into real change for disabled employees. An evaluation was promised by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) by 2020, but this does not yet appear to have been published.(46)

Share this