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Disabled people face major barriers in business

A new Birkbeck report sets out recommendations for how the UK Government can better support disabled entrepreneurs and innovators.

Significant policy changes in how the UK Government supports disabled entrepreneurs and innovators needs to occur, according to a new report by Birkbeck and Universal Inclusion. With approximately 14% of all disabled people in work being self-employed, the report recommendations are important. 

The Road to Wonder Report: barriers and opportunities to creating innovation and enterprise faced by disabled people: an exploratory study examines the working practices of disabled innovators, explores the nature of entrepreneurial and innovation activities undertaken by disabled entrepreneurs, and reflects on the variations in regional innovation activity and availability of support. It also explores the frequent absence of the voice of disabled entrepreneurs/innovators in the design and delivery of policy and programmes intended to encourage and support them. 

The report recommendations include elevating the profile and value of the contribution of disabled entrepreneurs and innovators; breaking down barriers to financial access; introducing a regional perspective into the design and delivery of national innovation support programmes; and enhancing the Department of Work and Pension Access to Work award.  

Helen Lawton Smith, Joint Project Lead, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Birkbeck and Director of Birkbeck’s Centre of Innovation Management Research (CIMR), commented: This report breaks new ground because it provides data and interpretations that have been missing from previous academic studies in this field. 

The research team conducted a review of previous research and academic literature; an online survey; and focus groups and interviews with self-identifying disabled innovators as well as a secondary analysis of the Labour Force Survey. The study found that when disabled people are resourced effectively, they not only engage in innovation and enterprise but become leaders in their field. 

Jacqueline Winstanley, Joint Project Lead, Founder and CEO of Universal Inclusion, The Inclusive Entrepreneurs Network, and Visiting Fellow at CIMR, added: I am looking forward to continuing the ethical collaboration between policy, practice and academia necessary to achieve the 2030 Agenda Paradigm Shift where disabled people are no longer seen as burdens but as contributing citizens and leaders in innovation and enterprise in their own right.” 

The report findings were presented at the Global Entrepreneurship Week 2023: Environmental Social Governance (ESG) For Good event on 17 November, hosted by NatWest. A panel showcased the lived experience of impactful and insightful disabled entrepreneurs, Beth Kume-Holland, Isaac Harvey MBE, Sylvia Mac and Chris Lynch. These leaders in the field of inclusive entrepreneurship showed how disabled innovators are as important as their non-disabled peers within mainstream innovation in growing the economy.  

The report is recommended by the Inclusive Entrepreneur Network and is a key element of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Inclusive Entrepreneurship Programme of Work.  

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