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Gold-medal winning Paralympian launches start-up to tackle disability stereotypes

A gold-medal winning Paralympian is launching a new business venture set to challenge assumptions about the careers those living with disabilities can build and the role they can play in the jobs market.

The business, a recruitment consultancy called The Ability People (TAP), will be headed up by former Paralympic swimming champion Liz Johnson and staffed exclusively by people living with disabilities. The start-up will be operating on a for-profit basis, not as a charity, and is aiming to secure major recruitment deals with some of the country’s largest and most sought after employers whilst simultaneously creating opportunities for its consultants to build thriving careers.

Liz Johnson, who took gold for ParalympicsGB in Beijing in 2008, silver in Athens in 2004, and bronze in London 2012, comments:

“The disability employment gap in this country stands at over 30% and has for over a decade. It’s an outrageous figure. Many people living with disabilities would love to secure full-time work, but employees consciously and unconsciously discriminate against them when it comes to hiring decisions. There is a huge amount of misinformation out there, including a belief that someone with a disability just couldn’t do a good job.

“With TAP, we want to focus on what people can do and prove that a disability-led business can not only be a viable venture but also outperform traditional firms. We’re not a charity; we’re an ambitious new business that will be striving to compete with traditional incumbents, staffed by a team of bright, talented people who happen to be living with a disability. We’re not looking for the sympathy vote from clients, just a chance to prove what we can do and what our model can achieve.

“In turn, I hope that the personal experiences of the team will help inform an empathetic, open-minded approach to recruitment, which in turn will see even more diverse candidates securing positions with top UK companies.”

TAP will be recruiting both able-bodied and disabled candidates for roles in the technology, engineering, software and HR sectors, as well as providing support for graduates and school leavers.  

The team are already off to a winning start, having already secured a contract with Guidant Group, which will see the team placing candidates for major brands including Diageo, John Lewis and British Airways.

Ben Weston, Head of Business Services, Guidant Group

“As a Disability Confident Leader and provider of outsourced recruitment services to many of the UK’s leading employers, it is vital and expected that we will provide our clients with high quality talent that accurately represents the society we live in. We are therefore delighted to welcome The Ability People onto our strategic partner programme. Their unique combination of specialist recruitment agency expertise, delivered by passionate individuals with first-hand experience of living with a disability is a powerful differentiator.

“We believe our partnership with TAP will have a direct and positive impact on our ability to place the best candidates into our clients’ jobs. Not only that, we are excited to be part of their drive to transform negative perceptions of talent, focusing on every individual’s ABILITY rather than disability. Working together, we believe we can make a real difference in breaking down the barriers faced by disabled people, while introducing a new way of identifying talent for our clients. We can’t wait to get started.”

The TAP team encompasses consultants living with a wide range of impairments, including former Paralympic swimmer David Hill and disability youth advocate Adil Ghani.

The business hopes to challenge stereotypes about the role those living with disabilities can play in the job market, as well as providing an exciting career path for each member of the team.  

Liz adds:

“I had a wonderful career as an athlete but I recognise only too well that becoming a Paralympian is one of the only career paths associated with disabled people. It’s vital that we change that, for both employers and people living with disabilities. The UK workforce will continue to miss out on some incredible talent if we don’t.”