Philippa Willitts finds out what disability consultants do, and what it takes to become one…
Disability consultants come in many shapes and sizes. Some specialise in a single issue – such as accessibility, the Equality Act 2010 or accommodating disabled members of staff – while others will offer a wider range of services. What they all have in common, however, is a commitment to ensuring that disabled people’s rights are respected.
Disability consultancy can be a fascinating career that offers people the chance to have a positive impact on the world around them. Whether they’re advising HR departments on hiring policies, or property developers on access to public buildings, their work can play an important role in making life easier for other disabled people.
“The hardest and most rewarding thing”
It is this sense of purpose that led Hannah-Rebecca Guscoth to pursue disability consultancy as a career. After entering the world of work, she found herself disillusioned about carrying out tasks that she did not find especially inspiring. She considered what was really important to her and realised that, “If I really cared about disability, then I should actively do something about it”.
Hannah-Rebecca’s wealth of experience as a volunteer in third sector organisations meant she was well-equipped to focus her efforts on starting a business as a disability consultant. Now aged 23, she says that being a disability consultant is “Both the hardest and most rewarding thing” she has ever done.
Richard Shakespeare, 31, began his career as a disability consultant in a rather different way. When he was made redundant from a previous job in the financial sector he struggled to find a new position. After a year – and precisely 1923 unsuccessful job applications – he knew something had to change.
Richard was aware that because he was disabled, some of the businesses he had applied to had simply not known how to accommodate him. After calculating that he had spent over £1000 on postage stamps for application forms while seemingly making no progress, he recalls, he came a radical decision – “If nobody was going to employ me, then I’d employ myself!”
Richard knew that he had the knowledge, skills and experience needed to help businesses to become more ‘disability confident’. He had a degree in Business and Marketing, experience of HR departments, and had previously worked at a Shopmobility Centre, where his role had been to help disabled people access local amenities. Combining all of this knowledge and experience, he set himself up as a consultant in Derbyshire.
What does the job involve?
Richard Shakespeare’s days are incredibly varied. He offers training on topics such as disability awareness, mental health and visual impairment, starting clients off with a Training Needs Analysis to identify those areas in which their organisations may require extra guidance. As well as providing such courses in person, he has also developed an innovative range of e-learning study options, which widen his reach and allow him to present information in a new, engaging way.
Another service his company offers is mystery shopping, where a member of Richard’s team will visit a business and use their services so as to evaluate what that experience is like for a disabled customer. The company is then advised on what steps they can take to gain, retain and interact with disabled clients more effectively and appropriately.
Hannah-Rebecca Guscoth also offers training services, along with volunteer management, facilitating workshops and more besides, though her current focus is predominantly the theoretical side of understanding and raising awareness with regards to disability issues. This helps to inform the policies, grass-roots work and day-to-day decisions of organisations that affect their disabled service users and staff.
She possesses knowledge and first-hand experience of various issues faced by disabled people, which she combines with an understanding of public attitudes and language nuances when discussing disability – together with a cultural and regional perspective which recognises that what may apply in one area could be wholly inappropriate in another.
Who can become a disability consultant?
Hannah-Rebecca and Richard are both required to fully understand the equalities legislation that exists in this country, because the advice they offer to groups and organisations will often start with ensuring that all legal standards are met. Creating a fully inclusive environment often entails more than simply obeying the law, but it is nonetheless vital that disability consultants are familiar with what is stated by such laws and how they must be followed.
There is no single path into the profession, and no particular qualifications or work experience that entitles a person to set themselves up as a disability consultant. People wanting to become Access Auditors or Access Consultants focusing mainly on physical accessibility can look at the courses offered by the Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE). They may then choose to apply for accreditation by the National Register of Access Consultants (NRAC), a UK-wide register of Access Auditors who can demonstrate that they fulfil certain professional criteria and have a good technical and legal understanding of accessibility standards.
For those who want to set up consultancies more like those of Richard or Hannah-Rebecca, the path is not so well defined. Both cite having a thorough knowledge of the issues affecting disabled people as absolutely non-negotiable. Whether that be through education, personal experience or training (most likely all three), disability consultants must understand the barriers and obstacles a disabled person might face and have a bank of potential solutions at the ready.
Must disability consultants be disabled themselves?
Some would argue that a non-disabled disability consultant can’t fully understand the issues at hand. Consultants must, however, be able to offer advice on all kinds of impairments and limitations – as such, even disabled consultants will have to learn about conditions they won’t have experienced personally.
Both Hannah-Rebecca and Richard are disabled, but neither feels that that this is absolutely essential to the job. Yet they both acknowledge that it gave them a head-start – their personal understanding of the issues and solutions available, and respective experiences of discrimination means they may well bring more to the job than somebody whose knowledge is purely theoretical.
Ultimately, however, both believe that being passionate about equality and having a deep awareness of the issues disabled people face that make for an effective disability consultant – whether they have impairments themselves or not.
As Hannah-Rebecca concludes, “Consultancy requires a very strong sense of self belief; if you can back that up with your knowledge and ability, you can do something really great with it.”
Do you meet the criteria?
Disability consultants can benefit from having the following qualities:
– Strong communication and people skills
– Problem-solving skills
– Training or teaching experience
– Lateral thinking
– An ability to adapt to different circumstances
– Volunteer or work experience with a disability-focused organisation or team
– The ability to apply legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010, to a variety of real-life circumstances
– Experience or training in human resources
– A determination to succeed in the face of long hours and demanding clients.