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Workforce with disabilities is “finally being taken seriously”

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 01 Dec 2022

To commemorate the International Day of Disabled Persons on 3 December, ICAEW gains insight from Sami Dar, co-founder of 10,000 Able Interns, a programme that unlocks opportunities for students and graduates with disabilities.

Juggling day-to-day work and social life as a student can be challenging at the best of times – and even more so when you have a disability. This is what Sami Dar found when he was studying BSc Management at Warwick University as a wheelchair user, but he powered through and is now working towards ACA accreditation alongside his role as an Asset Management Audit Associate at Mazars.

During his studies Dar realised that other students with disabilities were dealing with the same challenges. “I recognised there was a gap in the market to help disabled students kickstart a professional career on their journey towards meaningful, long-term employment,” he says.

Having identified a need for a more streamlined process for students with disabilities, Dar co-founded 10,000 Able Interns, a programme supported by organisations including LinkedIn and The Disability Charities Consortium to connect young talent with paid internships, training and development. Eligible students can apply for internships through the website and gain experience from the likes of Goldman Sachs, PwC, Schroders and more.

How 10,000 Able Interns came about

Having secured his position at Mazars, Dar started working on a framework for the programme and reached out to Jonathan Sorrell, one of the co-founders and trustees of 10,000 Black Interns. What started out as a fact-finding mission turned into something far more exciting. “We reached upon an agreement whereby we thought it would be best for us to work together, and we started working on 10,000 Able Interns based on the same fundamental concept as 10,000 Black Interns,” Dar says.

Dar launched a pilot scheme last year with 10 firms across eight different sectors, providing 25 internships between them, to iron out any deficiencies before launching on a larger scale. Today the programme has more than 100 internships available.

Challenges along the way

The main challenge for the 10,000 Able Interns team was defining which disabilities fall under its remit – because the initiative aims to provide opportunity to those who need it most, the starting point is to assess who is eligible for the programme.

“To cater to the whole spectrum of disability would be great, but we don't have the kind of resources and scale at the moment. Given that we’re in our infancy as an organisation, we’d like to begin by focusing on the students furthest from opportunity,” Dar explains.

Its research finally homed in on a final eligibility criteria for interns on the 10,000 Able Interns programme. “We found that, for example, students with dyslexia and dyspraxia, among other disabilities, had the same rate of employment as the wider population.”

In contrast, people with physical disabilities and autistic individuals were significantly more disadvantaged when it came to the unemployment rate.

The programme covers a range of disabilities, but because disability is such a spectrum, the criteria are flexible enough to allow for anyone who feels as if they have been significantly impacted by their disability. “We’ve highlighted the disabilities and conditions that are generally furthest from opportunity, but the list is not exhaustive, and doesn’t account for the nuances and bespoke nature of each disability. We trust our applicants to exercise good judgement and authenticity – we encourage anyone who feels they meet our eligibility criteria to apply,” Dar explains

Planning to scale slowly and sustainably

The programme set out to provide 100 internships in its first year and this target has already been exceeded, but Dar is reluctant to scale too quickly and is conscious of the need to safeguard both firms and candidates from oversubscription.

If things continue to grow at their current rate, 10,000 Able Interns is already on track to reach several hundred internships for the 2023/24 cycle, with the eventual aim of hitting 2,000 per year on average over five years to reach the 10,000 mark. “I think disability is slightly more difficult to scale, given the adjustments, requirements and considerations necessary when taking on such a range of disability. But I’m quietly confident in our ability to reach 2,000 per year in the next three years or so.”

How far has disabled representation in the workplace come?

With the pilot under its belt, and with Dar handing over the reins to CEO Rebecca Ajulu-Bushell, the good news is that a lot of firms are already at a good starting point. “It feels like we’re finally being taken seriously as a demographic that can really contribute to the workplace,” Dar says. “Essentially, it’s also the economically sensible decision to increase diversity and to bring on as wide a range of perspectives as possible – it makes good business sense.”

Dar remains in an advisory role dealing with business direction from the perspective of someone who has been there and experienced all the challenges of progressing a career with the extra dimension of a disability. But he’s already proud of the programme’s achievements to date.

“Representation has definitely come a long way, and I hope over the next five to 10 years we can help to further that progress as we continue to bridge the gap. Having said that, when you consider the fact that not a single FTSE 100 company has an executive or senior manager who has disclosed a disability, there are still mountains to be climbed in our collective pursuit of social equity.”

ICAEW Insights spoke with Sami Dar to commemorate The United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

For more information on how every chartered accountant can help to encourage an inclusive profession, visit the Welcome Inclusion hub and join ICAEW’s Diversity and Inclusion Community.

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