OPINION: Give jobs to the best candidate

As much as I love it, I often find sitting through a whole episode of BBC2's The Office just too close to home. The introduction of wheelchair-user Brenda in the current series has made it even more painful. When there was a fire alarm, she was left halfway down the stairs. I hope we have got past that in most workplaces, but the general point was well made. For all the talk of integration, disabled people are still seven times more likely to be out of work.

This has been brought into sharp relief because the top jobs at three of the biggest disability charities have been up for grabs. Scope, Mencap and RNID have been urged to practise what they preach and appoint candidates with disabilities.

The problem, in my experience, is not lack of a will to make this happen but the dearth of suitable candidates. On some of the appointments' panels that I've sat on, it comes down to a choice between the best applicant or someone who has a disability. You pick between symbolism and sound custodianship of a charity that has the best interests of thousands of disabled people at heart. I've always plumped for the best candidate. That, it seems to me, is what integration is about.

Yet, you have to help things along, advertise in the right places and make your workplace accessible to nurture future disabled leaders. That is the inspiration at the heart of Wildfire, a new foundation being developed under the aegis of the Employers' Forum on Disability. Soon appointment panels will have a genuine choice, but even then some of the most talented people with disabilities will not want to define their careers in terms of that disability by working for charities in the field.

I once approached the motor racing boss Frank Williams, who has a spinal cord injury, to become a trustee of the Association for Spinal Injury Research (Aspire). It felt like a good fit. He replied that he channelled all his efforts towards Save the Children thank you very much. And good on him.

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

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