Together with its EU partners, the British Furniture Manufacturers (BFM) is going one step further to help companies within the furniture sector who employ disabled workers by engaging in the SupportAbility project, an initiative to train managers across SMEs and provide them with the knowledge of adaptations that may be needed when supporting an employee with a form of disability.

The pilot course, and the first test of this e-learning project, has now taken place. After two years of research and collation of the course, it was found that activities that lead to inclusion are currently supported and encouraged due to a range of national and international policy developments. This includes an underpinning policy and strategy adopted by the UN. A picture emerged that while activities are taking place and commitments are real, much more needs to be done if the aims of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are to be achieved – barriers to employment still need to be eliminated.

However, SMEs can find including people living with disability a particular challenge due to a lack of information, resources and infrastructure to give the very specific help they may require over and above the broad generic community values provided in an SME environment.

From these findings, SupportAbility has created a pilot course coordinated between the six partners and students from Spain and managers from the UK furniture industry (BFM members) participated. The pilot course consists of activities that lead to the inclusion of people living with physical disability, learning difficulties and people with a history of mental illness and was held in in mid-November, with a second week in February 2019 to review, conclude and make recommendations. Between these onsite courses an e-learning platform has been created to teach participants the fundamentals needed when employing those with a form of disability over four modules, with a test relating to each.

Among the students attending the November pilot course were six British employees from companies in the furniture industry including Hypnos and Webs Training, along with six carpentry/furniture students from areas across Spain. The pilot course has also become an accredited course by OAL, which means each participant will be presented with a certificate on successful completion.

Jackie Bazeley, the BFM's representative in the project, says: “The course has been both exciting and thought provoking for the students, enabling them to really understand the difficulties disabled individuals have to overcome in the workplace.”