HR & Management

Paralympian Liz Johnson is making waves in disability friendly recruitment

6 min read

27 September 2018

Features Editor, Real Business

Liz Johnson is doing her bit to diversify the recruitment pool by starting a recruitment agency that doesn't discriminate.

Liz Johnson understands the barriers that people with disabilities face. The ex-Paralympian is heading an agency specialising in finding fulfilling careers for differently abled candidates. We chat with the Paralympian pioneer about her venture, and what the recruitment industry can do to better service candidates with diverse needs.

Company: The Ability People (TAP)
Websitehttps://www.theabilitypeople.com/

How is TAP different from other recruitment consultancies?

We are the UK’s first disability-led recruitment consultancy. All of our consultants have some form of impairment – from muscular dystrophy to spinal injuries, there’s a great variety. Having lived with a disability, our consultants have experienced various forms of prejudice, particularly with regards to employment. This experience has allowed them to become more empathetic recruiters, able to spot the hidden talents others miss.

As the name suggests, we focus on the abilities of candidates, looking at what they can do instead of focusing on what they can’t. Our consultants have adopted a positive, proactive and transparent approach to recruitment which we believe will set them apart from other consultancies on the market.

How do you accommodate the needs of your employees?

Since all our consultants live with some form of disability, we have a very flexible working schedule. All our consultants work from home, with hours that suit their personal needs. The consultants can switch on whenever they want, they can pre-record interviews and send them to candidates. We want to provide a working environment where anyone can excel, no matter
what disability you might have.

TAP is proudly for-profit. We’re like any other recruitment agency, recruiting both able-bodied and disabled candidates into a variety of roles.

How did the idea for TAP come about?

I first thought of the idea while at home watching the news. Reporters were discussing the disability employment gap and the figures really hit home. Even though I had a degree in Business Management, because I’d spent the majority of my life concentrating on my career as an athlete, I’d never really considered the harsh realities of job-hunting with a disability.

While I was thinking of what to do after retirement from professional sport, I realised something – people with disabilities who’d been through the often grueling process of looking for a job would make excellent recruiters themselves. From here, the idea for TAP was born.

What skills and attributes were you looking for from your employees?

Like any other recruitment agency, we’re looking for ambitious, hard-working, positive, resilient individuals. We’re looking beyond the disabilities of our employees, focusing on helping them to establish a successful professional career in recruitment. If you have the drive and passion to help others land their dream jobs then you’re perfect for TAP.

What were your main challenges creating TAP?

Our main challenge is helping others understand what exactly TAP is. Even though the concept is undeniably simple, a lot of people had trouble understanding how the business operates.

As soon as you mention that all our consultants have a disability, people either assume we’re a charity or that we’re exclusively helping disabled individuals find work. This simply isn’t the case. TAP is proudly for-profit. We’re like any other recruitment agency, recruiting both able-bodied and disabled candidates into a variety of roles.

What are your main goals for TAP?

We want to challenge preconceptions about the jobs those with disabilities can do and how well they can do it. Secondly, to show that disability-led projects aren’t only viable when run as charities. If we achieve these then hopefully we’ll be on the way to closing the UK’s disability employment gap.

Do you have a personal motto?

Obstacles create opportunities and we should always empower others to overcome theirs.

In a year’s time?

For TAP to be recognised nationwide as a serious competitor in the recruitment sector. We hope to have increased in size, and hire more consultants to meet the needs of our candidates. We want to be well-known amongst the UK’s largest employers, setting a positive example for true diversity and inclusion in the workplace, encouraging other employers to follow suit.

Has your career as a Paralympian affected your work ethic? 

I was extremely fortunate with my career as a Paralympian. While I worked extremely hard for my success, my career enabled me to embrace my disability. Being a Paralympic swimmer, the majority of my time was spent in a swimming costume, so my disability was always on display.

This experience helped me develop great self-confidence, encouraging me to be extremely ambitious and highly competitive. I want to empower others – both disabled and able-bodied – to take full advantage of their opportunities and realise that any obstacles life may throw at us can actually help us achieve success.