A PILOT scheme designed to break down barriers and prejudice and actively recruit staff with disabilities at Wiltshire Police could soon be rolled out to Swindon and the rest of the force.
For the past two years, the constabulary has been at the forefront of an initiative to restore the disabled’s rightful place in the office by giving candidates a chance to prove themselves through alternative methods.
Since 2011, the force has hired seven employees with a variety of conditions from hearing difficulties to agoraphobia at its 101 contact centre with the help and active support of Pluss, a social enterprise which supports thousands of people with disabilities to find employment.
And the sky is the limit for John Flynn, deputy head of contact management, who spearheaded the scheme along with Superintendant Charlie Armstrong and is now determined to see it expand to every department.
Clerical assistant Robert Stephens with John Flynn, deputy head of contact management at Wiltshire Police and Melanie Mason, senior job broker for Pluss
In its infancy, the pilot started with one candidate, Robert Stephens, who joined the force’s headquarters as a volunteer.
Robert, who is partially-sighted, was soon offered a contract and helped along the way with some training and adapted magnifying software. After a few months he was transferred from the control room to an admin-based position more suited to his ability.
“We gave Robert a working interview rather than an interview in front of a panel,” added John. “This means that he got a temporary contract and was assessed through work.
“That’s when Pluss came into it. They helped us help Robert through his journey of employment.
“It has evolved since and now Pluss provide traineeships. This is paid placement by Pluss during which we train them like any regular employee but they receive coaching or support if they need it from Pluss.”
A deep change in mentalities and a complete overhaul of the recruitment process to ensure people with disabilities were not disadvantaged was crucial to the success of the pilot scheme.
“It’s not about what people can’t do but what they can do,” he said. “We need to break down the myths around disability.”
Finding paid employment after three and a half years searching for a job transformed Robert’s life.
“I thoroughly enjoy my role,” said the 42-year-old from Pewsey. “Companies think the barriers are too high and they are frightened to push the envelope but Wiltshire Police gave me a chance.
“It has made a world of difference to my life. I have made friends and I am financially independent.
“Anybody with a disability who wants to work should be given the opportunity to do so.”
Michelle Godwin, who suffers from agoraphobia, was the second member of staff to be hired through Pluss in 2012 at Wiltshire Police’s contact room.
“It has given me my life back,” said Michelle, 43, from Chippenham. “I have friends and a social life and it has slowly given me my confidence back.
“Wiltshire Police have looked at what’s behind my disability and not stigmatised it.”