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Advancing disability inclusion in the workplace and beyond

31/03/2022

Locations

United Kingdom

Fieldfisher partners with the UK's leading organisation for young wheelchair users, Whizz-Kidz, which has a simple vision that we live in a "society in which every young wheelchair user is mobile, enabled, and included".

Approximately 75,000 young people in the UK need a wheelchair, yet the majority don’t have one that fully meets their needs, leading to dependency on others, social isolation, poor mental health, pain, and injury. Whizz-Kidz combat these barriers through the provision of mobility equipment, employability opportunities, and campaigning for inclusion. The organisation was introduced to the firm in 2019 by Corporate Responsibility (CR) Manager, Millie Hawes, who received a powered wheelchair from Whizz-Kidz as a child and knows first-hand the impact of their work. Whizz-Kidz is now a long-term and regular pro bono client of the firm.

Our partnership with Whizz-Kidz stems from a drive to strengthen civil society organisations and build their capacity, prompting lasting change in society. Our TOP and Commercial IP teams have so far taken on eight matters for the organisation, providing them with a suite of contracts and enabling them to diversify their income.

Head of Philanthropy at Whizz-Kidz, Heather Ridley comments: “As a medium-sized charity with limited resource, the pro bono support we have received from the team at Fieldfisher has been hugely valuable. They have helped us develop tools for establishing effective, clearly defined mutually beneficial partnerships with businesses, which deliver wide-ranging benefits for the organisation and for the young wheelchair users we support – from fundraising and volunteering activity to awareness raising, employability support and public campaigns. In particular, Fieldfisher supported us to shape partnership agreements for our Business Alliance membership scheme, which launched in 2020, and sees organisations from a wide range of sectors collaborate with us to champion young wheelchair users.”

The work with Whizz-Kidz goes beyond pro bono legal advice to having a direct impact on young wheelchair users and removing barriers in line with the social model of disability. This model explains that disability is caused by societal issues such as inaccessible infrastructure, ignorance, discrimination, a lack of assistive technology etc. Disability inclusion in the workplace is an area where barriers to inclusion are rife. 20% of the working population are disabled, yet just 3% of solicitors, for example, are disabled. Fieldfisher established a work placement for an aspiring wheelchair-using lawyer through Whizz-Kidz' employability scheme and the charity supported the firm to find a suitable candidate, ensuring all accessibility provisions and workplace adjustments were in place.

Going forward, Whizz-Kidz is building on its campaigning strategy, pushing for greater accessibility, equality, and inclusivity in the community and beyond for young wheelchair users. As a firm, we will continue to provide pro bono advice and collaborate on projects that remove barriers to inclusion.

Millie Hawes, CR Manager and client relationship lead, comments: “Disability is a word that makes many people shy away. Businesses in particular often see it as a negative thing, something to sweep under the carpet. As a disabled person, I see it as something that has enabled so much and is a vital part of my identity. It led to me being part of the Whizz-Kidz community growing up, which has shaped my own experience and career. One of the first placements I had as a young person was with a CR team of a law firm – there's no doubt that it led to my decision to go into corporate responsibility post-university. Given the steer that the Whizz-Kidz opportunities have given me, I knew that the firm could bring more value through a holistic relationship to give that same drive to young wheelchair users now, while ensuring the legal sector evolves to become more accessible.”

To better achieve this lasting change in the legal space, Fieldfisher's disability network, Discover, was created by Millie in 2021 and focuses on removing barriers to inclusion in the workplace, supporting disabled staff, educating non-disabled people, and seeking outreach opportunities in the disabled community. Our partnership with Whizz-Kidz is only the start of the firm's work around disability inclusion. Importantly, it is paving the way for disabled young people to access legal opportunities, and for businesses to bolster disability inclusion through collaboration with Whizz-Kidz.

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