Radar believes that those of us living with mental or physical ill-health, injury or disability should be able to participate in every aspect of British life. This is not just a matter of social justice. It also makes economic sense. Disabled people have a collective spending power of £80bn a year. Those companies that make use of all the talents and serve all our communities will be the most able to withstand the economic hard times.

Life in Britain has improved in many ways for disabled people over the last 20 years. But half of us are still not working (rising to 80 per cent of people with mental health problems). When we are working, we earn on average 10 per cent less than non-disabled people and we are not yet fully included in the search for talent and the mission to drive up skills. The scope for capitalising on all this untapped talent is vast.

At Radar, we know people who have languished following an accident or diagnosis, with no encouragement or support to get back into work. One person was at home following a major accident for two years before any health or social care professional mentioned employment even as a future possibility. He is now a solicitor and major disability leader – thanks to his own efforts.

This can change. National data from the 2008 patient survey shows that 50 per cent of people using secondary mental health services believe they will not be able to work. Yet in Merton, South-west London, where the Mental Health Trust has employed a vocational specialist in every community mental health team, the proportion writing themselves off in this way has dropped dramatically to under 30 per cent. Similarly, rapid advice and support on employment in spinal cord injury units leads to much higher employment rates than the common approach in Britain of waiting till after physical rehabilitation is complete.

A glance at the shortlist for Radar's People of the Year Awards provides a wealth of examples of employers making change happen. Lloyds TSB has gone way beyond getting disabled people into their workforce, providing excellent career development ( see opposite). South West London Mental Health Trust (shortlisted for a public sector award) practises what it preaches by employing people with personal experience of mental health problems at every level.

Disabled people are also forging ahead as entrepreneurs. Increasing numbers have built flourishing businesses, often using the experience of disability to provide a market edge. Albert Thomson – one of the many nominees for Disabled Entrepreneur of the Year – took the experience of his own injury in Iraq and turned it into a successful business ( see page VI).

For people like web-designer Doug Paulley, an unemployed wheelchair user currently living in a residential care home, all that is needed is a simple change to the discriminatory care charging rules which – if he took up one of the many offers of employment he has received – would leave him with just £20 "pocket money" per week.

Employers who remain fearful about employing people with complex fluctuating conditions need advice on tap when they need it, financial and practical support and money to provide temporary cover. Just 25 per cent of employers are aware of the Access to Work Scheme which helps cover the costs of disabled people's travel, equipment and support needs at work – a major awareness drive coupled with some adjustments to the scheme would reap huge dividends.

If we can bring the skills levels and employment rate of disabled people up to the average for non-disabled people, the prize will be great. The Treasury would save some £13bn – equivalent to six months economic growth. Improving the skills of disabled people to world leading levels by 2020 would give a boost equivalent to 18 extra months of growth over 30 years, some £35bn.

To book a place at Radar's People of the Year Awards, or if you are working at senior level and are willing to share experience on a completely confidential basis, please contact bobbie.barry@radar.org.uk

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