A PIONEERING conference set up to champion the skills of the disabled and highlight their potential as employees to hundreds of local businesses will launch in Swindon today.

Fronted by Falklands veteran and businessman Simon Weston, the event at the Steam Museum is designed to increase confidence among employers to recruit and retain more of the 83,000 disabled people in the region not currently in work.

More than 200 businessmen and women, public sector organisations, politicians and community leaders are expected to attend the forum, as well as delegates from Nationwide, Royal Mail, Airbus, British Airways, Wiltshire Police and local authorities.

The conference, which is sponsored by social enterprise SEQOL, is one of a series of roadshows to be held across the country as part of the national Disability Confident campaign launched by Prime Minister David Cameron in London in July.

Simon, who will be one of the guests of honour, urged employers to keep an open mind ahead of the forum.

“What I want employers to take away from this conference is that disabled people can be some of your best employees,” he said.

“We’re some of the most determined workers, who go the extra mile to secure results. To overlook the skills and talents of people because they have a physical or mental disability could ultimately cost you money.”

SEQOL, which recently started its own initiative energy2work to train people with learning difficulties or disabilities to allow them to gain employment, is sponsoring Disability Confident.

Heather Mitchell, chief executive of SEQOL, said: “Being Disability Confident makes good business sense. People with disabilities or a health condition are often an untapped resource pool for local businesses.

“This conference brings employers together with local services, like SEQOL supported employment, who can help them make the most of this opportunity.

“We find people who have experienced barriers to employment due to disabilities or health conditions, can be a great asset to employers – with skills, enthusiasm and loyalty that are incredibly beneficial to a business.”

According to the latest figures, 42 per cent of disabled people looking for work say employers’ attitudes are a barrier.

Minister of State for Disabled People Mike Penning said: “Research shows that more disabled jobseekers cite employers’ attitudes as a barrier to work than transport, which is why we’ve arranged the first ever national road show to support employers to become more confident about hiring disabled people.

“Although the employment rates for disabled people have increased gradually over the years, we know that all too often the talents of disabled people in the workforce are left untapped.

“One in five of us have a disability and doing more to employ disabled people and provide services for them could help businesses tap into the £80bn purple pound – and I want businesses in the area to do just that.”