The disabled community is incredibly skilled and diverse. We navigate the world differently. We have to think of creative solutions for issues we face because the world wasn’t built with us in mind. We constantly have to learn and adapt to best navigate our environments, which has led to many disabled and neurodiverse people being extremely creative, out of the box thinkers.
Yet the number of disabled and neurodiverse people currently employed in the UK is incredibly low. Those who find employment are pushed into menial, hourly paid jobs that offer little to no enrichment or diversity. The job market needs to be adapted to accommodate some genuinely unique talent that will otherwise go to waste.
Today, I sat down with Caitriona Snell, the founder and CEO of Bua Consultancy. Caitriona is determined to use her experience and knowledge to help create work environments where disabled people don’t just work, but thrive.
Lauren: Can you tell me a bit about your company Bua?
Caitriona: My name is Caitriona, and I’m the founder and director at Bua, a consultancy that aims to support more disabled and neurodiverse talent into salaried employment. We do that in two ways. For individuals, we offer free training, which currently focuses on the creative space. On the other side of the business, we support them to be more inclusive, specifically to disabled and neurodiverse talent. We work with them to identify problem areas for existing employees or candidates.
We’re working at a systematic level, changing what companies are doing and the culture that companies have. We help companies to be more inclusive, so that they will have all the tools they need to succeed. So, when disabled and neurodiverse talent enters into a company, it’s going to be retained by that business and that person is actually going to thrive.
We’re also supporting individuals, maybe if they had a barrier to education or weren’t able to get a tangible qualification, we can help with that by offering free training.
At Bua, we always try and exclusively work with either first-hand or second-hand lived experience people.
What made you want to create Bua?
I know there’s debate around what lived experience is for disability and neurodiversity. I have two autistic brothers, and I consider that to be lived experience, although I would never say I have first-hand lived experience. I’ve watched both of them, who are both so different, navigate education and the world. It’s a driving force for me. It’s a mission for me to support the disabled and neurodiverse community.
I also completed a post graduate course in social innovation and entrepreneurship and then specialised in disabled and neurodiverse inclusion. I worked at a ‘special educational needs and disability’ (SEND) college and I helped set up more work experience for their students. That was really fun, and the students were really cool. Then I also worked on a different project where we supported young people in east London to access employment in the city. So yeah, both of those things drove me towards looking at employment inclusion and then with my personal experience, I ended up forming Bua.
What is the company’s ethos or goals?
We specifically have a mission that drives towards social inclusion and equality. The primary goal is to have an equal percentage of disabled and neurodiverse people to non-disabled and neurotypical people working in salaried employment. In the UK the stats are so ridiculously low at the moment, that I think the only way is up really.
What I didn’t see was support for disabled and neurodiverse candidates into salaried employment outside of tech and consultancy. I felt like that was really unfair because neurodiverse and disabled people are still a diverse group. Not everyone is interested in tech and coding and maths.
The creative industries are very famously not diverse especially for disabled and neurodiverse people. I love creative projects and exploring creativity, and I was interested in the hypothesis of teaching creativity.
The salaried and creative work all ties together to drive Bua’s mission. With salaried work its more supportive for people who have medical conditions, or you have other commitments, salaried employment is more stable for those people.
The mission statement is ultimately supporting people into sustainable long-term employment.
Why do you think having a company like Bua is important?
Bua’s vital because at the moment I hope, and I predict, that we’re at the beginning of an uptick in interest in disabled and neurodiverse talent. In the same way that the Black Lives Matter movement drove racial representation and diversities in business and the trend of that, I hope that that will be the same for the disabled and neurodiverse talents.
How did you get Bua started?
We’re a social enterprise, which is defined as a company that makes a profit but is socially minded.
If anybody’s listening and is thinking about starting a social enterprise, the reality is that you don’t need that much capital to start it. Especially if you already have a laptop. I think the biggest thing is time. But, you have to consider if you can afford not to be paid for your own working time for a while, especially if you’re not going to be selling immediately. Bua was lucky because I applied very early on after thinking of the concept to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Ideas and Pioneers Fund, which has a really fantastic fund that supports early-stage research and ideas. They were able to help fund us to develop the training courses and website.
Then additionally, I was also lucky to be part of the Year Here incubator, during which I did a crowd backer round. That’s when I pitched to a group of friends and families and people from the ecosystem to help Bua in its initial stages.
I’ve also been able to do a bit of consultancy, which has helped fund Bua. I’m hoping that will build up. I’ve had to focus a lot of my time on developing and setting up the development of the initial training to start with.
Ultimately, my aim will be to run a profitable consultancy business with other companies to improve their inclusion. Also, I am offering free training for individuals. I hope eventually that will link up so I will be able to have businesses saying we need more talent and I’ll say I have some talent here lets link you all up.
What’s your vision for Bua’s future?
Becoming a sustainable business. I don’t want to run on grants and donations, I’d rather run as a profitable business: that’s super important.
I think it would be fantastic to get to a point where 90 plus percent of employees have disabled and neurodiverse lived experience and preferably first-hand lived experience.
I would also love to have a pipeline of talent coming through Bua’s training and people using that to get into work. I’m really hoping that free training will be supportive to people.
In your opinion, how can companies be more inclusive towards the disabled community?
I think there’s some easy places to start. My first recommendation for any company would be to assess who you have. Put out an anonymous survey, make sure people feel safe to answer it. Try and run some focus groups; you can hire agencies or hire Bua to do that for you. Make sure people can talk honestly about what their experiences are. You might be surprised, either in a good or a bad way, what kind of experiences individuals have had.
Focus on talent you have already and how you can nurture and support them and not lose them. Everybody knows that it costs more to hire new people than it does to keep your existing people.
There’s a number of different ways to improve recruitment processes and a number of different ways to improve your digital processes. You know, your website, you can make sure that’s accessible. If you have stores, make sure those are accessible. Loads of people offer accessibility audits to figure out how you can do that.
The last thing I’d say if you’re not aware, the UK Government has the ‘Access to Work’ scheme, which allows for reasonable accommodations for disabled or neurodiverse candidates or employees. So, for example, if you have a new hire and they use a wheelchair, you might want to consider making a new desk for them at an appropriate height or even lowering the reception desk or having a ramp put into the building.
Why do you think companies should employ more disabled people?
Really, the disabled and neurodiverse community is full of talent. You’ll really benefit from diversifying your talent. A famous McKinsey report from a couple of years ago states that your financial bottom line will increase if you employ more diverse people, especially at senior leadership levels.
Aside from that, you know it’s a great opportunity to improve innovation. It’s good PR for you and good representation for your customers. So, if your customers identify similarly to your employees, that’s a great thing.
I think it’s a really exciting time. I think there’s so much talent out there. Thinking outside the box as a company and thinking about how you can support that talent will only benefit you in the long run. I don’t see why you wouldn’t do it.
The Paul Hamlyn Foundation is a group that focuses on “social change, working towards a just and equitable society”. The foundation is one of the biggest independent grant providers in the UK. The Ideas and Pioneers fund that was mentioned in this article closed for new applicants in November 2021. However, take a look at the other grants on website here.
About the author
Lauren is a freelance writer from Falmouth. After graduating from university, she took a keen interest in writing about disability, so her story and others like it could be told with passion and conviction.