Activism

Social enterprises open for business to people with disabilities

People with disabilities still face barriers in trying to find work. But social businesses like CLARITY Employment for Blind People and ARTHOUSE Meath are providing opportunities for this marginalised group

CLARITY Employment for Blind People

Great strides forward have been made since the bad old days of ignorance and prejudice toward disabled people. Yet many with disabilities still face barriers in trying to find work. Both the government and leading charities like Mencap have been keen to encourage more employers to see the benefits in taking on people from this too-often-excluded group.

Some of Britain’s leading social businesses offer a guiding light here, having led the way in creating job and training opportunities for people with disabilities while thriving in their respective trades.

Everyone deserves the chance to earn their money and fulfil their potential

CLARITY Employment for Blind People has a long and impressive history in doing just that. Set up back in 1854, the London-based organisation has hired hundreds of people with disabilities to produce its wide range of high-quality soaps, toiletries and cleaning products. The current workforce is made up of predominantly blind or visually impaired people, but also contains people with hearing loss and other disabilities.

“We absolutely don’t compromise on the quality of the products because of the social mission,” says CEO Jeremy Robinson. “It’s just that the social mission is an additional, positive reason for the consumer to purchase our goods. So it’s the best of both worlds.”

Employee Sandra Duberry at The Soap Co.
Employee Sandra Duberry at The Soap Co.

Run as a not-for-profit enterprise, 100% of CLARITY’s revenues are reinvested back into the business so it can provide more empowering opportunities. It currently employs 110 people, 80% of whom are blind, or otherwise disabled or disadvantaged.

“Things have got better in recent years, but there is still a lack of awareness out there about perceived problems in employing people with disabilities,” Robinson explains. “It really doesn’t need to be the case. It’s just about finding the right role for people. Everyone deserves the chance to earn their money and fulfil their potential.”

Skin care and beauty products from The Soap Co.

There is no shortage of ambition. One of CLARITY’s offshoots, The Soap Co., was launched in 2015 as a luxury soap brand, selling soap bars, hand washes, skin lotions and luxurious gift sets. The Soap Co.’s bottles are partly made from recycled milk bottles and bar soaps are wrapped in compostable biofilms and 100% recycled paper, helping reducing the operation’s carbon footprint.

The Soap Co. Citrus Hand Lotion

“We have bold ambitions to not only support our blind and disabled staff, but in a way that also promotes the protection of the environment,” says Camilla Marcus-Dew, head of commercial at both CLARITY and The Soap Co.

Both CLARITY and Soap Co products are available at The Big Issue Shop, The Big Issue Group’s online platform committed to selling products with a social echo. Many of the suppliers are providing unique work opportunities for people who have faced significant disadvantages in life, including those with disabilities.

ARTHOUSE Meath

In Surrey, the social business ARTHOUSE Meath (pictured below) is showcasing the creative talents of adults living with severe epilepsy and other physical or learning difficulties. It sells an incredible range of unique work – from prints and paintings to T-shirts, cards and mugs – all produced by artists who are often needlessly marginalised as “outsider” artists.

The majority of ARTHOUSE Meath’s current artists are residents of the Meath Epilepsy Trust. Founded by the artist and entrepreneur Becky Sheraidah in 2005, all profits from the business go back into running the project.

Each artist’s contribution has real financial value – they develop self-belief from that

Sheraidah describes the artists’ work as “real, honest and innocent,” and says the products would be must-buys even if they did not also provide priceless validation and encouragement to the people making them.

“Each artist’s contribution has real financial value – they develop self-belief from that,” she says. “Another huge part of the appeal for the buyer is you’re changing people’s lives, and the ripple effect is that you’re changing views on how people should be treated. If you’re buying as a gift, you’re spreading the word.”

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