Sharing my experience as a disabled entrepreneur with the UN

Josh Wintersgill

Our Ambassador Josh, speaks at the UN about employment and entrepreneurship for disabled people.

Josh Wintersgill at the UN

“I really didn’t realise the significance of it until now.”

These were the words I spoke as I entered the UN General Assembly Hall on the first day of COSP 15 (the 15th Conference of State Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).

I was astounded by the size of the hall and the rows upon rows of Member State delegations, UN agencies, NGOs and disabled people.

Why I was speaking to the UN

But what was I doing in the UN General Assembly Hall?

I had been nominated to attend COSP by Leonard Cheshire. I was here to deliver a speech, based on my lived experience, to the roundtable session on economic empowerment and entrepreneurship of persons with disabilities. Before arriving, I had thought this would be like any other speech I had delivered. Now I was daunted by the scale and potential impact of speaking to hundreds of delegates from countries worldwide. But I was also excited at the prospect of being able to influence so many different policy and decision makers.

My session took place on the afternoon of the second day of COSP 15. Before my session started, I was privileged to be invited to a side event hosted by the UK’s Minister for Disabled People, Chloe Smith, on Increasing Disability Employment, where I was able to share some of my own journey through work and into entrepreneurship, highlighting some of the challenges I faced along the way.

Then came the afternoon, and it was time to go. I was on a panel alongside other highly influential speakers from Japan, Israel, Poland and Spain.

What I chose to speak about

I made my key points. I highlighted the importance of accessible housing, the need to challenge the negative attitudes of employers towards persons with disabilities, access to disability-specific channels to support entrepreneurs with disabilities, and the importance of having social welfare systems in place that can support persons with disabilities into employment or entrepreneurship.

I was really pleased to be able to highlight some of the fantastic research and work that Leonard Cheshire has been doing with youth with disabilities, including their Crisis Talks report, which aimed to understand the impact of Covid on their access to employment, along with the benefits that programmes such as Change 100 hold for youth with disabilities. I found it fascinating to understand and share the combined reach and impact of Leonard Cheshire’s programmes in the UK and across the world.

I reflected that since the introduction of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we have seen radical shifts in the world’s attitudes.

And I was also able to share that my lived experience over the last 10 years has proven that persons with disabilities can access employment or entrepreneurship. However, this came with many barriers that some may not have the ability to be independent enough to overcome.

Not all individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to access work or entrepreneurship. This is a challenge for low-income countries, where social protection systems, by their nature, are complex and may not adequately address the additional cost of disability.

Not all individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to access work or entrepreneurship.

My recommendations

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to make recommendations to those attending COSP15. I hope these will be taken forward by Member States, private sector organisations, UN agencies, development partners and NGOs from around the world.

The recommendations I would love to see taken up and acted on include:

  1. Social protection systems should be designed in a way that does not exclude or make it difficult for persons with disabilities to enter into entrepreneurship.
  2. Social protection systems must accommodate the extensive additional costs faced by persons with disabilities who are employed, self-employed or entrepreneurs. However, governments in low-income countries may need support with this through, for example, leveraging technical and financial assistance from development partners and public-private initiatives.
  3. Focus on reaching the most marginalised people with policies addressing the intersecting challenges many persons with disabilities face. These include gender, urban-rural locations, wealth and poverty, and those with multiple or complex disabilities.
  4. Join up policy-making across different sectors, including education, health, housing, and strive to create life-long social protection schemes.
  5. Commit to including persons with disabilities and their representative organisations in all policy and decision-making.

Looking forward

We still have an extremely long way to go. Still, as a person with disability, I am optimistic that through the implementation of the CRPD, we will eradicate the barriers preventing persons with disabilities from having true, equal access to employment and entrepreneurship.

And I look forward to being at a future COSP where we can say success has been achieved.