Together, making innovation truly accessible and inclusive

Team Meeting in diverse office

Innovate UK introduces additional support for disabled innovators across all funding opportunities.

When was the last time you filled in an application for a funding opportunity? Was it a few months ago, a year, or more? Think about the sheer excitement and passion that comes with having an innovative idea that will change lives, including yours, for the better!

Enthused, you decide to apply, and boom, a wall of text. Intimidating… well, even more so if you have difficulties with reading, writing, focus, or anxiety, to name a few.

This is the reality for many applicants and we, Innovate UK, risk missing out on ground-breaking and life-changing ideas because of the barriers disabled innovators face in engaging with us.

Listening to the community

Earlier this year, Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), hosted a one-day conference aiming to better understand the barriers, needs, and aspirations of disabled innovators.

The conference was chaired by Philip Connolly, a leading disability rights campaigner, and attended by disability experts from a wide range of backgrounds, lived experiences, and organisations. I remember the genuine sense of community that underpinned the day.

Introducing additional support

A key piece of feedback that came out of the conversations was the accessibility of our application process. Attendees told us how difficult it can be for some disabled innovators to find their way through the maze and to access support when needed. Their recommendation and ask was that we make the process simpler, clearer, and more welcoming.

We took the feedback on board.

On 20 September 2022, we rolled out application support, also referred to as ‘reasonable adjustments’, for disabled innovators across all our funding opportunities. We are doing so in partnership with Diversity and Ability (D&A). D&A is an award-winning social enterprise led by and for disabled people, paving the way for a future where everyone is welcomed and included.

This new application support for disabled innovators will be in place for an initial 6-month pilot. We hope it will make a significant positive difference to many disabled innovators, such that it can be embedded into our processes long-term.

What does this mean in practice?

The webpages for our funding opportunities and the associated briefing events have been updated to reflect this change and inform applicants of how and where they can find support.

  1. As a starting point, applicants are invited to reach out to our Customer Service Support (CSS) team via email at support@iuk.ukri.org or over the phone on 0300 321 4357. We suggest doing so as early as possible, preferably at least 15 days before the deadline.
  2. A short request form is completed by applicants independently or together with the CSS team. The information is then shared with D&A.
  3. D&A organises a discovery conversation with each applicant and makes reasonable adjustment recommendations.
  4. D&A organises and delivers bespoke additional support for each applicant.
  5. Applicants submit their application. We encourage doing this well ahead of the deadline, as extensions cannot be granted.

The expert coaches at D&A are able to provide a wide range of reasonable adjustments. This may take the form of, for example:

  • reading and comprehension of application questions
  • time management and planning
  • confidence building
  • proof reading and spelling-checks

This is a non-exhaustive list, so please do not hesitate to contact us if you are looking for support at support@iuk.ukri.org or on 0300 321 4357. We are here to help!

Adam Hyland, Director of Accessibly and Inclusion at D&A, says:

We’re delighted to be partnering with Innovate UK. We know that Innovate UK supports many businesses to grow and succeed.

Through our partnership, we’re working together to ensure Innovate UK provides every applicant with an inclusive and accessible way to achieve their goals. We will be offering applicants reasonable adjustments, guidance, and support on a one-to-one basis.

Group of Diversity & Ability (D&A) colleagues gathered outside, all smiling. An illustration of the diversity of the team that will be working closely with Innovate UK on providing reasonable adjustments for applicants.

Group of Diversity & Ability (D&A) colleagues gathered outside, all smiling. An illustration of the diversity of the team that will be working closely with Innovate UK on providing reasonable adjustments for applicants. (Credit: D&A)

Speaking about the why

Firstly, we are on a mission to embed equality, diversity, and inclusion in everything we do – both internally and externally. Not only do great ideas come from anyone and everyone, research shows that diversity and inclusion contribute to:

  • creativity and innovation
  • employee engagement
  • customer satisfaction and retention
  • performance and profitability

Secondly, data shows that we are missing out on innovative ideas by not being more accessible to the talent that exists in and around the UK. In 2019, Innovate UK conducted a study about diversity in entrepreneurship in partnership with YouGov. As part of it, 34% of disabled respondents reported having an idea for a new product, process, service, or way of working, compared to 27% of the control group.

Our research shows that many disabled innovators do not complete or even begin a funding application due to barriers they know they will face along the way.

Breaking barriers

According to Beth Kume-Holland, Young Innovators grant holder 2021 to 2022, and Founder and CEO of Patchwork Hub:

Driving authentic change around disability inclusion is critical. It’s great to see Innovate UK’s commitment to levelling the playing field and their recognition of the sheer talent among disabled innovators that is missed when this doesn’t happen.

Too often, unnecessary barriers prevent us from growing our scale and impact. So that true progress is made, disabled people need to be included at every step and co-design solutions.

For too long, the only accessible spaces for disabled innovators have been disability-specific, associated with charity, or small-scale models. It’s time we start to see disabled innovators as leaders in all areas including and beyond disability, because we already are!

Beth-Kume-Holland, Beth is smiling and posing in front of a purple background.

Beth Kume-Holland, Young Innovators grant holder 2021 to 2022, and Founder and CEO of Patchwork Hub.

Beth works with government bodies and businesses on accessibility and was one of the experts at the Innovate UK conference. Her company, Patchwork Hub, is a job board and disabled-led talent pool that showcases what can be achieved when accessibility and inclusion are at the heart of organisations.

Challenging the status quo, pushing the limits, and providing support to bypass and overcome barriers is key. Introducing additional support for disabled applicants through this initiative is just a start. It sits alongside other programmes, for example Innovate UK’s new Inclusive Innovation Awards. We are at the beginning of our journey towards making innovation truly accessible and inclusive; and look forward to working together with you, our partners and community.

Help us make this pilot a long-term success by sharing this blog post with your network.

If you would like any support, get in touch with the CSS team via email at support@iuk.ukri.org or over the phone on 0300 321 4357.

Further information

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