Stephen shares his Disability Confident journey

Stephen's story

Life changed dramatically for Stephen following an accident in 1981 that left him paralysed from the neck down. Not to let this get him down he decided to retrain and qualified as a doctor and continued his education gaining an MSc and PhD in Disability Studies.

After being rejected as either too qualified or too disabled for more than 200 jobs, he decided to set up his own business, Disability Matters Ltd, and ran this company until the recession hit in 2008.

He was able with the help of the Access to Work scheme to adapt his offices with wheelchair access and an accessible toilet which allowed him at the time to employ 20 disabled people.

Stephen’s journey from unemployment to leadership roles has been powerfully influenced by Disability Confident. Being in senior roles within the private sector has allowed him to use his experience of disability to influence and help people at a disadvantage in the labour market.

He is proud to say that throughout his career he has championed the benefits of the Disability Confident scheme which he feels has made a real difference to so many people lives.

One of his current jobs is a non-executive director at Network Rail, a Disability Confident Level 3 employer. He is an advocate of a flourishing disability staff network called CanDo.

A photo of Stephen Duckworth OBE, Non-executive Director, Network Rail, in his wheelchair next to a quote, "Disability Confident helped me become a leader at Network Real."

Another initiative Network Rail are involved with is reviewing their funding to support disabled people in jobs. And a senior disabled colleague at Network Rail has been appointed as a Disability Champion by the Cabinet Office.

Stephen told us:

“Over recent years, legislative and policy changes have combined to enable employers to value the contribution that disabled people can make. This allowed disabled people to contribute more of the skills they had developed through their lived experience of being disabled. For example: change management, drive and determination, organisational skills, people management capabilities and resilience.

The Disability Confident scheme has had two important impacts:

  • increased the confidence of employers in employing disabled people, and
  • increased the confidence of disabled people to raise their aspirations to achieve leadership roles.”

Stephen also added:

“Staff networks, introduced in many organisations following the Disability Confident scheme, have given disabled people the courage to increase their aspirations, the confidence to move forward with their careers, and compete on a more level playing field for leadership positions with their non-disabled colleagues. I would encourage all employers; small, medium and large to profit from the potential of disabled employees.”

Disability Confident

Get help to make the most of the talents of disabled people sign up to Disability Confident.

Privacy and cookies

This webpage does not install any cookies and does not collect nor store any personal information.

The Department for Work and Pension’s Personal information charter explains how we treat personal information.


Read the Accessibility Statement for this content.