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Themes: Assistive & Accessible Technology, Inclusive Design, Culture and Participation

Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) with East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ)

Bhavna Malkani

Programme lead for ELIEZ, UCL

Photo showing the inside of the Plexal building in the Here East.
Image courtesy of Plexal.

This year, we are marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) an update from the East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ) approximately one year since the announcement of the £1.2 million project that is one of the UK’s most accessible start-up hub.

ELIEZ is a specially designed, programme for entrepreneurs, business leaders and design thinkers who are disabled or whose work focuses on accessibility. Bringing inclusive employment and business to East London, it builds on the Paralympic Legacy by pioneering products and services to create a more inclusive and prosperous society in and around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

It is a collaboration between UCL, Plexal, Here East, Global Disability Innovation Hub, Disability Rights UK, Capital Enterprise, Greater London Authority, Loughborough University, London College of Fashion, UAL, Hackney Council, Ford Mobility, Inclusion London and the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC).

The growing ecosystem of inclusive innovators in East London

ELIEZ has come a long way since the announcement in autumn 2019 when UCL received £500,000 from Research England and support through in-kind contributions by the partners.

With an aim to address the pressing need to encourage inclusive innovation, the ELIEZ partners were keen to address that the UK’s disability employment gap (the difference in the rate of employment of disabled people and non-disabled people) has stayed at around 30% for a decade. Furthermore, the GLA’s research indicates disabled Londoners are around 27% less likely to be in employment, while a TUC report highlights that disabled people typically earn approximately around £2,730 less per year. It was acknowledged that there is a pressing need to not only address barriers to inclusive innovation both in the physical space and within organisation but also develop an accessible programme the showcases best practice, ensuring innovation is accessible to all.

Adapting to COVID-19 and growing digital accessibility

The programme is largely being delivered through the pandemic. It has provided the inclusive innovation community a unique opportunity of engaging with extensive virtual and physical activities to help accelerate and adapt their businesses around Covid-19. Members were recruited in spring/summer 2020, with the option to work at Plexal, based at Here East, in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and attend Zoom virtual workshops. Sessions are delivered by ELIEZ partner network as well as digital agency Bravand and ICAEW. ELIEZ members and community have attended sessions on branding, funding, social media and business planning. The cohort includes Lapapo Special Needs, More Human, Give Vision, Mumbli and The Ability People, a disability inclusion consultancy and accessible freelance platform co-founded by Paralympian Liz Johnson.

That’s not all the programme offers. In November 2020, UCL released the Inclusive Innovators podcast series, which features stories from start-ups, design thinkers, entrepreneurs and partners that are part of the ELIEZ community. Each episode is hosted by Matt Pierri who founded Sociability, an app which helps disabled people find accessible spaces. Further activities also include a collaboration between UCL, Disability Rights UK and Barclays Eagle Labs on London College of Fashion’s Collaborative Challenge, working with students from a range of disciplines to create concepts for adaptive fashion for wheelchair users. ELIEZ member, Dom Hyams, is also supporting students by hosting Q&A sessions on Zoom, sharing his experiences as a wheelchair user.

Driving changes to have more accessible workspaces.

A key part of the programme is also addressing physical barriers the disabled community experience in work spaces. UCL is working in collaboration with the Global Disability Innovation Hub and Disability Rights UK to enhance Plexal’s space ensuring it’s truly inclusive by optimising Plexal’s workspace to meet the needs of people with a range of accessibility challenges, helping to develop and scale disability led innovations.

More to come in 2021

There’s more to come in 2021 when the programme comes to a close in March. To help ensure ELIEZ is helping its members tackle accessibility challenges from a new perspective, experienced business leaders from the eco-system will host Q&A sessions. UCL will also provide mentors from its established alumni base and Loughborough University London will be running a boot camp session in January 2021, focussed on Design Thinking, EcoSystem Alignment and Business Development. Details on an ELIEZ demo day will be announced shortly.

For further information:


Twitter: @ELIEZ2020