A first-of-its kind internship has been launched in Wolverhampton to help disabled people enter the world of event management amid a current lack of opportunities.
Andy Sahota, who is based in the city and runs ShowFighter productions, has partnered with Shani Dhanda, a global champion for disability equality and former trustee at Cysters, on the venture.
The pair are organising One Love – a live carnival-style music event in November – and is offering the chance for disabled event management students to gain work experience.
It comes after the pair raised concerns the events industry was “massively underrepresented of disabled people” and is overlooking talent, something which they are aiming to tackle.
Ms Dhanda, from Walsall, was rejected from over 100 jobs after disclosing her disability – brittle bone disease – to potential employers.
But she went on to have a successful career in event management after Mr Sahota gave her the first break in the industry, despite concerns being raised about doing so.
“When I first met Shani, I wasn’t expecting to meet a non-disabled person wanting to join my events company. I was hesitant about giving her an opportunity because I hadn’t seen any positive representation of disability; I didn’t know or work with any other disabled people,” the promoter said.
“The truth is Shani has been the best events professional I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve learnt so much from her too. It’s because she lives in a world that isn’t designed for her, that makes her so creative, which is the skill you need in this industry.
“She’s broadened my awareness of the lives of disabled people, and as soon as she shared the internship idea with me, I wanted to get behind it straight away.”
Ms Dhanda, aged 35, said it was about providing disabled people with “real work opportunities” within the event management sector after her own experiences.
She said: “I was born with a rare genetic condition and I really struggled to get a job at the age of 16. I went to the University of Wolverhampton and started a degree in event management – I felt I had no other choice, because I struggled to even get a part-time job that required no qualifications.
“I told myself I had to leave university with work experience as well as just the degree, which isn’t enough. I approached Andy and he gave me an opportunity to prove myself instead of making assumptions about my ability, and I’ve enjoyed a career in events for 10 years, but there’s still a massive stigma around employing disabled people, especially in the events industry. Our story just goes to show how one person or one decision can change the course of somebody else’s life.”
And after a star-studded 10-year career in event management, Shani has become one of the most influential disabled people in the UK where she is a guest panellist on Loose Women, consumer expert on Rip off Britain and panellist on Jeremy Vine on Channel 5.
Meanwhile the latest research by disability charity Scope, where Ms Dhanda is an ambassador, found three out of four disabled people have experienced negative attitudes or behaviours in the last five years.
For more information, contact ShowFighter productions on showfighter.co.uk