Confidence, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities’.

What it means to be confident is a personal and unique thing that we will all have different perspectives on. But when we talk about ‘disability confidence’, we’re often looking at the abilities or qualities of an organisation to be able to recruit, retain and develop people with disabilities. It can also be considered at an individual level, in how confident a disabled person feels in bringing their authentic self to work. To be truly ‘disability confident’, organisations need to ensure individuals can bring their authentic selves to work, as well as ensuring that the policies and processes they have to support this, are in place.

It’s what we call the lived experience of disability. Organisations can have fantastic policies in place, but if the lived experience isn’t great for the person using it, there is something wrong with the policy or the way it is being interpreted.

The challenge with enabling individual disability confidence is, that it’s often difficult to quantify what that looks, sounds and feels like, as an individual. That’s where PurpleSpace, the world’s only networking and professional development hub for disabled employee networks, has stepped in to help.

Purple Confidence, as defined by PurpleSpace, is the process of moving from self-preservation into being an advocate for disability through the process of sharing information about a disability, impairment or health condition. It’s about how individuals with a disability share information about their situation, get the support they need and move into high performance mode.

It’s not necessarily easy to describe Purple Confidence, but broadly, someone who has it will be:

  • Sharing personal information about themselves with their managers and colleagues and, depending on their role, customers and the general public
  • Sharing information through monitoring processes like staff surveys or formal HR diversity monitoring
  • Asking for workplace adjustments and support in ensuring they can be their best, brilliant self – and not purely focusing on legal compliance
  • Happy to ask colleagues to do things differently to make it easier to work together – eg writing instructions down rather than talking them through
  • Factoring in adjustments to their career progression and personal development journey
  • Comfortable sharing with their organisation where and how things could be improved to better support disabled people

For many disabled people, it’s not always possible to be all of these things at the same time, and others may not want to be all of these things – and that’s fine. But the point of describing what Purple Confidence looks like, is to help create a structure for disabled people to see how they can build their own confidence in the workplace and to identify ways of making change happen.

The great thing about Purple Confidence is that it’s all on a sliding scale. It’s not a binary, ‘I am’ or, ‘I’m not’ confident. There are measures that can be used to help disabled people, and those around them, to identify where on the scale of confidence they are, and to see what the other levels look like.

PurpleSpace has been trialling this approach with its members since the beginning of 2019 to sense check the kinds of things which contribute to making disabled people feel confident.

As practitioners, the framework and toolkit can provide a useful structure to think about how you can support people with disabilities, to recognise areas where they aren’t confident and to explore what options exist to develop their confidence.

You can find out more about Purple Confidence on the PurpleSpace website.

David Caldwell is a Digital Accessibility Manager at Barclays and a Founding Ambassador of PurpleSpace.