2023 Conference Speakers

2023 Conference Speakers

Prof. Adam Whitworth

Professor of Employment Policy at University of Strathclyde  

Professor Adam Whitworth is an expert in the design and analysis of employment support interventions to support people to move into, stay in and progress in employment. He has particular expertise in issues around work-health, Supported Employment and IPS, quasi-market forms and effects, local integration, and policy analysis. He has published over 50 peer reviewed articles, book chapters and policy reports. An applied scholar by nature, his work combines theoretical and empirical analysis and relates to key priorities and challenges amongst policy stakeholders and programmes. He has supported the design and mobilisation of large scale employment interventions in central and regional government in the UK context, including the world's largest IPS trial.



Alex Perkins

Manager of the Workforce Community Engagement Team, Amazon

Alex joined Amazon 6 years ago, and for the last 5 years has worked on making Amazon roles accessible for any group underrepresented in the job market. This includes Care Experienced young people, prison leavers and disabled job seekers across Europe. In this role, he leads on creating strategies and initiatives that seek to increase the representation of disabled people. This has included overseeing the expansion of the Supported Internship program to over 10 sites in the UK in 2023, a growing partnership with the Down’s Syndrome Association, and making Amazon roles accessible for associates who are Blind/Low Vision and Deaf/Hard of Hearing. Alex blends his 10 years of recruitment and HR experience with a passion for inclusion; working with charities, partners and those with lived experience so create meaningful and impactful change.



Ciara Lawrence

Engagement Lead Mencap 

Ciara Lawrence is a person with a learning disability and is currently working for the UK Leading learning disability charity Mencap in the CEO and Governance team. Ciara’s job role is Engagement lead. She talks to people with a learning disability to make sure they are included in Mencap’s Big plan work and Ciara has worked for Mencap for 22 years. She has had lots of different jobs in the organisation over that time.  These include working in the Reception Facilities Team, the Campaigns and activism Team, the fundraising team and Celebrity Media team. Ciara has also worked for Mencap’s Employment service.

Ciara is a Trustee for the learning disability charity Sunnybank Trust for adults who have a learning disability. She also has another Trustee role with Head 2 Head Sensory Theatre. Other organisations Ciara has volunteer roles with are Ambassador for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and a Get Lippy Campaign Ambassador for the Gynaecological cancer awareness charity The Eve Appeal.  Ciara is also a patron for Dance Syndrome and Include.org 

Ciara is really personally and professionally passionate about challenging negative views and perceptions about people with a learning disability like her. One of the ways Ciara does this is through Ciara’s Pink Sparkle Podcast that she started during the Coronavirus pandemic. Some of her recent guests have been Penny Mordaunt MP, Gail Porter, Jeremy Vine, Stephen McGann, Kacey Ainsworth and Gaby Roslin.

In her personal life, Ciara got married 10 years ago to her husband, Mark. Singing and spending time with her family is important to her in any spare time she has.


Clare Cookson 

CEO DFN Project Search

Chief Executive Officer of DFN Project SEARCH, and DFN Foundation, Claire is an experienced senior leader and public speaker with an extensive background in education, innovative curriculum design and best practice supported employment. Formally a headteacher of a broad-spectrum special school, Claire now leads this fast growing dynamic charity that seeks to support best practice transition to employment for people with a learning disability and or autism, both nationally and internationally.

Experienced chair and board member, Claire is currently a Trustee of a specialist school with the primary responsibility for safeguarding. Claire also supports many national workstreams around evidence-based transition to employment provision.



Hector Minto 

Lead Accessibility Evangelist (Director), Technology for Fundamental Rights, Microsoft 

Hector Minto is a passionate and experienced leader in accessibility and assistive technology. He is currently the Director of Accessibility, Lead Technology Evangelist at Microsoft, where he drives and measures the education and adoption of Microsoft accessibility features and assistive technologies across customers, partners and communities. He has worked at the cutting edge of accessibility for 25 years, specializing in alternative communication, home automation and computer access. He also contributes to government consultations on disability inclusion and showcases inclusive design, product accessibility, inclusive hiring practices and accessibility innovation . Hector Minto is a visionary and influential advocate for accessibility and disability rights.



Dr Kim Hoque 

Professor of Human Resource Management. King's Business School 

Kim Hoque is Professor of Human Resource Management and Vice Dean (People and Culture) at King’s Business School. He has researched and published widely in the human resource management, employment relations and equality, diversity and inclusion fields (particularly on disability). In 2013 he co-founded the Disability@Work research group (www.disabilityatwork.co.uk) and in 2021 he co-founded the Disability Employment Charter (www.disabilityemploymentcharter.org), which has now been signed by approaching 140 organisations. He leads King’s Business School’s co-provision of the secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Disability. He has conducted consultancy work for NHS Scotland, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and the Japan Institute of Labour Policy and Training, and has previously worked closely with the Royal College of Nursing and the Trades Union Congress. He was formerly a member of the Centre for Social Justice Disability Commission.



Laura-Jane Rawlings

Founder & CEO of Youth Employment UK 

Laura-Jane (LJ) left school at 16 with poor GCSE grades, she had experience of being a free school meal student and being singled out because of it. Through her early career she worked in retail and sales, using each step to build her skills, experience and confidence. Whilst working in recruitment Laura-Jane began to see that the barriers she faced were not unique to her and became a passionate advocate for young people transitioning between education and employment. Spending time to better understand the structural issues of youth unemployment and the policy around the area, Laura-Jane founded Youth Employment UK in 2012.

Laura-Jane is a passionate campaigner for youth employment and the rights for all young people to access quality employment and have their voices heard on the issues that affect them. Laura-Jane believes that it is for all of us to create a youth friendly society so that young people can fulfil their potential.

Recognised as a leading youth employment expert Laura-Jane provides support, insight and expertise to many groups such as the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Youth Employment, she is the co-founder of the Youth Employment Group, and has supported a range of expert groups on issues of social mobility, employment and skills. Laura-Jane is also a Board Member of the Youth Futures Foundation, DIGIT and the Federation for Education Development, she also spent 8 years as a Secondary School Governor.


Mohammad Koheeallee 

Coca Cola Apprentice QESH & Lead Accessibility Ambassador GB, Coca Cola Europacific Partners 

I’ve been paraplegic since the age of 6 weeks old, growing up in a wheelchair has always set challenges in front of me but I always overcome them! After searching for a Job/Career over many years I have found myself at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP). I’ve always loved the brand Coca-Cola and I didn’t think that one day I’d be working for them. It’s a dream come true. I started off as a Grocery Merchandiser, ensuring our retailers have everything they need to keep their customers happy. Now I’m currently completing an apprenticeship in health and safety looking to bring a new point of view and helping CCEP become a more accessible business. I work with a passionate group of colleagues called the #JustBe Ambassador’s, we’re passionate about Inclusion and Diversity and where Everyone’s welcome.



Natalie Duo


Natalie Duo was one of the first young people to access Mencap’s Supported Internship programme in 2017. With aspirations to be a journalist, she completed a placement with the Financial Times. The placement went very well, so although there were no suitable roles at the FT, Mencap recognised Natalie’s potential and she secured a job as a Coordinator a London-based employment programme. Having excelled in the role, Natalie moved onto a new role as Co-Trainer in 2021 and has been delivering learning Disability Awareness sessions to employers ever since.