Disabled People Going Places in Scotland and beyond – why venturing out of London was such a good idea

The bridge leading to RBS's headquarters in Edinburgh

The bridge leading to RBS’s headquarters in Edinburgh

By Bela Gor

Nearly ten years ago I decided to make Scotland and the beautiful city of Edinburgh my home. During that time my employer has remained the same; Business Disability Forum in London. Over time I have come to realise how London-centric this country (by which I mean the United Kingdom) can be.

That is why I am delighted that Business Disability Forum is now expanding its horizons to work with disabled people, businesses and governments who are committed to improving the chances of disabled people here in Scotland and indeed globally.

Sign for RBS Business School, Edinburgh

The conference was held at RBS Business School, part of the organisation’s headquarters in Edinburgh

I first discussed the idea of a disability conference in Scotland with Stefan Springham at RBS (at his initiation) nine months ago. We’d had a couple of very well attended Roundtables in Scotland and Stefan felt the time was right for something bigger – a proper conference.

We knew we were taking a big step in moving to a full-scale conference, but with the support of our new CEO Diane Lightfoot and encouragement from RBS, we did it anyway and any doubts there might have been were quickly dispelled. The agenda almost wrote itself because there was so much good work to showcase and the conference was fully booked two months in advance.

The Conference took place on 5 December, to mark the UN International Day of Disabled People at the RBS Headquarters in Edinburgh. We called the event Disability in Scotland – Going Places and, if I say so myself, it was a real success. This was down to truly inspiring speakers, a stunning venue and not least, an eager and engaged audience who proved that there really was a demand for an event like this outside London. I knew it was going to go well when the first round of applause was for merely saying “welcome to this first ever Business Disability Forum Conference in Scotland!”

If you want to see pictures from the day check out the BDF Facebook page.

Career development – how disabled employees learn what’s holding them back and how to develop strategies to dismantle barriers

Phil Friend leading a discussion with RBS employees at the Scottish Conference

Phil Friend leading a discussion with RBS employees at the Scottish Conference

Much is said about the disability employment gap but what was clear from the panel discussion led by Phil Friend and disabled participants of the RBS Career Development Programme is the importance of worthwhile jobs that allow employees to grow and develop. Disabled employees from RBS’s Enable network described the “life changing” impact of a career development programme specifically designed for disabled people.

Phil explained that “Personal development programmes provide disabled people with a unique opportunity to explore and identify what’s holding them back and what they need to do in order to be more effective.

“The programme explores what belongs to the individual and what is the responsibility of others. Participants are encouraged to develop a strategy which is designed to dismantle disabling barriers and enhance their personal effectiveness.”

I will be following up from the interesting and inspiring panel discussion with a report that features the participants’ experiences of the RBS programme as well as interviews with career development coaches like Phil, Simon Minty and Kate Nash who have been doing such important work in this area for many years. I have been aware for years of programmes specifically for women or Black and Ethnic Minority employees (BAME) but why are there so few for disabled employees and which one should you go on if you are a BAME disabled woman?

Doing it their way – entrepreneurs determined to make a difference

Niall McShannon talking as part of a panel of entrepreneurs at the Scottish Conference

Niall McShannon talking as part of a panel of entrepreneurs at the Scottish Conference

The entrepreneurs’ panel provided a really different perspective on the world of work for disabled people. These are people, some with disabilities themselves, who have chosen a different path and provided work for disabled people and/or are trying to improve the lives of disabled people in new and innovative ways. Bruce Gunn, Niall McShannon and Gavin Neate provided a frank and often very funny account of what it means to take the plunge and start your own business because as Gavin said “if you want to see change you have to make it happen”

We’ve already invited Gavin Neate from Neatebox to speak at our Technology Taskforce event in London in February on Technology and the Future of Disability. His app could really help businesses change and improve the way disabled customers are served and the beauty of it is that the change will be driven by disabled people themselves asking venues for better service via the technology in their hands.

Find out more about these businesses on their websites:

  • Neatebox: https://neatebox.com/
  • Delivered Next Day Personally: http://www.dndp.co.uk/
  • Clydesdale Community Initiatives: http://www.cciweb.org.uk/about-us

The NHS Scotland and Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living programme demonstrated the power of partnership working and how it can change lives by providing real career opportunities and again meaningful work for a young disabled graduate, Jen Calder, who was able to realise her potential. I’m sure we will be hearing more from Jen Calder in the future.

Transport and tourism – literally going places

Delegates enjoy the Scottish conference

Delegates enjoy the Scottish conference

Finally it is clear that nothing operates in isolation. Employers providing meaningful work and career opportunities is not enough. Disabled people, indeed all people, need to be able to get to work and travel for work and that requires a joined up and accessible transport system and this something that Business Disability Forum is going to concentrate on next year as we continue the Going Places campaign. Contact Angela Matthews if you want to be involved in our research.

We all also need to relax after work and so it is equally important to provide easy access to the many attractions and leisure facilities that the beautiful country of Scotland has to offer. Chris McCoy from Visit Scotland really did show that Scotland is Going Places and leading the way in accessible tourism. You can find the Visit Scotland Business Support accessibility guides online.

So we’ve started to Go Places in Scotland and I can see this campaign really “Going Places” all over the country and the world for years to come. If you want to join us find out more here. 

How national business and disability networks can help create an inclusive global society for persons with disabilities

By Brendan Roach

This is the third and final entry in a short series of blogs in the run up to the UN’s annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on 3 Dec, looking at the role that organisations have to play in transforming society for people with disabilities worldwide.

The theme for this year’s IDPD is ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’[1] and focuses on identifying the ‘enabling conditions for the changes envisaged in the 2030 development agenda for Sustainable Development’[2].

The 2030 agenda contains 17 sustainable goals, many of which include a specific reference to disability including Goal no. 8[3] which focuses on ensuring that everyone (including disabled people) have access to decent employment opportunities.

In my previous entry[4] I discussed the practical steps that individual companies can take to improve how they recruit and retain employees and serve customers with disabilities. In this entry, I am exploring the positive impact of peer to peer networking between businesses on the subject of disability.

The first national business and disability network

Business Disability Forum was launched by the Prince of Wales in 1991 (then as the ‘Employers’ Forum on Disability’) as the world’s first employers’ organisation working to the mutual benefit of business people and people with disabilities.

A key driver for the establishment of the Forum was that initiatives aimed at supporting people with disabilities into employment often failed to take into account the needs of employers. Since then, we have grown and now support nearly 300 public and private sector organisations to become disability-smart through the provision of advice and guidance, business to business networking and knowledge-sharing.

Understanding the legal and cultural context in other countries

Around one third of Business Disability Forum’s members operate in multiple countries and they are increasingly looking for support to help them get it right for their employees and customers wherever they are in the world.

Common queries to our Advice Service[5] include:

  • ‘What are our legal obligations in Poland, Mexico…(insert country of your choice)?’
  • Can we gather disability-related data in Germany?
  • ‘Which countries operate a system of mandatory employment for people with disabilities (i.e. a quota)?’
  • How do we find disabled candidates in the Philippines?

We’re starting to see the emergence of a couple of sources of support with these questions. The first is the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Global business and Disability Network (GBDN) which has a small but soon to be expanding collection of country profiles on its website[6]. The profiles include statistics, legal requirements and sources of support in countries such as China and Peru.

Second is the emergence of a growing number of National Business and Disability Networks (NBDNs). Many of these networks are developing or newly established although some such as the Australian Network on Disability[7], Employers’ Federation of Ceylon’s Employers’ Network on Disability[8] and Mexico’s Movimiento Congruencia[9] have been in existence for over a decade.

What are the characteristics of a National Business and Disability Networks?

Business Disability Forum’s CEO Diane Lightfoot and I recently attended a fascinating meeting hosted by the ILO’s GBDN in Geneva of around 15 NBDNs from countries ranging from Canada to Poland and Bangladesh.

Whilst the NBDNs are all different shapes and sizes, the ILO defines our common characteristic as being a forum ‘where companies and other organizations come together to work towards further employment and social inclusion of persons with disabilities.’

Despite some very differing contexts, it was interesting to hear how many of the challenges described by the various networks were shared. For example, many network leaders spoke of:

    • Overcoming stereotypes, poor accessibility and a general low level of awareness on disability issues on part of employers.
  • The challenges of finding qualified candidates with disabilities.

 

  • Promoting the role of adjustments or accommodations in removing the barriers experienced by people with disabilities.

Linking up with a Business and Disability Network in your country or wherever you operate

The ILO’s Global Business and Disability Network reckons there are currently over 20 national and business and disability networks across the world, in developed and developing countries (many of which, the ILO has directly supported the creation or strengthening of).

The GBDN has compiled a map of all of the networks currently on its radar. This list includes networks on every continent and in countries ranging from the US, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1NA58_l1JLkz0JnzngiTtHvotpFk&ll=-3.81666561775622e-14%2C-38.15607069999987&z=1

Check it out and if you’re a business in any of these countries then why not make contact with your local NBDN? If you work for a global organsaition then how about using your global reach to engage with existing networks and to support the development of new ones?

Lastly, if like us you’re keen to learn more, look out for an upcoming series of podcasts that Business Disability Forum will be producing in association with the GBDN featuring interviews with our counterparts in other NBDNs.

[1] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-3-december/idpd2017.html#Background

[2] http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/

[3] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/envision2030-goal8.html

[4] https://disability-smart.com/2017/11/20/companies-need-to-start-thinking-globally-about-disability/

[5] http://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/our-services/advice-service/

[6] http://www.businessanddisability.org/index.php/en/resources/country-information-profile

[7] https://www.and.org.au/

[8] http://www.employers.lk/efc-news/650-efc-employers-network-on-disability-calls-on-corporates-to-champion-inclusivity

[9] http://www.congruencia.org.mx/

Moving on from Movember: where do we go from here?

Silhouette of a moustache

By Samuel Buckley

Another Movember is coming to an end, and men up and down the country will be shaving off (or keeping!) moustaches grown over the month of November to raise awareness of male suicide.

The decision to focus Movember  on male suicide this year reflects a very specific and decidedly stark trend: in 2016, more than three times as many men (4,287) than women (1,381) died by suicide in England, Wales and Scotland.[1]

While the numbers of people dying by suicide have been steadily declining over the last thirty years, the gap between men and women has grown. Rates among women have gradually fallen from just under 11 per 100,000 in 1981 to less than 5 per 100,000 in 2016; while rates among men also fell, they did so a far slower rate: from 20 per 100,000 in 1981 to 16 per 100,000 in 2016.[2]

Among several age groups, such as 40-50 year olds, suicide rates among men have actually risen, and in any case remain far higher than average.[3]

So, with Movember over, where does all this leave us?autumn-2898551_640

Firstly, it leaves us with the need to look beyond the most obvious figures. Separate studies have found that suicidal ideation among  females is as common, if not more so, than it is among men.[4]

So while more men may die by suicide, the problem of suicidality is universal, not gender-specific.

Which means that Movember leaves us with the challenge to proactively support the mental health of all people, whether our employees or our customers.

bearded-2670623_640

As disability-smart employers and service providers, this is the main challenge: to follow awareness raising initiatives like Movember with solid practical action. Most recently, we’ve seen companies such as KPMG and Fujitsu meet that challenge by having senior figures sponsor and encourage the creation of employee support networks for people with mental health conditions.

These actions and initiatives are about more than just doing the right thing – though many organisations do it for this very reason – it is about taking a course that makes the most sense. A workforce that is healthy, happy and safe is more desirable for an employer than one that is not, and a culture where openness about mental health and practical support for colleagues is the norm will be far healthier, with lower rates of absence, lower employee turnover, and happier employees.

[1] Emyr John, Suicide in the United Kingdom – 2016 Dataset (Newport: Office for National Statistics, 2017), https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/datasets/suicidesintheunitedkingdomreferencetables (accessed 24 November 2017)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] As found by the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity in England 2007 study, cited in Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman, ‘Why are men more likely than women to take their own lives?’, (London: The Guardian, 2015) , https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/21/suicide-gender-men-women-mental-health-nick-clegg (accessed 24 November 2017)

Companies need to start thinking globally about disability

Picture of UN headquarters in New York

By Brendan Roach, Business Disability Forum

Since its inception in 1992, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which is held annually on 3 December, has become *the* date for organisations around the world to celebrate their achievements, raise awareness and launch new disability-related initiatives.

Business Disability Forums Members and Partners undertake a range of imaginative celebratory activities on IDPD. This year, we are really excited about PurpleSpace’s call for UK and global organisations to visibly celebrate the economic and leadership contribution of disabled employees by turning the world purple on 3 December as part of its Purple Light Up[1]’ project.

The theme for this year’s IDPD is ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’[2] and focuses on identifying the ‘enabling conditions for the changes envisaged in the 2030 development agenda for Sustainable Development’[3].

This is the second in a short series of blogs in the run up to the 2017 event, looking at the role that organisations have to play in transforming society for disabled people worldwide.

In this entry, I will offer up some suggestions about the kind of action that organisations can undertake to improve their disability performance. These recommendations are based on our experience of supporting UK organisations for over 25 years and from working with an increasingly international group of clients.

How does an organisation become disability-smart?

Improving an organisation’s disability performance takes time and requires a sustained and coordinated effort. This is especially true of large organisations which are complex and can be slow to change.

In practice this means:

  1. Understanding how disability affects your whole organisation

 Disability impacts on a range of business functions from recruitment to HR, product/service development, premises and ICT. Consequently, the skills and knowledge required by different colleagues will also vary. For example, the know-how required by a recruiting manager in order to source qualified disabled candidates is different to the technical skills required by a web designer to ensure that people with a visual impairment can use a website.

To help UK businesses measure and improve their performance in these and other key areas, we developed the Disability Standard[4] management tool. Since its inception in 2005, the whole organisation approach of the Disability Standard has proved to be a model that is both effective and universal as it has been adapted for use in countries as varied as Australia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

There is an additional component (and an amazing opportunity) for organisations with a global presence here. As organisations which, by definition operate across multiple societies, they have the potential to improve outcomes for a huge number of people with disabilities including those in low income countries who are often the most disadvantaged.

Some companies are already working to ensure that their global presence benefits people with disabilities worldwide. For example, BDF Members L’Oréal, Sodexo and Accenture have teamed up with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Global Business and Disability Network (GBDN)[5]. A key element of the GBDN’s strategy is to use the global reach of the ILO and the GBDN’s corporate members to support the establishment of national business and disability networks (like Business Disability Forum), especially in developing countries.

In addition to improving vocational training and employment opportunities, there is also an opportunity for global business to explore how its products or services might mitigate the barriers encountered by people with disabilities. This is especially relevant for companies in the technology space as the UN highlights the role of accessible technology as being crucial in areas such as urban development, disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action[6].

A brilliant recent example of an organisation deploying its own specialist expertise in order to address the barriers experience by people with a disability is Accenture, a Business Disability Forum Partner. Accenture worked with the National Association for the Blind in India to develop a mobile app which uses features such as image recognition, natural language processing and natural language generation capabilities to describe the environment around a user with a visual impairment[7].

There is also an opportunity for global companies to ensure that their wider CSR or sustainability-related programmes include a focus on addressing the specific challenges experienced by people with disabilities in areas such as education, health and infrastructure.

  1. Understanding the barriers that people with disabilities experience and being proactive in removing them.

Disability-smart organisations accept as a fact of life that, wherever they operate, they will have employees, customers and other stakeholders with disabilities and are proactive in anticipating their needs. For example, by ensuring that:

  • Line managers are trained to identify when a colleague may need a workplace adjustment and to understand their role in implementing it.
  • People with a visual impairment or learning difficulty can access the company website, recruitment portal or intranet by working to a minimum level Double-A of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)
  • All premises are built according to the principles of Universal Design.

Addressing disability-related barriers requires a deep understanding of the lived experience of the people with disabilities who are affected by any of an  organisation’s activities. This insight can only be gained by working directly with people with disabilities using strategies such as those set out in Business Disability International’s Learning Directly From Disabled People guide[8].

  1. Making adjustments or accommodations for individuals

Adjustments in employment such as providing equipment or changing how or where work is carried out by an employee with a disability is a legal requirement in countries ranging from the UK, the US, South Africa and Japan. In addition, it is a key requirement of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which has now been ratified by 174 countries[9].

In the UK, we have seen organisations like Business Disability Forum Partner Lloyds Banking Group set the standard in developing a consistent approach to making adjustments for all disabled employees[10]. Encouragingly, global organisations are also starting to develop adjustments processes which support colleagues with disabilities wherever they are in the world. For example, Shell (also a Business Disability Forum Partner) piloted a single workplace accessibility process in the Netherlands and Canada before starting to roll it out globally this year[11].

Mark IDPD 2017 by taking action

The UN’s IDPD webpage includes a list of recommendations of how to commemorate IDPD 2017[12] which includes celebrating and taking action.

Of course it is important to celebrate and to raise awareness but it is only through the kind of action outlined above that organisations can really contribute to the positive change for people with disabilities envisaged by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the CRPD.

So it does not matter if your organisation makes policy or mobile phones, provides education or front of house services for city law firms. Take action, because it is the cumulative effect of a wide range of organisations routinely anticipating and accommodating the needs of people with disabilities, which will ultimately create the enabling conditions for a truly inclusive society.

[1] https://www.purplespace.org/our-projects/purple-light-up

[2] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-3-december/idpd2017.html#Background

[3] http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/

[4] http://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/disability-standard/

[5] http://www.businessanddisability.org/index.php/en/

[6] http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/2017/idpd/theme_background_note.docx

[7]  http://globalaccessibilitynews.com/2017/07/31/accenture-develops-ai-powered-solultion-to-help-people-with-vision-disabilities/

[8] http://www.businessdisabilityinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/bdi-publication-Learning-Directly-From-Disabled-People.pdf

[9] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html

[10]http://www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/media_manager/public/261/BDF%20Lloyds%20BG%20Workplace%20adjustments%20case%20study.pdf

[11] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNW8T4-Vbyo

[12] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-3-december/idpd2017.html

Why organisations need to rise to the UN’s challenge on disability

Image of UN flag with headquarters in the background

By Brendan Roach, Business Disability Forum

Since its inception in 1992, and certainly within the ten or so years that I have been working in this field, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which is held annually on 3 December, has become *the* date for organisations around the world to celebrate their achievements, raise awareness and launch new disability-related initiatives.

The theme for this year’s IDPD is ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’[1] and focuses on identifying the ‘enabling conditions for the changes envisaged in the 2030 development agenda for Sustainable Development’[2].

This is the first in a short series of blogs in the run up to the 2017 event, looking at the role that organisations have to play in transforming society for disabled people worldwide.

Disability and Sustainable Development

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[3]. The goals were adopted by UN members in 2015 and aim to mobilise the efforts of stakeholders in all member countries to ‘end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind’.

The aim to leave no one behind is significant when it comes to people with disabilities.

Globally, an estimated one billion people have a disability[4] (that’s 15% of the world’s population). There is strong evidence that disability and poverty are linked, with disabled people more likely to live in poverty due to higher unemployment, lower income levels and lower attainment of skills and qualifications. This is a global trend but, unsurprisingly, is especially pronounced in low income countries.

The disadvantages experienced by disabled people in many parts of the world have been compounded by a historic lack of focus on improving disability-related outcomes in development initiatives. For example, people with disabilities were not mentioned at all in the Millennium Development Goals (which preceded the current Sustainable Development Goals).

Indeed, the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) suggests that disability inclusion often lags behind other priorities when it comes to international development. For example, disability only comprised 3% of total human rights funding globally in 2012 compared to 26% on women and girls, 21% on children and youth and 5% on LGBT[5].

To ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind in relation to the 2030 agenda, five of the Sustainable Development Goals include specific references to disability. These are in relation to education, economic growth and employment, addressing inequality, the accessibility of human settlements and data collection.

The role of organisations

Some forward thinking organisations are beginning to use the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for their own sustainability efforts. For example, in 2016 Saint-Gobain (a Business Disability Forum Member) incorporated the 17 Goals in to its corporate social responsibility strategy. Saint-Gobain’s approach is to prioritise action against the Sustainable Development Goals that most closely align to its own strategic priorities and where the company can have the most impact[6].

Given the breadth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it is clear that a wide range of organisations including governments, the public and private sector and non-government organisations will need to transform how they think and behave when it comes to disability.

This is especially relevant when you consider that almost every aspect of our lives is directly or indirectly influenced by the actions of organisations. For example, an organisation:

  • Made the laws of the country that I live in
  • Educated me
  • Employs me
  • Made the laptop that I’m using to write this blog
  • Built the roads, pavements and other public spaces outside and around my home

It is clear from just a few examples, how our life chances are dependent on the extent to which the activities of a variety of organisations are inclusive. For people with disabilities, the outcome is all too often exclusion due to factors such as discrimination, low expectations, the attitude of employers and the inaccessibility of a whole host of public and commercial services, products and infrastructure (from transport to the internet).

This is why organisations are central to Business Disability Forum’s vision of a society where business and government promote the economic and social inclusion of people with disabilities. It is also why our mission is to build disability-smart organisations, which we do through the provision of advice and guidance, business to business networking and knowledge-sharing.

Taking action

The UN’s IDPD webpage includes a list of recommendations of how to commemorate IDPD 2017[7]; The final recommendation of how to commemorate IDPD 2017 is to take action. This is crucial because it is only through sustained and coordinated action that we can ever hope to see the kind of transformation for people with disabilities that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development envisages.

In my next entry, I’ll explore the practical steps that any organisation needs to take in order to improve its disability performance and work towards becoming disability-smart.

[1] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-3-december/idpd2017.html#Background

[2] http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/

[3] http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

[4] World Bank and World Health Organisation (2011) World Report on disability

[5] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5968a0cde5274a0a59000196/Terms-of-Reference-Disability-Inclusion.pdf

[6] https://www.saint-gobain.com/sites/sgcom.master/files/ddr-2016-va.pdf page 108

[7] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-3-december/idpd2017.html

How built-in accessible tech has changed everything

By Paul Bepey, Access Technology Manager/Assistive Technology Lead, BBC, member of Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce

Hi, I am Paul Bepey, a registered blind person working in the field of Assistive Technology and Accessibility. As its World Sight Day today (12 October) I wanted to look at what assistive technology means now that more and more mainstream products have accessibility built in.

So, these are my own views on what assistive tech means today.

Assistive Technology is a term which encompasses a huge amount of technologies and applications, but from my prospective it is anything which enables me to go about my day to day tasks both in work and the home.

In particular, what’s really interesting to me are pieces of technology which are mainstream but can be used by blind people because of their design and the thought which has gone into accessibility from the outset, rather than as an add-on.

The iPhone

In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone. We had no way of knowing at the time that such a device would be such a game changer for the accessibility of mobile devices in general, and that it would open up a whole new world and user experience to us.

It is fair to say that the first iPhones, namely the 2G and 3G, did not include screen reading technology, but with the release of the iPhone 3GS in June 2009, suddenly a whole load of visually-impaired individuals would now see assistive technology (such as Voiceover and Zoom) built into their devices, meaning that it was quite possible to walk into a shop, purchase an iPhone and set it up with no sighted help.

Office worker using a tablet

Since the introduction of Accessibility features on the iPhone and other products, Apple have gone a huge way in ensuring that people such as myself are able to perform most tasks using a mainstream item of technology, while at the same time adding additional accessibility functionality such as Braille screen input, hearing aid compatibility, and Siri, as well as the ability to use the camera as a magnifier.

From banking, to planning a route, answering emails, communicating with my daughter via Facetime, adding that forgotten item to either an online monthly shop or Amazon Wishlist, it’s all possible thanks to a pocket-sized device from Apple.

I guess some may be wondering just how much technology I use daily?

The answer, I would say is a huge amount.  If it’s new and shiny, chances are I have it, or will at some point soon.

Apple products and apps in the workplace and at home

I pretty much use my iPhone and associated apps for all kinds of tasks, from using services such as CBeebies Storytime to interact with my daughter, iPlayer for TV catch-up, purchasing train tickets and booking cabs to viewing emails, managing my calendar and associated cloud based file storage solutions, many of which are common within the workplace.

Recently, I have also added other tasks such as recognising items of clothing, Food products, and locating cooking instructions to make my life easier.

I am also due to fit a smart heating solution which I am hoping to control from both my iPhone and Alexa.

Improving AT in the workplace and elsewhere

From a visual impairment (VI) prospective, I feel we are somewhat entering a revolution: a situation where mainstream and assistive technology are merging and somewhat complimenting one another.

If we look at Amazon Alexa, which in simple terms provides a voice interface into items such as heating controls, smart plugs, switches, various music services, shopping sites, and travel services and calendars – we’re looking at a piece of AT which would sit well in workplaces if rules around data locations could be agreed.

I certainly feel that over time, home and workplace assistive technologies  will naturally become closer with the addition of services such as the Microsoft and iCloud accounts, all of which offer the capability of storing user settings for apps such as Siri, Voiceover, Braille devices and others.

In conclusion, Technology has served me extremely well. Huge thanks go out to organisations such as Apple, Humanware, Baum, VFO and a whole number of others for the work they put into this industry.

Everyone’s mental health: How inclusive is your workplace mental health strategy?

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

By Angela Matthews

Yesterday, Tuesday 10th October, was the eighth roundtable meeting of our Central Government Network, hosted once again by our colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As it was also Mental Health Awareness Day, I presented a summary of recent research on mental health in and out of the workplace.

 

Mental health in the UK

I used a couple of sources. I started with a report titled Surviving or Thriving? The State of the UK’s Mental Health (Centre for Mental Health, May 2017). Findings showed, firstly, something that probably will not surprise many of us: the general state of mental health in the UK as a whole is not good. In fact, only 13% of the UK population rate their mental health as ‘good’.

I was very interested in the finding that people over the age of 55 generally reported better mental health. Having worked in older people’s mental health services with a consistently full clinic and a long waiting list, I was interested to look into this more. What seemed to be behind this statistic was that this appeared to be a group demographic who generally have more ‘spare’ time; the age bracket was perhaps something of a ‘red herring’. People with more time to pursue things that many sources (the Government, NHS, so called ‘self-help’ information sources) tell us are ‘good’ for developing mental resilience: taking a walk, doing gentle exercise, seeing friends, spending time with family, finding an interest, taking up a new hobby.

Time repeatedly comes up in other research on happiness and mental wellbeing: how we manage it, what we fill it with, and the decisions we make about how we perceive it.

The research also finds that depression and panic attacks are the two most common symptoms experienced by people in the UK. Note, symptoms. What this should signal to employers is that people may experience depression yet may not necessarily have a diagnosis of depression, and people may have panic attacks and not have a diagnosis of an anxiety related condition. I was also fascinated to see that the third most common experience was that related to Seasonal Affective Conditions. For employers, this means that employees may want to work in different ways during different seasons. I have previously worked with employees who have wanted to start earlier in the morning and finish earlier in the afternoon during winter months in order to avoid having to work when it is dark. The changing daylight quality can also affect employees with other types of conditions such as migraines, photosensitivity, or some visual impairments for example. Seasonal changes can have a significant impact on people’s emotions and mood.

There was one last point I drew out from this research, which I felt was insightful for employers to consider. What type of ‘conditions’ do you think of when you hear the term “mental health”? Examples given in the report are: anxiety, eating disorder, alcohol or drug dependence, postnatal depression, seasonal affectiveness, depression, bipolar, obsessive compulsive conditions, psychosis, post traumatic stress, panic attacks, schizophrenia, personality disorder, phobias. This is quite a wide ranging list and, of course, by no means extensive.

But here’s the statistic: 40% of people who have mental health issues do not see their own experience mentioned on this list. Forty per cent. How do our workplace wellbeing and mental health narratives reflect this when the common conditions we talk about are not recognised by 40% of people who have struggled with their mental health?

Mental health in an inclusive workforce

The research titled Mental Health at Work 2017 was released just a week ago by Business in the Community. One of the headline findings was that whilst 60% of employees experience a work related mental health issue, only just over half of this number (31%) had actually been diagnosed with a mental health condition. This reinforces my earlier point, that not everyone (only half, according to this research) experiencing mental health issues will have a diagnosed mental health condition. There is a distinction here, and it means that line managers need to be knowledgeable and skilled to manage both the mental wellbeing of their employees, and also support employees who are unwell due to mental ill health. The distinction is critical, and too often overlooked. A lack of understanding of the difference can risk unintended exclusion and it can also cause a mismatch of understanding and communication between the employee and line manager. This is perhaps represented by the report’s finding that 91% of line managers felt knew they had a key role in managing the wellbeing of their employees at work, yet only 13% of employees felt they could talk to their line managers about mental health issues.

Also add into the mix that senior leaders were found to think that employees were being supported with their mental health at work a lot more than employees themselves actually reported, and then we quickly have all three key stakeholders (employees, line managers, and senior leaders) on three very different wavelengths: a recipe for low productivity, distrust, and an ineffective employee-manager relationship.
Lastly, and more positively, 50% of employees were found to be more comfortable talking about mental health issues than they were a year ago. Put all of this research together and we may conclude this: mental health is generally declining, but we are getting better at talking about it.

Well, only some of us. People over 40 years old were found to be more comfortable discussing mental health issues with their line manager than younger employees, and employees from black, Asian, or minority ethnic backgrounds were less comfortable to talk about such issues (and also less likely top be diagnosed). This causes me to ask employers the question, how inclusive are our narratives about mental health in the workplace? We as a business sector have progressed immense strides with our diversity and inclusion agenda, yet research is showing that we perhaps have yet to develop a language and culture around workplace mental health which is as inclusive and diverse as the workforces we have created.