Why is web accessibility important?

(This guest blog originally appeared on texthelp.com as part of their Accessibility Leaders series)

Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion, AbilityNet

So much has changed in the last two decades. In fact so much has changed in the last two years. As a blind person I’m just one example of how tech has helped improve the life choices for people with disabilities.

With the power of computers all around us wherever we go it can be incredibly empowering when one or more of your own senses don’t work. In the past, I used to need a talking GPS device (£750), a talking notetaker (£1,500), a talking barcode scanner (£150) and many more specialist devices. Whereas now, I have all that functionality and lots more on one device, which is also almost infinitely expandable with each new app or service that comes along.

However, this powerful new tech can only enable access to the digital world for people with disabilities if that world makes certain allowances. That’s where the need – no, the imperative – for digital accessibility comes in.

The low-down on accessibility

Digital accessibility has two main aspects; the accessibility, affordability and functionality of physical devices (specialist or mainstream) and the accessibility of services (websites and apps etc) that we access using those gadgets.

The accessibility of devices has transformed in recent years, driven in large part by Apple. The accessible Mac and I-devices have ‘mainstreamed’ inclusion and, because of its influence on other manufacturers, has meant that inclusion is now more affordable than ever before. Disabled people are using their smartphones to aid mobility, manage their health, interact with colleagues, friends and society, play an active part in commerce and also have a lot of fun.

The accessibility of these devices has also impacted that second area of web and app accessibility. Apple’s developer tools have been designed so that you actually have to break accessibility in your app. Thus there are tens of thousands of accessible apps to choose from – often replacing hard or impossible to use websites that haven’t been built with the benefit of such an environment. As a blind person I always reach for an app which is a much more accessible, cleaner and more distilled user experience. Actually I would first reach for Alexa or Siri to see if the information or interaction I want can be done in a few seconds flat.

One reason why the smartphone is so empowering is that it enables people with disabilities to avoid using the internet. Despite the carrots and the sticks associated with making your website accessible, the internet is still a horribly inhospitable place for people with disabilities. If a virtual assistant or inclusive app can come up with the goods then a frustrating exploration of a much more complex – and almost invariably less accessible – web-based alternative will be avoided like the plague.

Mainstreaming accessibility

The concept of digital accessibility is now not only more mainstream an issue – it is, in fact, a purely mainstream issue.

We’re living in the age of extreme computing. In this mobile-first world, we are interacting with devices in ways that are far removed from the conventional set-up of your office or home, where you had ultimate control over your environment. If the sun was too bright or too dull, for example, you’d pull the blind or turn on the lights.

Now, whether it’s juggling a phone one-handed as you weave down the street coffee in-hand, or as you desperately try to finish off that text or transaction before you reach the bottom of the escalator, or tilting and shading your phone under the glare of the midday sun, you’re involved in extreme computing – and extreme computing needs inclusive design.

The challenge is to optimise for every situation.

That sounds like a tough challenge – optimising your devices or your content and functionality for everyone and every situation. Well the accessibility guidelines are actually meant to do just that – help websites or apps  design to optimise for the needs of people who may have a vision, motor or learning impairment, for example.

However accessibility, with its historical connotations of being solely for the disabled user, should probably now be replaced with the idea of ‘Inclusive design’. Inclusive design is for every user. If you have no disability but you are using your phone one-handed on the move then you actually do have a temporary impairment that is identical to someone who has a motor difficulty 24-7. It’s true. You need exactly the same design considerations (good sized tappable areas separated by enough white space) as is needed by someone with Parkinson’s or a tremor.

How to move the accessibility needle

Hopefully, at this point, we all agree that digital accessibility is essential to make products and services fit for purpose in this mobile-first world – quite apart from it being an essential component of the daily digital lives of people with disabilities.

It’s been a legal requirement to have an accessible website since 2003 and yet we estimate that still 90%+ of websites in the UK don’t even meet a level of WCAG single-A compliance – let alone AA which is arguably the legal requirement.

I believe that the single most impactful development that will see a seismic shift in accessibility is for the government to actually enforce the law. That sounds odd, but I’ll explain.

You can barely leave your car one minute over time without getting a parking ticket, but where are the government wardens of the internet? The law on accessibility matters too – arguably much more so for those disabled users directly impacted, and indeed for our digital economy more widely. Because, what’s good for someone with a visual impairment is good for someone using a small screen etc, etc (you’re all experts on this now).

While it can take considerable time and expertise to ensure a website is compliant, it’s incredibly simple to check AA-level compliance (the legal minimum) with an automated checking tool. It would only take a very small team to enforce.

So why leave it to disabled individuals to enforce the law? That seems wrong to me.

One reason is that for the longest time the government probably felt that their own house wasn’t sufficiently in order. They were doing the equivalent of speeding or parking on double-yellow lines themselves. But now gov.uk is pretty accessible and so I say that now is the time. Let’s get this initiative underway and get companies to sit up and take note.

The journey to accessibility in the UK so far has been incredibly slow. Other countries choosing to be proactive are seeing a significant shift towards a more digitally-inclusive world – and the benefits are being noticed by everyone. As a blind person driven to despair by the digital world on a daily basis, I can only hope that you decide to champion accessibility. And not out of fear of the possible brand or legal consequences – but because it’s the right thing to do.

Happy, inclusive digital creation.

If you would like to learn more about what you could do to make your website more accessible, download our practical guide to digital inclusion.

On an orange background a woman is looking at a screen, text says "Texthelp - a quick, practical guide to digital inclusion and accessible information for websites"

About AbilityNet

AbilityNet has been changing lives since 1998. We offer advice, information and expert resources on assistive technologies and mainstream solutions for people with the broadest range of disabilities – as well as workplace and DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) assessments in HE. We also deliver website and mobile accessibility consultancy to hundreds of clients across all sectors.

Disability-Smart stories: 2020 technology showcase

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

“In the context of disability, technology offers some great opportunities but also some real challenges that we need to look out for. We’ve all got a role to play in creating an inclusive working environment,” was the reminder to the audience from Sarah Churchman OBE, Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer at PwC, at our annual Technology Showcase, this year called Disability-Smart stories and hosted by PwC.

CEO Diane Lightfoot and Lucy Ruck, Business Disability Forum’s Taskforce Manager welcomed the audiences and the three speakers who would take to the stage to tell their disability-smart stories.

Pictured from left to right are Diane Lightfoot, Michael Vermeersch, Robert Nolan, Tracey Lenthall and Lucy Ruck

From left to right: Diane Lightfoot, Michael Vermeersch, Robert Nolan, Tracey Lenthall and Lucy Ruck

First was Tracey Lenthall, HR Director, PwC, who shared her story of living with dyslexia. She explained that dyslexia sits under the neurodiversity umbrella, those include dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism and other neurodiverse conditions – and dyslexia means difficulty with words. She offered the insight that: “the difficulty of words is actually a symptom, not a cause… dyslexics have abilities that are out of balance, so we have difficulties in processing and remembering sounds, and difficulties in putting details in order. This is often balanced by strengths, which is 3D imaging, we see the world from a visual perspective, verbal skills and long-term memory.” She also alerted the audience that dyslexia affects 1 in 10 people and there is a strong impact on everyday life and in your education. It has a very, very strong link to ADHD. 40% of dyslexics have got ADHD. 60% of people who have ADHD are dyslexic.

She added on how technology has helped her: “So how does it manifest itself in me? Constructions of sentences, I find incredibly difficult. What is in my head, I have this amazing creative head, but actually what comes out on to pen and paper, and on to the laptop, is completely – it just does not represent it at all. I love Google for many, many reasons, so what Google is brilliant at now is the whole blue line thing and it just tells you if your sentences aren’t quite right, so you can go back and have a look at that, and recreate those.

“understanding how you can change what was a real negative into an absolute positive… and just being part of the workforce, I think is really important.”

Michael Vermeersch, Digital Inclusion Lead, Microsoft followed soon after and talked about how his disability in the context of the day was autism and dyspraxia. He told the audience of early events in his life how he was “probably was the first pupil in my school also at the age of six to have read from A to Z in an encyclopedia because that’s the amount of times they would put me away because I was disruptive, which was fantastic, because there’s a lot of knowledge in an A to Z encyclopedia”. This contrasted to his times at university experience: “Moving into university, university was easy, I liked learning, that was really easy for me, I just needed to look at a page and I absorbed it, university life, being social there was really easy because the only thing they do is drink and make lots of noise, which I could really imitate… people felt like I was a good person to hang around with, and they gave me all kinds of jobs to do, like being chairman for this and chairman for that, which I did really well, because of my attention to detail, and I liked to have things run really perfectly. A bit like my work now really, apart from the drinking, and that bit.”

He told the audience he was diagnosed in 2016, and stated why: “I felt like I needed to have that diagnosis because the world got more and more hectic and I kind of needed to make some kind of stance and saying, whoa, let’s just stop there, and tell you how you can remove the barriers for me.”

In 2017, Michael was encouraged to present his work more and in 2019 I got the highest award at Microsoft – the platinum award.

Of the role of technology played in his life, Michael added: “Artificial intelligence I think is the great saviour and is going to become more and more the great saviour.” He was evangelical in his love for Office 365, workplace analytics “where it will tell me, you’re having too many meetings, maybe you want to have some focus time, do you want me to schedule that for you? And it will schedule that for me, if I give it permission. Or look, those are the people you mostly work with, those are your stakeholders, your collaborators. Or actually you worked a lot with that person in the past, you have been disconnected for a while”. He also believes it needs to be designed with people with disabilities, to have that insight in there, adding “we don’t want other people to assume what the barriers are for us”.

bdf

Robert Nolan, Chair, Deafblind UK was the third speaker and told the audience he was born deaf, adding “in the early 60s, it’s a tough thing to be told your child is deaf but that’s what my parents had to deal with”. He felt fortunate though the frequencies he could hear best were around speech. He recalls: “My first bit of technology was the NHS box hearing aid which I wore on my chest with a knitted thing my mum made and it meant I was always different, anyone with young children knows no kid wants to be different.”

He added: “The other thing about hearing aids, they don’t correct your hearing. Spectacles correct your vision, but hearing aids don’t. They amplify, so if you hear mess, that’s all you will amplify, background and foreground, it doesn’t distinguish.”

After his time at university, Robert had hoped to become a teacher after being inspired by his geography teacher. After being informed he could not teach secondary students (in the 1970s), he decided to go hitchhiking, for over a year, however his mother and girlfriend, who later became his wife, realised that his sight had got worse. He eventually decided to go into IT.

Robert is very motivated working with Deafblind UK and Deafblind Scotland, organisations he’s worked with for nearly 25 years. He talked about the role technology plays in finding matches for people who need to communicate who have lost sight and hearing. He shared the story of Clarke and his communicator Christine. “Clarke is like me, has usher’s syndrome. Unlike me, he lost his sight in his late 20s. Like me, he used to go to football matches and support his team with his friends. He now has no sight at all. And guess what? He still goes to football matches with his friends but now he takes Christine with him, the guide communicator. Deafblind UK provide the best-managed guide communicator service in Europe, in Scotland, where they provide 50,000 hours of support a year which is phenomenal, so Christine has no interest in football whatsoever, but she knows more about it than most people in this room now probably. She puts her left hand on Clarke’s wrist and tactile sign language, because he’s also deaf, remember, tactile sign language on his hand. His hand is the football pitch. He knows the players, and he can feel the excitement, and when people start banging on the terraces he can feel it. What I love is the fact that Deafblind UK is enabling Clarke to carry on enjoying his football even though he can’t see it, isn’t that great?”

We ended the event with a panel discussion of all our speakers, where members of the audience were able to pose their questions via the website Slido or in the room. We had a wide range of questions, once of which was what was the one piece of technology that had made the biggest difference, for Michael it was PowerPoint Designer as he could ask artificial intelligence to make the content “look pretty”, Robert’s first “fantastic bit of technology” was the gramophone record and the mobile phone because “being able to follow text and have conversations with your loved ones is marvellous” and Tracey the search engine and Word or Google that highlights spelling and grammar issues.

A big thank you to everyone who attended.

Exhibitors who were at the day were:

AtWork, a strategy-focused resource that blends workplace tasks with assistive technology

Audacious, making mobile calls clearer

Bennett Workplace, workplace and ergonomic solutions

Claro Software, assistive technology software for people with print and reading difficulties

Crawford Technology, who provide innovative solutions to optimise and manage enterprise documents

Lenovo, smarter technology for all

Microlink – assistive technology

Microsoft – empowering every organisation to achieve more

MyClearText, who provide on-site and remote speech-to-text reporting

PwC disability awareness network

Texthelp helping everyone read, write and communicate with clarity

 

Keep up to date with our events here

Putting disability on the map – our Global Conference 2020

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

Our Global Conference 2020, held at EY, with the audience looking at the stage

Our Global Conference 2020, held at EY

“Just go out there, try things, make things happen, and you can change things in your organisations,” was one of the rousing calls from one of the speakers Shell’s Andy Kneen as Business Disability Forum held its inaugural global conference in February at EY. The day explored the challenges of developing a global disability strategy, as well as looking at the practical steps already taken by members of its Global Taskforce.

The taskforce itself was formed in April 2018 seeking to improve the life chances of people with disabilities globally by ensuring that a best practice approach to disability inclusion is being adopted across global operations.

Stefan Tromel Disability Specialist at the International Labour Organisation and heads up the Global Business Disability Network stated: “Now the good news is, we are seeing the level of attention that disability and disability rights and the employment for disabled person on a global scale is unprecedented. We have the Sustainable Development Goals, we have the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, with 170 countries ratifying that.  If you look just 15 years back, there was almost no discussions in the majority of companies around legislation and policies around people with disabilities. Not only do we now have these discussions, but we see an amazing involvement of the corporate sector.”

One of the other speakers on the day was Lyn Lee who, in conversation with Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, explained how Shell had developed a global approach to implementing workplace accessibility in about 45 countries.

Lyn also explained why Shell have sponsored Business Disability Forum’s research on the challenges of developing a global disability inclusion strategy, “About a year ago, I was looking around and feeling a little bit overwhelmed that beyond workplace accessibility there was digital accessibility, customer accessibility, competency building for our employees, including our employees with disabilities and global meaning and definition on accessibility.” There were also questions around what exactly Shell was doing beyond business accessibility… The first question that came to Lyn’s mind was: “Is there any research on the challenges of implementing something global?”

Other speakers included Matt Dowie from HSBC who enlightened the audience on how HSBC has turned corporate commitment into tangible action. HSBC now have a global disability champion in their CFO Ewen Stevenson and he sponsors a global programme that encompasses areas such as data, knowledge and adjustments.

Alex Lane at Accenture talked about Accenture’s journey and new initiatives: they now have 45 countries around the world with active disability programmes. Their global leadership programme ‘Activity Unleashed’ offers personal and career development opportunities to disabled colleagues across Accenture’s global operations.

One of the most anticipated panels was Global strategy, local delivery: How to ensure a global disability strategy works in local contexts with Murteza Khan, the CEO of the Bangladesh Business and Disability Network, the aforementioned Stefan, Turki Halabi, Executive manager at Qaderoon Business Disability Network in Saudi Arabia and Reeti Dubey, Business Manager to the Head of HR in India at RBS. Murteza emphasised the importance of global companies’ impact through their supply chain: “In Bangladesh a meaningful structured way inclusion started to happen in the industry because Marks & Spencer’s, Primark and H&M started to motivate a lot of their local partner factories to start looking at inclusion and provide the tech support and the NGOs identified the skills building and identifying candidates, et cetera, to then start working on that systematically.”

The day then headed into inclusive branding with Sinem Kaynak and Manisha Mehta of Unilever. Sinem encouraged businesses: “If you are an advertiser yourselves, in your companies, try to make your advertising more inclusive because its power is huge.  You know, it’s so many people around the world seeing it, watching it every day, and we often neglect what a powerful tool it is in shaping societies. So, try to make yourselves and your brands and your communications more diverse and inclusive.”

After Sinem’s and Manisha’s insightful conversation Andy Kneen from Shell then highlighted one of the practical ways Shell is striving to be disability-smart with their new app for disabled customers and explained: “You get to the petrol station and press a button and let them know you have arrived. One of our Shell colleagues will come and fill up your fuel tank.  If you want a snack, they will take payment in the car, either electronically or a cash payment. It is something that started in the UK… and we have in all of our UK petrol stations and you can see there on the right‑hand side a quote from one of the users who described it as being a life changing experience because it gave him independence and he doesn’t have to be reliant on other people when other people are available.”

The final panel of Kate Nash OBE, founder of PurpleSpace and the PurpleLightUp movement, Iain Wilkie, Founder of 50 Million Voices and James Partridge, CEO of Face Equality International talked about the disadvantages from “face-ism” (facial difference/disfigurement) and stuttering and the ways their organisations 50 Million Voices and Face Equality International respectively work to combat that. Media coverage plays a crucial part in perceptions.

And as Andy and Diane wrapped up the conference Andy stated: “I’m a little bit emotional to think that so many people in this room, who have come here today, to talk about how we take disability global. Compare that to a few years ago, it is massive progress. There’s great energy in this room, and disability is one of those areas where we can work together and share experiences. There’s nothing sensitive here, so let’s try to learn from one another.”

Click here to learn how to join the global taskforce

Learn more about our global briefings which provide guidance for one-stop, best practice resource for global organisations here

Learn more about our next conference in London

Building disability-smart employee networks – and how to make the most of them

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

“Try to do a few things really well” and “Think about the range of access to networks” were just two of the many take-aways at Business Disability Forum’s latest construction roundtable, this time focused on employee networks and held at Balfour Beatty earlier this month.

If businesses wonder what the benefits are of creating employee networks, they include: helping create a diverse workplace and talent pipeline, belonging for employees, increasing awareness, a place to provide expertise and peer support.

Balfour Beatty kicked off their presentation on the day with an explanation of their Allies Affinity Network which includes gender equality, multi-cultural and multi-racial, LGBTQ+ and disability – and how they intersect. The different networks often ally up and provide back up for business cases and programs.

Sam Pierce and Natalie Parker from Balfour Beatty explained the process for setting up the employee network: “When you set up your network, establish interest from within your organisation. Think of a great name! Consider the structure that the network will take and how many meetings you will need to hold, think about the communications you’ll need to send out to your organisation and the budget you’ll need. Secure senior leader support and if you can set up a launch, it’s great if you can link it to an existing event or awareness day.”

A leaflet that says: "Balfour Beatty - Include Everyone - Our Affinity Networks help make Balfour Beatty a great place to work"

Balfour Beatty has a range of employee networks

Strategy must always be a key factor in creating an employee network: get a clear plan of who, what, and how the network will positively affect the organisation. Who should the network include? Balfour Beatty encourages inclusivity, inviting allies, as well as those who identify with the protected characteristic. How will the network meetings take place via members, employees, external parties?

The attendees at the roundtable also discussed how workers on sites might not feel they can tap into employee networks, especially if they are contractors or sub-contractors and not employed directly, but came to the conclusion that it is about educating all of the labour force and supply chain that employee networks can include them!

Indeed Emilia Hardern from Network Rail stated that her organisation was one of the first to invite supply chains and external partners to join their employee networks – so do consider them in the process of forming them if you work in the construction industry.

Emilia also talked about the number of lives that are positively affected by the networks and the opportunity it provides to affect the commercial aspect of business. If employees felt listened to and their needs addressed, this creates better morale and productivity.

Jodie Greer from Shell shared that her approach for her disability-focused employee network Enable was targeted at people who say “it’s not for them”. “That’s exactly who it’s for!”. Jodie herself doesn’t have a disability but wanted to be part of a network that affected change and positive solutions: “If you can change a culture, disability awareness will come.”

Throughout the day, attendees were really keen to pose questions on how they could start implementing employee networks as they were at different levels on the journey and different organisations had useful tips to get the ball rolling such as creating an action plan and partnering with other organisations. Indeed, Balfour Beatty thanked Business Disability Forum for the help it received in setting up its employee network around disability – and Karan Snuggs, Business Disability Partner at Business Disability Forum thanked all who attended.

The day finished with Karin O’Donnell at DWP sharing their processes for networks, and the role that networks play in creating an inclusive environment and helping shape the strategic plan – and how this might help the construction industry think about how they set up their networks.

A networking session rounded off the event and delegates left with another take-away: the role that employee networks play should be driven with SMART objectives to ensure the benefits can be measured.

To find out more about how to attend our networks and taskforces, go to businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/our-services/our-taskforces, and if you are interested in becoming a Member, find out more at businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/membership

Time to talk about men?

By Jacob Spargo-Mabbs, Business Disability Forum

‘Real de-stigmatisation comes from a realistic approach – and when 62% of men will have a mental health problem at work, you could call it an epidemic’ Dr Seidl

Did you know that almost two thirds of men have experienced a mental health issue where work was either the main cause or a contributory factor? Based on the reaction of the audience at BDF’s Scottish Conference, a lot of people weren’t aware of that before (including me).

Dr Wolfgang Seidl (pictured left), David Hanlan (pictured second left), Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club (pictured second right) and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men (pictured right) on stage. There is also a BSL interpreter in front of the stage.

Dr Wolfgang Seidl (pictured left), was joined by Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club (pictured second right) and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men (pictured right) shared their experiences as part of a panel on men and mental health. They were joined by David Hanlan from Scottish Water, who also gave a talk about health, work and identity (pictured second left).

One of the most talked-about speakers at Business Disability Forum’s Scottish Conference on 30 January was Dr Wolfgang Seidl who spoke eloquently about men’s experience of mental health and the crisis that we are facing as a society. Whilst mental health is now – rightly – receiving greater attention, Dr Seidl shed light on an underappreciated aspect to the mental health crisis: the link between men’s mental health and their work. The statistics and stories that Dr Seidl shared show clearly that mental ill-health is an epidemic, and workplaces will have to adjust to address it. This chimes with Business Disability Forum’s own research in 2019 which showed how many men feel the pressure to perform to societal standards and expectations and the detrimental impact that has on their mental health.

We also heard powerful stories from men who have been directly affected. Dr Seidl played a video of Richard Wright talking frankly about his experience of mental ill health in the workplace. We also heard from Richard’s manager about what he did to support Richard.

Joining Dr Seidl, Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men shared their experiences as part of a panel on men and mental health. They were joined by David Hanlan from Scottish Water, who also gave a talk about health, work and identity.

We also heard on the day from our head of legal and campaigns Bela Gor , who asked whether the Equality Act 2010 is fit for 2020 and this is a subject we will be exploring throughout the year, alongside the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act. Bela then joined Dennis Howard from RBS, Jennifer Teacy from Scottish Water and Anna Smith from PWC to discuss the role of employee networks in exploring our intersecting identities.

After lunch we heard from comedian Juliette Burton about her experience of mental health. She was followed by Lauren Chiren who shared her experience of menopause and how the lack of a common awareness of menopausal symptoms led her to believe she was experiencing early-onset dementia.

The day finished with a panel hosted by our Global Taskforce and Partner Development Manager  Brendan Roach about accessible tourism in Scotland. He was joined by Robin Sheppard from Bespoke Hotels, Jan Kerr from the Homelands Trust, Moira Henderson MBE from The Rings and Marina Di Duca from Visit Scotland. The overall message from the panel was that being accessible is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business too, a messaging reiterated by our CEO, Diane Lightfoot, who closed the day. As she said, when you get it right for disabled people, you get it right for everyone.

We’ll be exploring some of these topics and more at our Annual Conference at the British Library Conference Centre in London on 22 April. Sponsored by our Partner HSBC, our theme this year is “Disability in 2020: Time for Business” so do join us! Visit the conference page for more information and to book your place. We hope to see you there!

Working together to drive the disability agenda is #Valuable

By Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum

Business Disability Forum is delighted to be an expert partner of the Valuable500 which returned this week to the World Economic Forum in Davos. It’s been a brilliant and exciting year with #Valuable founder Caroline Casey seemingly circumnavigating the globe in her tireless efforts to engage with CEOs of some of the world’s most iconic brands.

The results speak for themselves: after launching just one year ago, an amazing 240 global leaders have personally committed to putting disability on the board agenda, signalling a huge and vital step forward in the inclusion agenda.

Many of them are Business Disability Forum Partners and Members and we work with them to provide pragmatic support and advice to support their “Disability Smart” journey. For if #Valuable and the Valuable 500 is the (very compelling) “why”, winning hearts and minds, we at Business Disability Forum are the “how” – helping business put the practical actions in place that turn commitment into reality.

The UK has long been at the forefront of driving the disability agenda forward – Business Disability Forum itself was set up almost 30 years ago as the world’s first disability business network – but though huge progress has been made, disability has too often been seen as the” poor relation” in diversity terms. Thankfully, however, in the UK and globally, there is now a growing awareness of disability and an increasing recognition that it is part of being human: it is the one strand of diversity which can and most likely will affect every one of us, whether we acquire a disability ourselves or are close to someone who does.

The 300+ companies that we work with already recognise that disabled people are not only a very large and important talent pool but a hugely significant consumer market too. And, as global brands start to focus on getting it right for this customer group, they will no doubt realise one of our core messages: that when you get it right for disabled people, you get it right for everyone.

And it’s not just about customers; businesses are also increasingly recognising that it is no longer OK to have an external brand that doesn’t match their internal culture and values (and vice versa) – so a focus on the employee space is really important too. In December 2019, Unilever – the first company to join the #Valuable campaign and whom we are proud to count among our Partner group – announced their commitment to becoming the employer of choice for people with disabilities, and a vision that 5% of their workforce worldwide will comprise of disabled people by 2025.

I hope that following the World Economic Forum this month, many more companies will not only sign up to the Valuable 500 but move forward with the leadership and action that will make disability inclusion a reality.

Meanwhile, my huge congratulations to #DisabilitySmart Partners and Members who have signed up to the #Valuable500 over the last year. All of us @DisabilitySmart look forward to working with you to achieve the #InclusionRevolution together #WEF20.

Now, in 2020, it feels as though there is a real opportunity and appetite for a sea change that will transform opportunities for disabled people worldwide. It’s time for business – Disability Smart business – to lead the way.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum

You can read more about the Valuable 500 and the organisations signed up so far in the report launched this week here

Blue Monday: fake, but useful

By Jacob Spargo-Mabbs, Business Disability Forum

Most people can vaguely recall having heard about a day of the year when everyone’s mental health is at its worst, and may even know that it’s in January. Many people may even be able to tell you when it falls: the third Monday of January. This year, that is today (20 January 2020).

Given how widely recognised Blue Monday is among the general public, it may come as a surprise to hear that it doesn’t actually exist at all. At least, not in the sense of being a genuine phenomenon where everyone tends to feel at their lowest point of the year. In fact, Blue Monday was the invention of a PR firm working with a travel company, using a questionable formula (including variables such as “time since failing New Year’s resolutions” and “the need to take action”) to sell people holidays.

Despite its unscientific origins, Blue Monday has persisted in the popular imagination, and every year companies run new Blue Monday promotional campaigns. My personal favourite is Star Wars’ 2016 tweet:

So, while 20 January 2020 isn’t the mental health low point it’s portrayed as, it is nonetheless a useful opportunity to take stock of your mental health, and the mental health of your employees and colleagues.

Because of this, we’re adding a new resource to our Mental Health Toolkit. Entitled ‘Why having friends at work matters’, our new resource emphasises the role workplace friends play in supporting employees’ mental health, and encourages employers to consider the ways in which they could make their workplaces more sociable.

Consider looking at how your office is laid out: is there somewhere for people to sit together and eat lunch? Do break out spaces allow for more casual chats? Perhaps look around at the atmosphere in your workplace: are people comfortable to have casual chats with their colleagues?

There’s no reason your mental health would be worse on the 20th than any other day – but it is a good opportunity to take stock. You or the people you work with may be struggling with mental ill-health and having a friendly atmosphere at work could really boost everyone’s wellbeing.

Not only is it Blue Monday, it’s also the start of a fresh decade; and while those things may be social constructs, why not take this opportunity to reappraise how your business is performing at supporting mental wellbeing, while everyone is talking about it? And if you see ways people’s mental wellbeing could be improved, speak up. Make the changes you can and talk to those who can make changes you can’t. Be a voice for positivity in a conversation dominated by cynical opportunism.