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.

Why raising awareness about mental health is only the first step

By Samuel Buckley

It’s World Mental Health Day today (10 October). It’s also at least the tenth mental health awareness day of the year so far, in a calendar that kicks off with ‘Blue Monday’ in January.

This is not a bad thing. Clearly there’s a real appetite for greater understanding of mental health conditions and challenging preconceptions and stigma. And maybe even more so this year it feels timely to devote days to talking about mental health: in 2017 we have seen Prince Harry and Prince William work hard to open up the conversation, taking bold steps in sharing personal experiences. Celebrities like Cara Delevigne, Kanye West, Gabby Logan and Ryan Giggs have all been vocal in the last couple of years either about past experiences or about managing present conditions.

Colleagues holding a meetingBut what do all these awareness days mean for employers?

First and foremost, the challenge is to make sure awareness raising and stigma-busting is backed by action.

Awareness-raising needs to be where employers start. It cannot be a goal in itself – it has to be a treated as a step towards achieving lasting change further down the line. There is no use in talking positively about mental health and encouraging openness, for instance, if there is no day-to-day support for workers, or managers who are well-equipped to help staff who experience mental ill-health. Even worse, calling for greater openness or awareness around mental health at work may, in some workplaces, only serve to highlight the fact that practical support is not there.

Cisco logoWe saw a great example of how mental health awareness can feed into action and building capability when Heather Carey, Account Manager at Cisco, shared her own story of living with anxiety to push for greater awareness in her workplace, but then ensured that Cisco followed this with action.

Heather launched a campaign to raise awareness of how stress and work pressures can impact on mental health and how the business could support employees’ wellbeing, before leading the training of 21 volunteers who are specially equipped to provide mental health support across Cisco.

By the end of 2016, this network of volunteers were able to provide support across all 17 of Cisco’s sites in the UK and Ireland, while many more employees joined a company-wide support network for wellbeing and mental health.

This success illustrates what we should aim to achieve with raising awareness of mental health conditions and how they may or may not affect employees at work. When awareness-raising spurs action and practical steps to support employees, the results can be dramatic and hugely rewarding. But this means awareness-raising cannot be the end point – it has to be a start.

Our latest podcast, ‘Mental Health At Work’ released to coincide with World Mental Health Day today (10 October) features our experts Christopher Watkins and Angela Matthews discussing mental health in the workplace as well as their own experiences. You can listen now on our website.

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Where we go wrong when we talk about dyslexia

Colleagues in a meeting

By Sam Buckley

This Dyslexia Awareness Week (2 October – 7 October) the most useful action for employers to take might be to avoid concentrating on dyslexia itself.

As with other conditions, it’s far more useful to explore how an employee can be enabled to interview or complete their job to the best of their ability than to focus on specific conditions or symptoms.

There are many preconceptions around dyslexia that need to be challenged if employers hope to recruit and retain a diverse pool of talented workers. Interestingly, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity’s list of myths associated with the condition could just as easily read as a list of misconceptions that would be barriers to someone with dyslexia in the workplace.

These myths include:

  • That dyslexia is a visual problem
  • That people with dyslexia are unable to read
  • That dyslexia limits academic performance

Man working on a computer at a desk

Assumptions that dyslexia is linked to visual problems, being unable to read, and intelligence have all been proven to be false.  Instead, there are a very wide range of traits associated with dyslexia that vary from person to person. In many people, the condition is not apparent, and may not affect the way a colleague works in any noticeable way or at all.

The best approach, then, is not to focus on the condition but the person, equipping employees and job candidates to perform at their best. Being open to adjusting various aspects either of recruitment and interview processes or the way an employee works means being open to the widest, most diverse range of talented people. It also means removing barriers for every person within this wide talent pool, whether they have a disability or long-term condition or not.

Indeed, a lot of the work we’ve done recently, such as the ‘Square holes for square pegs’ model on autism and neurodiverse conditions written by our Disability Trainer Daniel Wiles, is about making minor changes to workplaces and processes that play directly to the strengths of a diverse workforce. Specifically, this is about acknowledging that conditions such as dyslexia can present unique personal strengths – it’s just about approaching these conditions in the right way.

You can find out more about how workplace adjustments can help colleagues with various conditions in our podcast with Dr Nasser Siabi of Microlink or in our featured article by Nuance Communications on how speech-to-text software helps various employees.

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Learning disability – the hidden employment gap and how we can close it

Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive, Business Disability Forum

At Business Disability Forum we talk a lot about the disability employment gap. Approximately 47% disabled adults of working age are in employment as compared to 80% of non-disabled people. However, those statistics conceal the further and enormous gap when it comes to the employment of people with learning disabilities, which is estimated at less than 6% of those known to local authorities.

It’s a figure which hasn’t moved in more than 20 years – except to go down a percentage point over the last 12 months. And yet numerous studies show that most people with a learning disability want to work. So what’s going wrong? And what can employers do about it?

It’s a subject dear to my heart; before joining Business Disability Forum I spent 13 years at learning disability charity United Response where I saw time and time again the hugely transformational effect that getting a job – often for the first time – can have for a person with a learning disability. It’s not just income; the benefits of working – if it’s good work – include gains in confidence, social networks, health and wellbeing. It also helps to keep people safe; the sad fact remains that people with learning disabilities are often vulnerable to bullying and harassment and having a natural “circle of support” – by being visible in the community and having people who look out for you – is another important benefit of the workplace.

 So what do we mean by a learning disability?

According to the charity Mencap, 1 in 50 people in the UK have a learning disability. Mencap’s definition of learning disability is “a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life”.  Within that description though, there is a very broad spectrum from mild learning disability which may mean someone needs help with budgeting, paying bills, travel or a complex and severe learning disability with multiple and complex disabilities.

 What are the barriers – and what can we do about them?

Supermarket worker assisting a customerRecruitment and indeed attraction can be a big barrier so changing processes and/or being flexible in how someone can apply for a job can make a real difference. That could mean changing what you ask for in person specifications, making sure that only really essential criteria are included and being open to alternative ways of a candidate demonstrate this rather than insisting on prior work experience or academic qualifications. The application process itself can also be a barrier so being flexible on how to apply – giving options other than an online portal for example, and making sure any portal you have is accessible. Many people with a learning disability may not have a traditional CV so allowing people to demonstrate or evidence their skills in a different way can really help.

It could be changing how you interview. Many people find panel interviews intimidating but for some people with learning disabilities they can not only be a complete barrier but also fail to test the skills that will actually be needed in the job. A working interview – also called the “place and train” model – where someone has the opportunity to show that they can do the job, rather than being asked to talk about it, has been proven time and time again to be the most effective way of supporting people with a learning disability into work.

It’s absolutely crucial though that it’s a genuine placement – with a real opportunity of paid work at the end of it – and not just unpaid work.

Once in the job, training and induction is really important, with support provided – either a paid support worker or an in house “buddy” to help the person learn the job. Approaches such as TSI – Training in Systematic Instruction – can be really helpful in breaking a job down into its component parts and teaching these in a clear and consistent order. Bearing in mind that most learning disabilities are not visible, a Disability Smart employer will also be attuned to the fact that someone has a learning disability and to consider this first in addressing any difficulties with e.g. performance or timekeeping; it may well be that the employee has not understood what is expected of them and so the initial induction and ongoing line manager relationship is key. Simple good practice like providing information in easy read format (simple text supported by relevant pictures) can also make a real difference.

Why does it matter?

Visitor arriving at reception of an officeWell firstly, a person with a learning disability could be the best person for the job! There are lots of examples of people being really well matched to jobs that that employers have struggled to fill and doing them really well. There is also the documented effect on staff morale – numerous employers come back and say what a hugely positive impact it’s had when they’ve employed someone with a learning disability. One study showed that 72.2% of employers regarded the impact on company morale as an important factor in deciding to employ people with a learning disability. 97% of employers said they were likely to hire this group again. Business Disability Forum Member National Grid runs a supported internship EmployAbility Programme for young people with a learning disability. They found hugely positive outcomes not just for the young people who took part but also for their staff who took new pride in their jobs as a result of teaching them to others.

The hard stats support the business case too. One study revealed that people with a learning disability stay in their jobs 3.5 times longer than their co-workers (though it’s important to remember that in some cases that could be around a lack of opportunities to move on). The same study showed lower costs around sickness absence and reliability.

There’s lots of support out there to help employers.

We at Business Disability Forum have just updated and refreshed our Briefing on learning disability which is free to Partners and discounted to members – if you like a copy, please get in touch with us by emailing membership@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk.

You can hear my podcast on learning disability here

You can read a piece I contributed to in the Guardian here

I’ll also be speaking at a Fringe event at Conservative party conference on Tuesday 3 October, alongside United Response, Channel 4’s Health and Social Care Correspondent Victoria MacDonald and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Learning Disability, Mark Harper MP. It’s at 4pm in the Midland Hotel. Do come and join us if you are there.