Technical SwapShop – Can technology help our employees with mental health conditions?

By Dean Haynes

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Our latest Technical SwapShop took place on 21 June, hosted by Taskforce member Deloitte. This session focused on mental health, asking the question: “Can technology help our employees with mental health conditions and if so, how?” Chaired once again by BD F Associate Rick Williams, we looked at how new and existing technology could support staff with mental health conditions, along with hearing three alternative viewpoints on mental health in the workplace – from the employee, the organisation and an expert in the field. Outside the auditorium space, we also had a range of exhibitors, including BDF members iansyst, Microlink and Posturite, showing their products that could assist anyone with their productivity.

Proceedings got underway with a brief introduction from Will Smith, Deloitte’s Talent Partner for Audit, where he announced the upcoming relaunch of Deloitte’s own diversity network Workability that aims to promote education, recruitment and retention of disabled staff throughout the business.

Next to take the stage was Jacqui Crane, who spoke of her own experience with mental health issues, and the coping mechanisms and technology she uses to maintain her wellbeing. After living with depression for the last 7 years, something as simple as a notebook (in a particularly fetching shade of pink) with a to-do list consistently helps Jacqui with the day-to-day. On the more technological side, Jacqui told delegates of three apps she also uses to “gamify” her mental health. Moodscope allows users to track their mood, quantifying it to measure the ups and downs at any given time. Habitica provides the user with a cartoon avatar that gains points and abilities as you tick off daily tasks and habits. Lastly, her Fitbit activity tracker lets Jacqui monitor how much she’s moving about and even tracks her sleep, creating goals through the number of steps you take every day, or the amount of sleep you get every night.

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Our next speaker was Heather Cook, Client Director at Brain in Hand. Heather began by telling the room a surprising stat that 1 in 4 people will suffer from some form of mental health issue at some point in their life, and employers have an obligation to support them. Dubbed “your own personal mental filing cabinet”, Brain in Hand provides users with accessible and personalised support for difficult or potentially stressful situations, letting you create your own suite of solutions to lessen anxiety and get additional support as and when you need it.

John Starling, Partner in Consulting at Deloitte, then spoke to attendees about Deloitte’s own Mental Health Champion Network, of which John is one of over twenty members. While the Network is not filled with experts, each member has their own personal connection to mental health issues, so while they are able to help others access resources and guidance, they are also learning themselves. The activity of the Network is promoted within Deloitte as a means to “[affect] a cultural change supporting a more holistic approach to health and well being”, a tenet that could easily be adopted by other companies.

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Following a brief break where delegates were encouraged to visit the rest of our invited exhibitors, such as Remploy, MatchWare, Notetalker, Skill Boosters and SignVideo, BDF’s Senior Disability Consultant Christopher Watkins gave us an insight into BDF’s mental health e-guidance, designed as a tool to upskill line managers in their interactions with staff with possible mental health issues. Using a statistic from BDF’’s own “State of the Nation” report, where 83% of employers surveyed thought that information about adjustments was easy to find versus only 32% of employees who were very confident of finding this information, the e-guidance comes in three modules covering awareness, having these sensitive and occasionally difficult conversations, and finally making adjustments for colleagues with mental health issues.

Our next speaker was David Banes of David Banes Access, who spoke about the relationship between assistive technology and mental health, and more specifically how technology can simultaneously be a help and a hindrance to people. The “always on” nature of technology and its inherent flexibility has adapted to let people work more effectively, using apps to help us collect our thoughts, proofread our writing and even find our way around but, by the same token, the risk of alienation through technology or even cyberbullying has to be taken into account.

Steve Brownlow of Frabjous Day and Rick Williams of Freeney Williams used our last slot on the agenda to talk about the ongoing findings of the Click-Away Pound survey and BDF’s new Access Pathway service.

The Access Pathway is borne out of the e-Check member benefit, where organisations can receive an expert review of a random sample of websites. Since 2008, over 100 reviews have been carried out, with over 70% revealing accessibility and usability issues. Obviously, these issues can have legal, commercial and PR ramifications so they need to be addressed by organisations. The Click-Away Pound survey has thrown up a number of recurring barriers, such as the use of CAPTCHAs and the incorrect use of colour. The Pathway itself comprises three steps: determining the benchmark of accessibility, planning your pathway to improve accessibility, and finally writing a specification and successfully implementing it. For more information on the Access Pathway, please visit: http://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/advice-and-publications/access-pathway.

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Technology Taskforce Manager Lucy Ruck then took the stage to round up the day’s proceedings, thanking Deloitte for hosting, our speakers for bringing the seemingly-unconnected subjects of accessible technology and mental health to light, and our exhibitors for bringing their wide-ranging products to our delegates’ attention.

You can catch up with the day’s events by searching for the #TTSwapShop hashtag on Twitter.

David Banes of David Banes Access said: “BDF [Technical] SwapShops are more than an exchange of ideas. Each idea, technology and initiative builds upon those of others, offering the potential to create an approach for an organisation where the sum is greater than the parts. Thought provoking and valuable”.

Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays said: “This year’s Technology Swap-shop’s focus on mental health and how technology can both help or hinder was really insightful – with a peppering of personal stories,  practical advice, apps and organisations’ approaches to boost awareness, empathy and understanding. The day was less about taboos and more about tools for an area of assistive tech in its infancy but gaining pace”.

Heather Cook, Director of Client Services at Brain in Hand said: “Brain in Hand [was] delighted to be invited to address the audience at the latest Technical SwapShop. The forum gave us a real opportunity to talk about the benefits that Brain in Hand technology is bringing to hundreds of users who are using our software to move forwards with their lives and achieve improved levels of confidence, self-determination and independence. Mental Health affects one in 4 of us throughout our lives, and with the rapid pace of technology and the way smartphones and apps are being used in everyday life, we genuinely believe that using this new technology to support people with mental health conditions will deliver a paradigm shift in the way that support can be personalised and easily accessed by the user using every day familiar technology”.

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