“Something like 96% of disabilities are not physical and yet there is little understanding of what a non‑visible disability is and how to support someone who has one.”
This was one of the thought-provoking points raised by our CEO Diane Lightfoot at Looking Beyond Labels, an event that was created to help people understand and support those with disabilities which are not visible.
In recent years, progress has been made with regards to a change in attitudes towards mental health conditions in and out of the workplace, but there is still much work to be done.
The event, in May, was hosted at Deloitte, New Street Square, London and sponsored by Matchware and chaired by Bela Gor, Head of Legal and Campaigns at Business Disability Forum.
Topics ranged from mental health to inclusiveness of a broad range of non-visible disabilities.
One of the panelists, Angela Matthews, Advice Service & Policy Manager at Business Disability Forum tackled the question of what being inclusive meant when sharing a non-visible disability: “For me I think being inclusive gives people a choice. I think it is quite easy to assume that being inclusive means everyone talking about their condition… what inclusion is really about is make sure that someone who don’t want to talk about their condition can remain not talking about it and get adjustments and support at the same time.”
Daniel Wiles, keynote speaker for the day, shared his story on his diagnosis of dyslexia as a working adult, stating: “Following [my diagnosis], I had some coaching to help me in my role and that was absolutely fantastic, it really helped my confidence and I introduced strategies of how to organise my thoughts and my work, my thoughts and my work.
“I changed what I wrote, using lots of bullet points. Mind maps to get out my ideas and opinions. I used the ‘read and write’ software and other products available to help check my written work.
“It was a natural progression into a learning and development role where I spend my time now talking to people about disability.”
Conversations about mental health
One of the most powerful points of the day was from Jules Lockett from London Ambulance who said: “Those patients that ring 999 for help, they get the best care. There has been a real cultural change for us to accept that mental health is what we have all experienced. We just don’t like to say those words, ‘mental health…’
“Now [the term] is very common place, [before] people were sort of quite derogatory of people with mental health, ‘oh I have another one of those people on the phone’ and then they would talk about it in the rest and relaxation area. Now we have staff to challenge that and say ‘if you don’t understand that problem then find out before you comment on it’.
“There has been a real shift change for us. But it is about saying to staff, that it is OK to not be OK, and we have, we follow the “are you OK?” campaign, which was initiated in Australia, I changed it into You Matter, for me our staff matter. Sometimes we don’t say that, we can’t go up to somebody and sort of say to them, you know you really do matter, without them saying OK what do you want. I’m not coming in for another shift. But it is trying to say to people we genuinely care, we are a public organisation, we don’t have a lot of money to hold well‑being events. If anyone has followed me or followed some of the Time to Change information, I managed to get Prince Harry, he wrote to me and asked to see what I was doing, and I ranged a whole day on £38.64, so if the NHS want to know how to save money, then I’m the recruit. So, it is really not about thousands of pounds, it is about people’s time, staff want to know they feel valued. Staff, especially when they are in a public organisation just want to know that people value what they are doing, and it is appreciated sometimes. That had a positive impact on their mental health.”
Diane talked about how important it was to make it easier to have conversations about mental health: “…there is undoubtedly many people in this room here today who have a mental health condition or other disability or protected characteristic in this room alone, and I count myself among them.
“How can we change the narrative? It is partly about language, we need to move away, not only from the subconscious language of them and us, I hope it is subconscious, also from the language we often hear about having to declare or disclose disability.
“I often say you would declare or disclose a criminal record or points on your driving license or you are smuggling contraband or spending too much on your tax repurposes, it is immediately a negative perception, it is important to use language that people feel comfortable in telling you they have a disability and asking for the support they need.”
“The other things that occur to me were we see very often that managers are less confident around making adjustments around neurodiversity and mental health conditions than they are with physical disabilities. I think for physical disability the confident people were only about 54% so, the bar isn’t very high, there is a long way to go. Around adjustments we get asked a lot about passports and we are starting to see organisations looking not just at passports within their own organisation, but also where organisations, employees are working on clients premises, making sure they can get that support.”
The event was followed by networking with ran well into a few hours as people keenly talked about how they can put practices in place, the work of Business Disability Forum continues, without labels.
For upcoming events, visit here.