“Never underestimate the power of each of us telling our truth.”
This was the rousing call to action of Dr Caroline Casey, Founder of Binc., at Business Disability Forum’s Scottish Conference “Disability in Scotland: exploring identity” on Tuesday 11 December 2018.
Generously supported by the Royal Bank of Scotland, the event was hosted in their Gogarburn Headquarters in Edinburgh and looked at all aspects of identity and disability.
In 2017 Caroline launched #Valuable – a worldwide ‘call to action’ for business to recognise the value and potential of the 1 billion people living with a disability and position disability equally on the global business agenda and at the conference.
Dr Casey announced that Business Disability Forum will partner with her #Valuable campaign – where the mission is to activate the business community to tackle disability exclusion around the world.
Other highlights from the day included:
Duncan Young, Director of Business Communications at RBS said: “We’ve come to realise that if we’re placing customers at the heart of our organisation, then our organisation needs to reflect our customers. So, being diverse and inclusive, reflecting the society in which we operate, is essential. It’s a fairly easy thing to say, but it’s not necessarily an easy thing to properly deliver. That’s why it’s really important that we partner with organisations such as Business Disability Forum.”
“Whether it’s sexual identity, mental health, or disability, we’ve shared some individual stories which have created new levels of awareness among the wider staff population, and which have generated some really inspiring conversations as a result. As a member of staff at RBS, I’m really proud that we’re having these conversations.”
The people behind the job title
Business Disability Forum brought the podcast series ‘The people behind the job title’ live to the stage. The panel was led by Bela Gor, Head of Campaigns and Legal Business Disability Forum with panellists Dr Aurora Constantin, Research Associate at University of Edinburgh, John Brady, Customer Manager at RBS and Caroline Eglinton, Access and Inclusion Manager at Network Rail. Aurora said: “I find you always have to convince people about your abilities. Also, the physical challenges, like the fact that sometimes I encounter problems moving around in my job, it that takes a lot of time to arrange everything, to arrange assistance. These are my main challenges, I think… the procedures are tedious. You have to call, write, e-mails, double check that everything is all right when you travel, when you go somewhere. Not only when you travel long distances. By train or plane, and when I need to move from one building to another, I have to be sure that I have accessibility there. Sometimes the procedure is long and it takes a lot of time to discuss my needs with other people.”
Caroline Eglinton said: “I think the thing that I like most about my job is that I get to impact how things are done across, working with the railway industry, across the whole business. So, it’s about changing things and how disabled people experience things. So, really seeing things change.”
She added: “I think that people who are not disabled sometimes can’t understand how policies and processes and just attitudes can really impact on your access to things. It’s not just about the physical access all the time.”
John Brady mentioned that in 2011, whilst at another firm he developed IBS, and his manager at the time said: “Well, OK, I’m not going to tell HR that you’ve got a medical problem because that could be really bad for your career if that gets out. That was a really interesting reaction.” He added: “It got worse to the point that I was really quite dysfunctional. It took me the best part of three years to really turn that around and figure out how to manage my IBS. Now I have a very restrictive diet, that manages it 95% of the time. But during those three years really my career took a setback. I was demoted. I lost credibility.”
Caroline told the audience after the death of her brother who had Cystic Fibrosis, which she also has, “I thought – this is ridiculous, we are going about in life trying to hide who we are, to suit other people, I suppose, to make not think less of us. And so, after that, I became the chair of the staff networking for disabled people at Network Rail. And I started telling my story. I started formalising my reasonable adjustments, and sharing this story that, just because you have a health condition that is serious, does not mean that you are any less than anybody else and you should really access the adjustments, you need rather than struggling on without them.”
No half measures
In the discussion “No half measures: getting disability monitoring right”
Business Disability Consultants Ruth Fisher and Adrian Ward addressed the role that data collection plays. Adrian stated: “For me, the importance of encouraging people to share information, to be able to collect this data is, to get your benchmark. Know what your current situation looks like. If you are creating the right culture where people feel they can talk and share and have that discussion about their condition, you are more likely to get the best out of that individual because they are able to come to work.”
Scottish Government address
Scottish Government Minister Jamie Hepburn was at the event said: “The Scottish Government will take a leadership role in employing disabled people by introducing a target for the employment of disabled people within the Scottish Government itself. We recognise that we have to ask others to follow and we must demonstrate that leadership ourselves. We will support employers by investing up to £1 million in the formation of a public social partnership, bringing together employers, disabled people’s organisations, the third sector and government to co-produce a range of initiatives piloted to ensure employers are provided with support and expertise that they need to attract, recruit, and retain talented disabled employees. We will improve employers’ ability to hire disabled people by investing 500,000 pounds to develop a pilot aimed at delivering similar support access to work to those on work experience or work trials in this coming financial year.”
Fresh from the fringe
Post-lunch comedian Steve Day, fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe, brought the afternoon to bittersweet tears with his stories of his father who had dementia and his own story of being deaf. He stated: “I’ve got new hearing aids. For years I couldn’t listen to music. But these are digital. These are like having a computer on each ear. What they do, at 50,000 times a second, they re-assess sound, they try to figure out background noise so speech is more comprehensible to me. I’m normally much funnier in my old hearing aids.”
“I can hear stuff that I haven’t heard for years. I could hear birdsong, for the first time in 40 years.”
On the topic of his father, he stated: “But what happened to my dad has taught me this. Make the most of life now. Make it. People make assumptions… Deafness does not define me.”
The reciprocal mentoring panel featured Lynne Highway, HR Director Services and Functions and Jack Farina-Whyman, Reference Data Manger as well as Matt Camichel, Head of Enterprise Solutions and Derek Coughlan, IT Technical Lead. This panel was following on from a career development course held in conjunction with the in-house course Royal Bank of Scotland led in 2017 with help from Business Disability Forum. The group addressed how much each person got out of the scheme. Derek said about Matt: “You’re part of a big organisation and it gave us the opportunity to meet with somebody higher up, not necessarily in your department to give you career coaching and mentoring of what was out there and give you the bigger picture of travel within the bank. One of the first things Matt said, you manage your own career. I was obviously quite interested in assistive technology because I work with it every day. I didn’t realise when I first met Matt he was a sponsor for disability and technology.” Read more about this year’s course and how to apply here.
Being the change you want to see
The panel “Being the change you want to see” was led by Ruth Fisher and the panel was Dr Sally Witcher OBE, Jeremy Balfour MSP and Marsali Craig. Some key points were raised about how disabled people are “many and varied” and how important is to make a job description accessible. Sally said: “You have to be creative about doing, achieving equally good job in a very different way.” Jeremy said: “I remember my father many years ago giving advice to another parent who had a child who had a disability. His advice was – you never take no for your first answer. That is a very helpful narrative to move into that no should never be a blockage. I think we need to challenge it. I think we need to keep challenging society in business. I think we have to hold people to account. I think we have to challenge our politicians in regard to what they do. I think we’ve now reached a stage in my experience that people are now signed up to it.”
Caroline led the closing speech with a passionate conclusion: “I am a disabled person but I’m also a dangerous dreamer. I’m also a crazy maker. I’m also a freedom seeker, I’m also a dancing Queen, I’m also a believer in magic. I’m also a fantastic hugger, I’m a nightmare to live with. I’m really bad in the mornings because I don’t sleep. I will tell you more than anything what I am, I am a really proud person of this 1.3 billion tribe but this inclusion revolution we are in is not about disability. It is about human inclusion, every human being on this planet has a right to belong as who they are, disability needs to be equally, be at the table.” Read more about #Valuable