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.”

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