A journey through time… our technology showcase

By Dean Haynes, Business Disability Forum

and Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

On 28 February, delegates descended on Technology Taskforce member PwC’s London office for the latest edition of our annual Technology Showcase, entitled “Disability, identity and technology: A journey through time”.

Sarah Churchman, PwC’s Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer started proceedings with a welcome. As PwC hosted on the day Sarah emphasised why she was happy to host the event: “At the end of the day, at PwC, we want to create an environment in which everyone feels they belong, where they feel empowered to be the best they can be.”

Sarah Churchman, PwC’s Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer

Sarah Churchman, PwC’s Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer

Our very own Lucy Ruck led the day and introduced Paul Smyth of Barclays who took to the stage. While many know Paul and the work he leads on at Barclays as their Head of Digital Access, few know about his personal journey, and how he has been “disabled by technology [and] enabled by technology”.

Paul Smyth of Barclays

Paul Smyth of Barclays

Going from using outdated and cumbersome tech like desk-sized magnifiers and tape recorders(!), Paul worked his way through a business degree and joined Barclays and has recently been named as one of the Government’s newest disability champions. Embracing his difference and disability has shaped his skillset and work ethic, where increasingly inaccessible technology forced him to “be the change he want[ed] to see in the world” and make things better for the next person like him.

Sharing his story he stated: “…My eight‑year‑old self, I could remember like it was yesterday, hearing from the eye doctor that you will lose most if not all of your sight very soon. I remember my eight‑year‑old self, what scared me, it wasn’t the prospect of going blind, it was the prospect of being different. I think maybe my eight‑year‑old self even then understood there are barriers constructed in the world around us and there are barriers that also exist in the mind of others that shape what we can and can’t do, what we can and can’t above, about capability and possibility.”

Elisabeth Ward of Scope then took the opportunity to tell us her story as a congenital amputee, defining herself through other’s perception of “normal”, when technical support only became available when she got to university and her impairment was finally recognised.

Elisabeth Ward from Scope

Elisabeth Ward of Scope

As a child, Elisabeth carried around a booklet explaining why she was different, but she was also determined not to be left behind – and at secondary school the level of understanding was not high: “For example, in PE I struggled to control a hockey stick, and the other students treated me as though this was my fault. I would regularly strain my hand and wrist and the teacher just expected me to get on with it. There was no support to help me find solutions. I never felt like it was okay to say, actually, this isn’t working, I am not like everyone else, and I need it to change.” Overcoming the need to fit into what people expected of her at university and taking advantage of available support let her confidence flourish, which continued as she entered the workplace.

A former boss who likely thought they were doing the right thing unconsciously held Elisabeth back, but assistance from Access to Work changed things dramatically, opening a world of assistive tech like a rollerball mouse and half-keyboard. Working at Scope has encouraged Elisabeth to inspire change from all levels of society and challenge stigmas so that we can all keep learning to provide accessible solutions for everyone. She said: “ I can now stand up in a room full of strangers and openly and proudly say, hey look, I am disabled, I’m missing a hand and this makes me different. Even when I go outside, I no longer have to compartmentalise that part of me. It feels like a whole new world, one where I’m not the problem; it’s society that needs to change.”

James Hallam, Controls Assurance at PwC, making an entrance on his electric-assisted handcycle at the event

James Hallam, Controls Assurance at PwC, making an entrance on his electric-assisted handcycle

Our third and final speaker was James Hallam, Controls Assurance at PwC, who made quite the entrance on his electric-assisted handcycle and told those in attendance about his Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) handcycle, that has given James the power to use his legs again.

After a cycling accident back in 1996, James’ positivity led him to not ask people for help; travelling across London and using the tube in a wheelchair soon put paid to that! James added that while it’s about you and your approach to the world, but it’s also about how the world approaches you. What was initially diagnosed as a muscle strain but turned out to be a nearly life-threatening broken leg led to James paying more attention to his lower body, and finally starting to use a FES handcycle that enabled him to make his leg muscles work after over twenty years. James then spoke about his own depression, which was assumed had stemmed from his injury, but in fact was caused by something far more innocuous. In the same way that asking for help with a physical disability needs to have the stigma taken away from it, the same needs to be said for people’s mental wellbeing. He stated: “..you can get quite stigmatised or defined by your chair, or your sight or whatever you can’t do, and people don’t necessarily see what you can do. I think that’s a real shame.”

Lucy Ruck

Lucy Ruck

Following a panel discussion with our speakers and host Lucy, making use of the interactive platform Slido, delegates were able to engage with the following tech exhibitors:

Texthelp – helping everyone read, write and communicate with clarity.

PWC Disability, Ability and Wellbeing Network.

Posturite – ergonomic suppliers and service providers.

MyClearText – on-site and remote speech-to-text reporting.

Microsoft – empower every organisation to achieve more.

Microlink – leaders in the field of assistive technology.

Iansyst – assistive technology specialists.

Bennett workplace – workplace & ergonomic solutions.

One of the audience stated: “[We heard] really great stories from the speakers, they demonstrated the success assistive technology has had on their lives. They served as great role models for how with support, grit and the right tools, disability dissolves and ability thrives.”

To find out more about our events, visit here

The great big workplace adjustments survey: now open!

By Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Advice

Reasonable adjustments. Workplace Adjustments. Workplace support. Supporting you at work. Working in a different way. Being you.

All are terms commonly used by organisations to describe how they remove barriers for employees at work. The language is important. The process behind the language is even more important. But getting experience of both right is crucial.

It’s crucial for a number of reasons. At legal compliance level, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where they know or could reasonably be expected to know that an employee has a disability or long-term condition. At good practice level, employers want to ensure all employees can work in a different way whether or not the employee says they have a disability or condition. At leading practice level, workplace campaigns and communications focus on how enabling employees to work in different ways is integral to workplace diversity and allowing people to simply ‘be themselves’.

Male colleagues discussing using a tablet

Here at Business Disability Forum, our advisers advise people managers and departmental leaders every day on adjustments policies and related employee caseloads. Many of our consultants are commissioned to work with businesses on improving their adjustments processes; and almost all of our policy work comes back to how Government, employers, and public life in general removes barriers for individuals. Get a service provider’s or employer’s workplace adjustments processes robustly designed and defined in a way that suits who the business are, how they work, and what they need, and that organisation is well on its way to delivering an inclusive pan-diversity employee experience that meets the needs of every single employee, whatever they are going through in their lives, and at whatever stage in their career.

Yet, anyone keeping an eye on HR press or employment case law can see the adjustments processes employers have and continue to invest in are continuing to fail them and cost them greatly – both financially and reputationally.

And so we want to find out what works, what doesn’t, what managers love, and what employees loathe. This is why we have released The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey which will grasp a picture of how both employees and managers across the UK feel about adjustments, how they are discussed in the workplace, how effective they are, and how far everyone who needs adjustments actually have them in place.

Whether you are an employee, a manager, or someone else managing people and processes in your organisation, we are asking you to share your experiences of requesting and getting adjustments, or arranging and providing them for the people you manage.

You can complete the survey here.

Please share it with your colleagues, managers, and employee networks. The survey closes on Monday 8 April 2019 at 8am. Please do get in touch if you would like to complete the survey in a different way (email: policy@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk).

We’re looking forward to hearing what adjustments in an ever changing workforce are helping and hindering you, your managers, and your leaders to do and to be.

Why being disability-smart means delivering for every customer

Welcoming disabled customers guide and a Legoland coaster

Welcoming disabled customers guide

By Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

The most successful businesses are known not just for their products or services or their competitiveness on price but for their customer service – and this means excellent customer service for every customer.

But disabled consumers far too often still experience poor customer service. This usually isn’t because businesses don’t want disabled customers or even that customer facing staff don’t want to serve disabled customers, but is often because of fear; fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and giving offence which means that customer facing staff too often say or do nothing.

The good news is that businesses who instill the confidence in their people to be “disability smart” and to ask how to best serve all their customers stand to reap considerable business benefits.

Back in 2014, the Extra Costs Commission 2014 asked 2,500 disabled people whether they had left a shop or business because of poor disability awareness or understanding and 75% said that they had. This figure rises to around 80% for people with a memory impairment, autism or a learning disability. Within that 75% headline figure, seven out of ten (70%) had left a high street shop, half (50%) had left a restaurant, pub or club, and a quarter (27%) had left a supermarket.

As well as being the wrong thing ethically and morally, it also makes no sense for businesses, financially. The spending power of disabled people and their friends and families – also known as the Purple Pound – is huge and currently estimated at £249bn per year in the UK alone. And from that same survey, the Extra Costs Commission estimated that the 8.4 million people in the UK who “walk away” were losing British Business around £1.8 billion per month. It’s not just about disabled people either; Millennials – and all of us – are increasingly making ethical and values-based choices on where we spend our time and money. So, I believe that getting it right and providing brilliant service for disabled customers can actually become a USP.

The encouraging news is that businesses are finally waking up to this. The #Valuable campaign and the launch of the #Valuable500 at the World Economic Forum in January this year is all about the power of disability at brand level and the importance of including disabled people in products and services, right from the design stage. #Valuable500 aims to get disability on the agenda at board level in 500 – or more! – global companies and Virgin Media, Unilever, Microsoft and Barclays have already signed up. So how can you follow in their footsteps?

Just last week, with the support of our Member Merlin Entertainments plc, we were delighted to launch our new ‘Welcoming Disabled Customers’ guide at Legoland Windsor, to help every business provide brilliant service to disabled customers. Designed as a simple reference tool, it aims to give confidence to customer-facing staff with really practical and simple hints and tips.

Diane and a Lego model

Diane Lightfoot (right) and a Lego model

It’s split into sections so that it’s easily digestible and can be used as a quick reference guide when needed. It starts with practical tips on how to support customers with different types of impairments, for example, how best to guide a customer with a visual impairment up or down stairs, plus helpful information on etiquette, for example, that someone’s wheelchair is part of their personal space.

As anyone who has heard me speak knows (!), one of the stats I like to use is that over 90% of disabilities are not immediately visible. So, it’s likely that for a large proportion of the time, customer facing staff may not know that a customer is disabled. So, the second part of the guide gives general advice and things to think about and to be aware of, like being clear when communicating, not using confusing language or simply taking time to ask what someone needs: “how can I help you?” really can go a long way! In this way, we hope that the guide will have the added benefit of making customer facing colleagues better at serving every customer because if you can get it right for disabled customers you get it right for everyone.

Legoland Hotel, Windsor

Legoland Hotel, Windsor

It was great to see this ethos put into practice at our Legoland launch where the commitment to getting it right for disabled customers was obvious in every staff member. We heard some really moving stories from parents whose disabled child had been able to be “just another child” in their experience of Legoland and from the Legoland team whose passion for opening up as many attractions to as many people as possible was so apparent. We had the privilege of seeing not only the different options for accessible bedrooms in the hotel – we visited the “adventure” themed floor and it was great to see the different options available – as well as surely the funkiest Changing Places toilet ever and a very peaceful and beautiful sensory centre to enable everyone to enjoy the delights of Denmark’s greatest export (it’s something to build on). The fun setting (yes, we all had our photo taken with Lego sculptures and more!) didn’t detract from the fact that Merlin Entertainments plc are very keen to keep on improving in taking customer service for people with all kinds of conditions and disabilities seriously.

With World Consumer Rights Day on Friday (15 March) and Disability Access Day on Saturday (16 March), the spotlight is firmly on customer service delivery, this week. But, let’s ensure that it doesn’t stop there. Meeting the needs of all customers is something which businesses should be doing every day of the year. If you would like to know more, then why not get in touch to find out how we can help?

To learn more about being disability-smart, contact our membership team

Email David Goodchild, our Executive Director of Membership & Business Development

Diane Lightfoot

CEO, Business Disability Forum

“Sous le ciel de Paris” – working together towards a Disability-Smart world

By Delphine Leveneur, Business Disability forum

[Article first published on LinkedIn]

group photo of all European and Canadian attendees posing with organisers from the French Ministry of Justice

European and Canadian attendees posing in a group photo with organisers from the French Ministry of Justice

Like in the famous song, last week saw me strolling ‘sous le ciel de Paris’ (under Paris’ sky) to speak at a European conference on disability at work.

This event, organised and hosted by the French Ministry of Justice (Ministère de la Justice), was an opportunity for experts from Canada, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and the UK to exchange with guests and staff from the French ministry of Justice on good practices in Europe and beyond.

Photo of Nicole Belloubet, French Ministry of Justice

Nicole Belloubet, French Ministry of Justice, opened the conference on Thursday

The French Justice Minister, Nicole Belloubet, opened the conference by reminding the audience that disability is a priority for the [French] government”. She outlined that the French ministry of Justice continues its work to improve inclusion of disabled staff, taking concrete actions such as increasing links with universities to facilitate the transition from higher education to employment. She also mentioned workplace adjustment process, manager and staff training as well as digital accessibility as areas that are being looked at for improvement.

Over the course of two days, we heard about new and innovative steps taken in France around inclusion of disabled people in the workplace. I will write a separate article focusing on the changes to French legislation and French initiatives in the upcoming weeks.

Photo of Sir Philip Rutnam speaking. Also on the photo: Malin Ekman Alden (Sweden), Robin Baltes (Germany) and N. Saussure (France)

Sir Philip Rutnam, UK Civil Service Disability Champion speaks. Also on the photo: Malin Ekman Alden (Sweden), Robin Baltes (Germany) and N. Saussure (France)

Sir Philip Rutnam, UK Civil Service Disability Champion shared great insight on the work done in the UK, particularly around the Fast Stream program, a graduate leadership development programme and around and around the UK government Disability Confident scheme, which “supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to your workplace”.

Photo of Peter Mozet (Germany)

Peter Mozet (Germany) shares the work accomplished by the German federal government around disability inclusion

Amongst all the good practices shared, we also heard about the quota system in Germany and how there, disabled staff in the public sector elect a representative who can (amongst many other things) attend disabled candidates’ interviews to ensure the process is fair. I very much liked this democratic process!

The conference’s special guest Yazmine Laroche, Deputy Minister, Public Service Accessibility, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, shared exciting news from Canada. Their C-81 Accessibility Act is currently being reviewed by the Canadian Senate. This new piece of legislation, follows a consultation open to all Canadians and looks at areas including :

  • built environments;
  • employment;
  • information and communication technologies;
  • procurement of goods and services;
  • delivering programs and services;
  • and transportation.

Canada being a federal country, this Act would only apply to organisations under federal responsibility.

I’ve always believed that there is no border when talking about disability (or any other diversity and inclusion topic for that matter). There is much to learn when looking beyond our own country. If proof was needed, not surprisingly, the themes that were mentioned during the conferences mentioned are similar to the ones we hear about in the UK, amongst which were:

  • the need for senior leaders to champion the topic;
  • issues around career progression and representation of disabled people in senior leadership;
  • training of line managers;
  • thinking about disability inclusion at the beginning of any discussion to avoid retrofitting.
  • access to employment – including transition from education.
Photo of Yazmine Laroche and Delphine Leveneur on stage. A French Sign Language interpreter is working on the side

Yazmine Laroche shares insight from Canada

In her closing remarks, Yazmine Laroche reminded attendees that although countries will adopt different approaches to disability inclusion, in every part of society including employment, reflecting our own ways and our culture, people with disabilities need to be included every step of the way.

And that for me is the most important message that was shared with all attendees during these two days. Disability is not just a topic that should be discussed on occasion then forgotten for another year. It has to be included in every aspect of a business if we truly want to build an inclusive workplace and society.

Join the Valuable 500 and make 2019 the year of the inclusion revolution

By Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum

“This is the inclusion revolution, right here and right now.” Challenging words spoken by the amazing Dr Caroline Casey, founder of #Valuable, at Business Disability Forum’s Scottish Conference, back in December.

Dr Caroline Casey on stage

Dr Caroline Casey CEO, Binc

If you have been working in the disability space for any length of time, it can be easy to become despondent, and wonder if the change that we have all been calling for and working towards for so many years will ever happen. The global disability employment gap is wider now than it was in 2010, for example. And too many big businesses which talk the language of diversity, fail to include disability.

This makes no sense when you consider that disability is the one characteristic which can and does – and will – affect us all. And yet it is too often the Cinderella of the diversity world.

But last week something amazing did happen. For the first time ever, disability inclusion took centre stage at the most influential global event in the world.

The World Economic Forum four-day annual conference in Davos brings together leading figures from business and politics to discuss issues of global importance. Usual topics on the agenda include security and the economy, and, more recently, the environment and the gender pay gap, but never the value of the 1.3 billion people living in the world with a disability. Until now.

Thanks to the incredible and visionary leadership of Dr Caroline Casey, for the first time in the Forum’s history, disability was a main stage event. It is hard to overstate what a big deal that is. The buzz started towards the beginning of the week and by the time Caroline took to the main stage on Thursday, joined by CEOs and global business leaders, including former CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, it felt as though something was really happening.

They highlighted the actions that global organisations can take to become “the tipping-point for change” and to “unlock the business, social and economic value of people living with disabilities across the world”.

I am proud to say that Business Disability Forum Partners and Members, Unilever, Microsoft, Barclays, Fujitsu and Accenture, were among the first businesses to sign up to become part of the Valuable 500 – a growing cohort of businesses who are committed to putting disability on the agenda at the highest global level.

Valuable log - black stripe and an orange heartThe Valuable 500 is calling on global organisations to commit to putting disability on their board agendas in 2019, with recent research by Business Disability Forum Partner, EY, showing that over half of global senior executives, rarely or never discuss disability on leadership agendas.


I said earlier in this blog that too often disability is the Cinderella of the diversity world. And a brilliant new film created by AMV, DIVERSISH, launched at the conference in Davos, makes this point brilliantly. It shows that many businesses may call themselves diverse yet overlook disability in their definition of diversity. They are as the film says, diversish. You can see the film here:

So what now? How can we ensure that the historic events of Davos turn into the longer-term inclusion revolution we have all hoped for?

As an expert partner of the Valuable 500, Business Disability Forum will be among organisations ready to provide practical resources and advice on how they can bring about meaningful, top-down and embedded change within their organisations, during 2019 and beyond. It’s an opportunity and challenge which we relish.

But this change can only happen if more global businesses follow the example set by Unilever, Microsoft, Barclays, Fujitsu and Accenture, and sign up to the Valuable 500 pledge.

As Sir Richard Branson says, “Stand up as allies for change. Consider how you can improve your disability performance and commit to unlocking the value of over 1.3 billion disabled people and families across the world.”

You can find out more and apply to be a Valuable 500 business at thevaluable500.com.

Let’s make sure that this is only the start of the inclusion revolution that we and so many others in this space have been seeking for so long.

Disability, identity and technology: A journey through time

45408321 - technology.

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

Our annual technology showcase for 2019 entitled ‘Disability, identity and technology’ is in a few weeks and we will be looking at the concepts of ‘identity’ and ‘going places’ through the lens of technology.

We will be bringing a number of organisations together to showcase fresh and innovative technologies which will help make your business disability-smart. Whether it’s at work, at events or at home, these companies will have something for you. Alongside this exciting exhibition you will also get to:

  • Take part in discussions about where technology has really made an impact and where it still has some way to go.
  • Join in our talks about career progression and travel for people with disabilities.

Paul SmythWe are delighted to announce that our first speaker will be Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility at Barclays (pictured right) who will provide a personal perspective of working with a disability.

Paul will share his own journey of disability and getting into his career at Barclays as a visually impaired accessibility leader and disability champion. Be prepared for stories of ‘turning heads’ and taking the long way around in getting a job, forging a career and in his own words “leveraging ‘whizzy’ technology and applying a resilient mindset”.

We are also delighted to welcome James Hallam, Senior Manager in the London Top Tier Controls team at PwC.

James will be sharing his personal story of how he uses tools and technology to enable him to get to work and do his job. He also talks about how this changes over time, often leading to interesting challenges and opportunities, sometimes via unusual routes!

Our exhibitors include:

To find out more and to sign up to attend, please visit the page here

Welcome to 2019!

By Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum

Happy New Year! I hope this finds you well and rested from the festive break.

I wanted to kick off the year with a round-up of what we’ve been up to – with your support – in the past year, and to let you know what’s coming up in 2019.

A photo of Diane Lightfoot in front of a window

Diane Lightfoot

2018 was a year of some great events: we began with our President’s Group Reception in February, hosted by our Member the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in their wonderful Locarno Suite, and supported by our brand new Partner, Sopra Steria Recruitment. Hot on its heels came our Annual Conference ‘Disability in the Modern Workplace’, supported by our Partner HSBC where we debated everything from career development to the future of work and the role of technology within it, swiftly followed by our Film Festival, supported by our Founder Leader Barclays and once again hosted by our Partner KPMG where we saw some amazing films on our theme of Going Places.

A picture of a director's chair

Our annual Film Festival, hosted by KPMG and sponsored by Barclays

Even hotter on its heels (literally; it was the hottest day of the year though that is hard to imagine on a cold grey January day!) came our summer Partner Reception, hosted by our Partner RBS, and themed around our “Identity” campaign. Our guests really enjoyed the breath-taking indoor garden and the opportunity to explore the theme of identity with our resident silhouette artist!

An indoor tree with people around it at the Partner Group Reception
Partner Group Reception

Then, in the autumn weeks, we returned to the fabulous Locarno Suite at the FCO for our Disability Smart Awards, supported by our Founder Leader, Barclays, and co-hosted by Paralympian and celebrity MasterChef finalist Stef Reid. I am also delighted to announce that Barclays will also be sponsoring the 2019 Awards so watch this space for more information on the Awards to enter this year and the opening date for entries.

Locarno Suite, an audience faces Paulette Cohen from Barclays

Disability Smart Awards 2018 at Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We finished the year by returning to RBS – this time in Scotland – in December for our Annual Scottish Conference, on the theme of Identity. Our packed programme included the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn MSP, Deaf comedian Steve Day – fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe, and the incredible Dr Caroline Casey, founder of the #Valuable campaign, which we are delighted to be working with as an Expert Partner by providing practical support and advice to businesses which sign up.

Dr Caroline Casey on stage

Dr Caroline Casey CEO, Binc

Our global activity went up a gear too with the launch of our new Global Taskforce co-chaired by our Partner Shell and the creation of our new Business Disability Framework which we launched at the DfID summit in July together with our Partner PWC and which I presented the new Global framework at the ILO’s annual Global Business Disability Network conference in October.

We engaged in a huge range of policy and influencing work, including not only responding to consultations (8 in 2018 with another 7 already in the pipeline for January) but being specifically invited to contribute to the Work and Pensions Committee’s targeted call for evidence on the Disability Employment Gap and the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s inquiry into poverty and human rights in the UK. We have also engaged with the Work and Health Unit and with the Lord Holmes Review of Public Sector Appointments – in which our submission was quoted nine times! – and will be continuing this work in 2019. As always, our policy positions and insight are shaped by the experiences of our Partners and Members and so our huge thanks for sharing your insights with us to help inform our responses.

Closer to home, we carried out a programme of in-depth interviews with our Members and Partners which has provided some rich and very helpful insights on how we work with you. We will be using this insight to shape and relaunch our offer later this year and I will be writing again shortly with a themed series on your feedback and what we are doing as a result.

So, what’s coming up in 2019?

We kick off the year with the launch of some brand new resources: five new impairment-specific briefings, sponsored by our Partner HSBC and covering (respectively): Asthma, HIV and AIDS, Muscular Skeletal conditions, Bowel conditions and Epilepsy. We will also be launching two other brand new guides: ‘Welcoming Disabled Customers’, sponsored by our Member Merlin, and ‘Making Meetings Matter’.

And a few more meeting/event dates for your diaries:

It’s already shaping up to be a really exciting year and I look forward to working with you all as we join together to create a truly #DisabilitySmartWorld.

Best wishes and happy new year!

Diane

happy new year 2019