Most people can vaguely recall having heard about a day of the year when everyone’s mental health is at its worst, and may even know that it’s in January. Many people may even be able to tell you when it falls: the third Monday of January. This year, that is today (20 January 2020).
Given how widely recognised Blue Monday is among the general public, it may come as a surprise to hear that it doesn’t actually exist at all. At least, not in the sense of being a genuine phenomenon where everyone tends to feel at their lowest point of the year. In fact, Blue Monday was the invention of a PR firm working with a travel company, using a questionable formula (including variables such as “time since failing New Year’s resolutions” and “the need to take action”) to sell people holidays.
Despite its unscientific origins, Blue Monday has persisted in the popular imagination, and every year companies run new Blue Monday promotional campaigns. My personal favourite is Star Wars’ 2016 tweet:
So, while 20 January 2020 isn’t the mental health low point it’s portrayed as, it is nonetheless a useful opportunity to take stock of your mental health, and the mental health of your employees and colleagues.
Consider looking at how your office is laid out: is there somewhere for people to sit together and eat lunch? Do break out spaces allow for more casual chats? Perhaps look around at the atmosphere in your workplace: are people comfortable to have casual chats with their colleagues?
There’s no reason your mental health would be worse on the 20th than any other day – but it is a good opportunity to take stock. You or the people you work with may be struggling with mental ill-health and having a friendly atmosphere at work could really boost everyone’s wellbeing.
Not only is it Blue Monday, it’s also the start of a fresh decade; and while those things may be social constructs, why not take this opportunity to reappraise how your business is performing at supporting mental wellbeing, while everyone is talking about it? And if you see ways people’s mental wellbeing could be improved, speak up. Make the changes you can and talk to those who can make changes you can’t. Be a voice for positivity in a conversation dominated by cynical opportunism.
It would be great if it was, and in so many ways, it really should be. There are more resources, groups and information available than ever before. The business case (and I struggle with that, because why should we need a business case to employ and provided services to people with disabilities and long term health conditions? I’ve never been asked for a business case to employ men) is stronger than ever, with more and more research on how organisations are losing out by not making their products and services available to everyone.
In my role as Taskforce Manager for Business Disability Forum, I find myself speaking to a new contact most weeks about the work that we do. In nearly six years of this, I have yet to find someone who didn’t agree that we should be doing more. So why is this proving such a challenge?
I think that people often want me to deliver ‘magic accessibility pixies’ to them, who will sweep in, waving their wands over all your inaccessible systems and as if by magic – they’re all sorted! I do love magic pixies, but they just don’t exist. It’s like most things in life, if you want something done, you need to work hard at it, have a focus and you will achieve your goals.
Where do you get started with trying to address your organisation’s accessibility issues and how do you know what the issues are? Funnily enough, Business Disability Forum has an amazing tool, called the Accessibility Maturity Model (AMM) and it’s free for anyone to use. The AMM is a self-assessment tool that helps you to look at the tech you have in place and assess how you think about inclusion. It will help you to prioritise what you need to do next and generally give you a focus.
In my experience, I have found that many people who work in digital accessibility, it can be quite an isolating role. More often than not, it’s added to an existing role, so they don’t have dedicated time and resources to really make an impact. But things are changing. I used to only know two or three organisations that had dedicated accessibility colleagues, and I can now think of about 10 different organisations that have a lead full-time post on digital accessibility.
Make it one of your new year’s resolutions to just think about accessibility more: How will our product or service work better if we think about inclusion?; How can we embed this within our tech departments, and more broadly across our organisations?
So, is 2020 the year of accessibility? Maybe. If we keep spreading the word and keep on with the hard work it really could be. We are certainly on the cusp of something great.
Yesterday (19 December 2019), the Queen addressed Parliament to deliver her 2019 speech. Angela Matthews, our Head of Policy, looks at the disability and business-related elements of what she promises her Government will deliver
Leaving the EU and trade agreements
Leaving the European Union (EU) on 31 January is a priority. After this date, global trade agreements will commence. Business Disability Forum has worked hard to provide evidence for why the Government must expand its international trade agreement procedures to ensure the impact on accessibility and disability inclusion is not forgotten or disregarded during such decisions. The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has recommended such to Parliament (Business Disability Forum made this recommendation during the Committee’s call for written evidence on the issue earlier this year). Our policy team will be monitoring how far this recommendation becomes a reality embedded into the heart of the Government trade agreement decision-making processes. The Queen promised in her speech that the “integrity and prosperity of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance to my Government”. Developing more equality-conscious procedures in our global economic decision-making is a great, hugely impactful way for the Government to live up to this.
The Queen also promises that the Government will “deliver on the people’s priorities”. The topic that follows is, of course, the NHS. The NHS is crucial to supporting and maintaining our everyday general health; but for very many employees, is it the system that supports their condition so that that can stay in work. As the Improving lives strategy brings the health and work settings ever closer together, never has it been clearer that for many, many employees, the NHS is a huge part of their lives that they rely on (for example ongoing treatment and rehabilitation which allows them to be well as they stay in and develop at work). For this reason alone (and many others), there will be a ‘sigh of relief’ that hospital charges will be removed “for those in greatest need”. Who those in “greatest need” are, we are yet to see. Many carers and people receiving treatment often need to be parked at hospitals for a day at a time as visits and treatment cycles and appointments can be lengthy. The financial impact of just parking in the place someone needs to be for their or someone else’s disability or condition can be immense.
“Measures will be brought forward to encourage flexible working” will be welcomed by many. Our policy and advice teams still see that one of the top three adjustments employees with disabilities and long-term conditions say helps them stay employed is their employer’s flexible working culture. For this reason (and others), we have seen many more of our membership organisations revise their flexible working policy for all staff, and for flexible working to be introduced into workplace adjustment policies. Alongside this, the Queen also reminds us that there will be new measures to allow greater leave entitlement to unpaid carers, who are the somewhat ‘silent backbone’ supporting the social care system at present. Without supportive carer policies, we hear of employees with caring responsibilities often care for a relative, partner or neighbour, which can have an impact on their own physical and mental energy levels, and while coming into work and trying to be productive. Measures to support the millions of unpaid carers in our economy are not just welcome, but crucial.
We are promised that “every child has access to high quality education”. The promise of increased skills development and better education opportunities was a feature of many pre-election manifestos. We cannot emphasise enough that “high quality” must necessarily include accessible and inclusive (a topic we asked for action on in our recent manifesto), which many learning formats, programmes and qualification structures are currently not. And this must include people with disabilities at all ages. We know that not everyone is ready for (or wants to be) learning and taking part in non-mandatory education at the same age and time as everyone else (sometimes for disability-related reasons) and an inclusive society needs to ensure that learning and development opportunities are available to people when they choose.
A new Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission
The Queen announced that a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission” will be established which we heard would “undertake a review of every aspect of the post-Brexit constitutional settlement”. We wait to hear the specific terms of reference for this Commission and trust that the Commission does not just “promote human rights” but enhances and enforces them.
The phrase “disability and human rights” remains common. Its continued use indicates there is still a lack of recognition that the rights disabled people have are fundamentally rights we have as human beings. Equally, many pan-human rights narratives and projects still often largely neglect to give sufficient attention to the complex and multiple issues that still affect disabled people’s lives in the UK today.
Yet human rights have been at the forefront of the agenda in the UK, particularly during the last 18 months amid Brexit related debates. It is encouraging that human rights issues have made their way into critical discussions at strategic level in political policy development. It has, however, not gone unnoticed that human rights being present on such agendas has been, for the most part, due to human rights committees and bodies pushing this topic into mainstream debates from ‘outside’ of where political decisions are made. As an example, it was the Joint Committee on Human Rights that pushed the topic of ensuring human rights are maintained when the UK Government makes international agreements during and after Brexit into the forefront of Brexit related debates. Similarly, it was the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur who visited the UK to undertake an inquiry of poverty and human rights to ensure the Government paid attention to how well human rights were being monitored as poverty develops in the UK. On each occasion, the conversation did not come from the centre of Government; it came from groups on the periphery of Government.
There is good news and bad news here. On the one hand, it is evidence that political debates and challenge, via the groups surrounding Parliament and Government, has an effective voice that is, for the most part, heard and responded to. On the other hand, it is disappointing that maintaining human (including disability) rights does not always feature as embedded, ‘automatic’, and mandatory topic of consideration during policy development at the most strategic level of Government.
Business Disability Forum wants this to change. This is why we responded to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR)’s call for written evidence on human rights in international agreements post-Brexit at the beginning of this year (January 2019). We made some recommendations to the Committee, and we were thrilled to see the Committee deliver such a thorough report which reflected many of our concerns, mainly:
To ensure disabled people’s rights are specifically included and recognised as human rights;
That the agreements we make with international bodies must reflect the UK’s own equalities and human rights legislative standards;
To ensure continued compliance with human (including disability) rights is reviewed throughout the delivery lifecycle of an agreement;
To make human rights equality analyses part of international agreement sign off processes; and
For the JCHR and Parliament to be part of that analysis scrutiny process.
If agreed by the next government, the impact of the last two points would be huge. Making a strategic human (including disability) rights equality analysis part of the process of international agreement making will ensure accessibility, disability equality, and human rights are considered as a mandatory part of the UK’s international agreement process. It will mean that accessibility and the rights of disabled people will be central to decision making to ensure any agreement the UK makes will not adversely impact on disabled people’s lives.
Following the publication of the JCHR’s final inquiry report, we were pleased to see Harriet Harman MP (Chair of the JCHR) say:
“The UK Government must not become the weak link for human rights when making international agreements as we prepare to leave the European Union. Human Rights should not be an ‘add-on’ to any international trade agreement or treaty, but be embedded from the outset, drawing from the right expertise to ensure the highest standards”.
They are excellent words to leave with us on Human Rights Day, and we hope (and will monitor) the next Government will ensure these words are made a reality. Importantly though, this is evidence that by contributing our expertise and evidence gathered from our networks and member businesses, we have influence that makes an impact, and has the potential to change processes at the most strategic level of Government that affect people’s lives.
Therefore, with an election looming this week, Business Disability Forum would like to say thank you to our members and networks of disabled people who have contributed to our human rights policy work this year. In doing so, these businesses #StandUp4HumanRights and we continue to believe that this matters – and makes a difference.
With a General Election just around the corner and Brexit still undecided, we are living in uncertain and uncharted times. There are many stories clambering for space in an overly busy news agenda. There is also the risk that important issues such as disability inclusion, will be used as political footballs; kicked around and quickly forgotten once a new government is in power.
It is for this reason that Business Disability Forum has decided to mark international day of persons with disability with the launch of our own manifesto. The document calls on all political parties to better support businesses to deliver on disability inclusion.
Our Member and Partner organisations are committed to delivering more inclusive workplaces and customer experiences. But their work needs to be supported by informed, joined up Government policy, which enhances, not inhibits the lives of disabled people.
Yesterday, we saw the publication of ONS statistics which highlighted the pay gap experienced by disabled people. Pay inequality is a complex issue which cannot be explained through statistics alone. How much a person is paid is closely linked to how society perceives a person’s value and the contribution they make.
We want to ensure that the next Government works with businesses to address not only the pay gap issue, but all other barriers that disabled people experience is accessing employment and society more widely.
Based on the experiences of Members and Partners and the disabled people who work for them, we are therefore calling on the future Government to take the following seven actions:
To introduce targeted opportunities, including paid apprenticeships, for people with learning disabilities; recognising the challenges presented by a flattening of job infrastructure.
To carry out a robust equality analysis of environmental and human rights policies.
To seek the development of a new cross-Government approach to disability; bringing whole-Government consideration to all policy development.
To prevent any further watering down of the Equality Act and increasing the enforcement powers and authority of the EHRC, or a similar body. Rights must be enforced, not just protected.
To reform Access to Work and to remove the £59,200 cap.
To ensure all education and learning opportunities are inclusive and accessible.
To introduce a wholesale shift from mandatory ‘one size fits all businesses’ government-led initiatives to an outcome focus approach.
We will monitor progress on these issues and will hold the future Government to account through our consultation responses and policy work.
Globally, an estimated one billion people have a disability (that’s 15% of the world’s population). There is strong evidence that disability and poverty are linked, with disabled people more likely to live in poverty due to higher unemployment, lower income levels and lower attainment of skills and qualifications. This is a global trend but, unsurprisingly, is especially pronounced in low income countries.
Half of the organisations that we support at Business Disability Forum are global. Between them, they employ more than 8 million people globally. Members and Partners are increasingly telling us that their ambition is to get it right for employees and customers with disabilities wherever they are in world.
With this in mind, Business Disability Forum is conducting research into disability inclusion at a global business level.
Sponsored by Shell, the project is exploring the existence, and challenges, businesses face in developing a global strategy, as well as lessons learnt so far.
We know this is a complex, but incredibly important area of our work and the only way of exploring it fully is to talk to as many global businesses as possible. It does not matter where your organisation currently stands regarding commitment, or activity, relating to a global strategy for disability inclusion – please share your views in this short online survey.
The body of research will be used to develop guiding principles and practical steps for diversity and inclusion professionals to use within their own organisations. Findings from the survey and the wider research will be published in 2020.
If you work in a global organisation and have a view on how disability inclusion is working, or might work, at a global level in your business, then please take part. The survey is anonymous and an opinion piece of research, you will not be required to know or share any data. It will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if a different format of the questionnaire would work better for you. Do not hesitate to contact us at the same email address if you have any other queries.
Business Disability Forum thanks all contributors for their time and input into this important piece of research.
Stephen Pearce, Group Finance Director at Anglo American
World Mental Health Day (Thursday 10 October) was an annual reminder of the importance of looking after our mental health, and the intrinsic role that talking honestly about mental health can play to our mental wellbeing.
At Anglo American, this is a conversation which we believe should last the whole year round. Yet, despite 1 in 4 of us being affected by mental illness in our lifetimes, mental health remains a difficult and uncomfortable discussion topic, for many. Only 44 per cent of respondents to a recent survey by BITC, for example, said they would feel comfortable talking to their managers about their mental health. The problem may be even worse amongst younger employees. Over 63 per cent of those who took part in a survey carried out by Business Disability Forum, last year, said that they would not be comfortable talking about their mental health at their place of work or study.
Along with our individual circumstances and our external environment, work can be a major contributor to our mental health – both good and bad. Businesses therefore have a critical role to play in seeing mental health as a shared responsibility.
We can help to do this by creating an inclusive environment and at Anglo American we believe this must be one where everyone can bring their whole selves to work.
We know that leadership and business commitment are critical enablers to develop and sustain an environment that supports a mentally healthy workplace for everyone, and this is why internally we have put in place a significant wellbeing offering.
But we know that promoting mental wellness on its own is not enough. We also need to consider the steps we can take to prevent and respond effectively and early to mental ill-health and we have made this a key aspect of our Global Mental Health Framework.
Colleagues experiencing mental illness need the support of trained managers and HR practitioners whose actions are guided by comprehensive and informed policies. In turn, managers need to know that their own needs are being supported by leadership.
For this reason, Anglo American recently chose to partner with Business Disability Forum on the development of a series of best practice resources and guidance intended to help other organisations seeking to develop their own mental health framework.
We hope the resources will help organisations of all sizes to understand the importance of mental wellbeing and the actions they can take and should take to create a healthy workplace.
Poor mental health left unchecked can escalate, impacting on the individual, the team and the wider organisation. It therefore makes sense that promoting mental wellbeing is everyone’s business.
According to the charity Scope more than half (56%) of businesses erroneously believe that the main reason disabled people don’t get jobs is because they lack the right skills or qualifications.
Texthelp is running a webinar on why disability confidence makes good business sense.
With this in mind, businesses need to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace to quash these misconceptions. If are you an HR or D&I professional working to create this type of workplace this webinar is for you.
Texthelp have gathered together a team of experts from the Diversity and Inclusion arena to bring you a webinar on Thursday 3 October, 12pm, focusing on how companies can gain competitive advantage by empowering disabled people in the workplace.
Asif Sadiq is Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging for The Telegraph. He was formerly the Head of Diversity and Inclusiveness for EY Financial Services and was also previously the Head of the Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Unit for the City of London Police. He is a passionate and inspirational global leader, author and key note speaker with the ability to empower individuals and create a truly inclusive environment for all.
Mark Lomas is Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at High Speed Rail 2 (HS2). He has delivered numerous diversity and inclusion projects for organisations, including The Financial Reporting Council, Groupama Insurance, The BBC, The Law Society, Sheffield University, NHS Clinical Commissioning Group Boards, ITV, and The Bermuda Human Rights Commission. Mark recently delivered improved performance for the BBC on several employer benchmarks, following extensive analysis of BBC Employment practices and diversity impacts.
Louise McQuillan, Workplace Solutions Manager at Texthelp, specialises in helping public and private sector organisations to support workforce diversity and inclusion strategies, increase staff productivity and customer engagement.
Titled ‘Why Disability Confidence Makes Good Business Sense’ this collaborative webinar is free to attend and will engage participants in a discussion around the importance and value of driving diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Join in as the panelists take a deep dive into their own organisation’s Disability Confident journey and share best practice alongside practical thoughts and solutions that can be used by D&I Specialists, HR professionals and business leaders, as they pursue the goal of increasing disability confidence in their organisations.
To register for this webinar please click here. If you can’t attend on the day, don’t worry, if you register you can watch it back at a later date.
There’s still time to enter this year’s Disability Smart Awards – but hurry because the deadline is fast approaching!
Winners and nominees from Disability-Smart Awards 2018
There are many awards out there, so why do I think that the Disability-Smart Awards are so important? Well, of course, they are our awards – so I would, wouldn’t I? But in all seriousness, I believe that awards which mark the great work, commitment and achievements of our members (and non-members too; you don’t have to be a Business Disability Forum member to enter though of course we’d love you to join us!) and that’s really important in inspiring others and leading the way.
As I’ve said many times – including in these blogs – disability is too often seen as the poor relation when it comes to diversity. It is too often – still – parked in the too difficult, too sensitive, too complicated box. And too often the fear of getting things wrong means that people do – or say – nothing. But it really doesn’t have to be like that. Often the best solutions are the simplest – and often too the cheapest. Some of the greatest innovations we see around removing barriers are those that cost nothing and actually make the workplace a better place for everyone. Perhaps more importantly, disability is the only strand of diversity that can – and most likely, will – affect us all. So surely it is the one that really deserves our focus – and our celebration of when we get it right.
There is, rightly, a focus on media and social media around what doesn’t work for disabled people and issues that urgently need to be addressed if we are to achieve our goal of a truly equal and inclusive society for all. But equally I think, we need to focus on the successes and to recognising the many businesses, projects, programmes and initiatives that are truly innovating including disabled people, whether that’s in product design, as consumers, as employees, nationally or globally.
So, our Disability-Smart Awards are there to showcase amazing practice, to inspire others and to lead the way – and to recognise those businesses, teams and individuals who really have gone the extra mile and encouraging others to do the same.
We know that winning means a lot to our entrants; last year, Microsoft won the technology category last year for using cutting edge technologies to ensure their widely used products were as accessible to as many customers as possible. Hector Minto, Microsoft’s Tech Evangelist for Europe, Middle East and Africa, spoke about the impact of the Disability-Smart win at our Annual Conference in April and said:
“Winning the Disability-Smart award was very good for us, not just because of the Windows work but for what people don’t see, which is the number of employees with disabilities working as engineers on the product. It is not somebody doing something for people with disabilities, it is blind engineers, it is deaf engineers, it is people working and bringing their life experience to our product to make it better. “There is so much built into the product that empowers people routinely. But it really took the Disability Smart Award to get the message out clearly to the business world and the education world.”
And it’s not always the big companies that win – last year West Midlands Police beat stiff competition from EY and Guidant Global to win the Positive Cultural Change award, thanks to their focus on great evidence (well, they are the police…) and data – something which is often hard to come by.
Last year too, we introduced the popular Disabled People’s Choice Awards – with Liverpool Football Club as the runaway winner – and new awards for Global Leadership and for Diversity and Inclusion Practitioner. This year, we have also added new awards for Disability Smart Design, Disability Smart Influencer, Disability Smart Customer Service and Disability Smart Communications & Marketing Campaign.
The full list of categories for 2019 is:
Disability Smart Senior Champion Award 2019
Disability Smart Design Award (new category)
Disability Smart Workplace Experience Award 2019 (sponsored by Microlink)
Disability Smart Influencer Awards 2019 (new category)
Disability Smart Technology for All Award 2019 (sponsored by Microlink)
Disability Smart Customer Service Award 2019 (new category)
Disability Smart Communications & Marketing Campaign Award 2019 (new category)
Disability Smart Global Leader Award 2019
Disability Smart Multinational Organisation Award 2019
Disability Smart Diversity & Inclusion Practitioner Award 2019
Entries close on 6 September and the awards ceremony which is once again being sponsored by our Founder Leader Barclays, takes place on 23 October at the Locarno Suite at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. I will once again be co-hosting alongside Paralympian Stef Reid; those who were able to join us will know just what a fabulous and entertaining host she is!
I hope that you’ll be inspired to enter this year’s awards and remember: You have to be in it to win it!
Hector Minto, Microsoft’s Tech Evangelist for Europe, Middle East and Africa, (pictured right alongside Michael Vermeersch, left), spoke about the impact of the Disability Smart win at Business Disability Forum’s Annual Conference in April.
He said: “Winning the Disability-Smart award was very good for us, not just because of the Windows work but for what people don’t see, which is the number of employees with disabilities working as engineers on the product. It is not somebody doing something for people with disabilities, it is blind engineers, it is deaf engineers, it is people working and bringing their life experience to our product to make it better.
“There is so much built into the product that empowers people routinely. But it really took the Disability Smart Award to get the message out clearly to the business world and the education world.”