Disability in the modern workplace – one week to go!

diane videoBy Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer, Business Disability Forum

You can hear Diane talk about this event in our video about the conference, available on our YouTube page, by clicking here.

It’s just one week to go until our annual conference and so if you haven’t booked already, now is your chance!

It’s taking place on Wednesday 18 April at the Royal College of Nursing in central London and we’ve a packed programme planned

Our theme this year is “Disability in the modern workplace” – and we’ll be looking at how we can seize the opportunities provided by technology and new ways of working to bring us closer to a world where disabled people, businesses and governments can work together without barriers. We’re living – and working – in a world that is changing very rapidly. While many of these changes are very welcome, businesses must meet them with caution if they are to continue to work with disabled employees and customers in a productive way.

assitive-technology-at-desk-e1522250696637We hear a great deal about the ageing population and how this means there will be more people with disabilities and health conditions in work and generally living longer. We also know that 83% of disabilities and health conditions are acquired during someone’s life rather than being present at birth. So, why does disability consistently struggle for airtime in comparison to other protected characteristics?

At Business Disability Forum our purpose and our mission to work with business to transform the life chances of disabled people as employees and consumers and this event aims to shine a light on what that means in the modern world – and beyond!

So, some of the questions we’ll be asking include

  • What can we in the UK learn from other countries about getting it right on disability?
  • Why do certain groups of disabled students find it much harder to find employment than others?
  • What can employers do to ensure that they tap into and hire the best disabled talent from our universities?
  • Why do disabled employees need career development courses specifically for them?
  • Does it make a difference if the person has a visible or non-visible disability or whether they have a lifelong disability or a newly acquired disability?
  • How can we make sure that technology is an enabler of – rather than a placement for – people?

We’re delighted to be joined by the Minister for Disabled People, Work & Health, Sarah Newton MP as our morning keynote and we’ll also be taking a look at what disability means in a global context, from the perspective of both big business – Shell and Accenture – and government from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. We’ll also be looking at career progression and what’s needed to support disabled people to achieve their full potential – as all too often we know that disabled people’s career trajectory lags behind that of their non-disabled peers.

Of course, technology has a huge role to play in opening up opportunities and breaking down barriers and so we will be looking at what’s happening at the cutting edge in assistive technology and beyond. We’ll also be holding a bring your own device workshop over lunch where experts from Microsoft will be showing you how to get the most out of your mobile – and at the myriad of accessibility features that are at your fingertips.

We’ll be ending the formalities with a “Future of work” panel and “Question Time” hosted by newscaster Sir Martyn Lewis and with panellists from Barclays, Microsoft, EY and HSBC, it’s sure to be a lively debate! – followed by a networking drinks reception so you can chat and catch up with your peers.

We’re delighted to have our Partner HSBC on board as our sponsor for this and we’ll also be launching our new suite of nine briefings which HSBC have also kindly sponsored, at the event. We’re offering a 10% discount on the new briefings – which include guidance on stress, anxiety and depression, autism and Asperger’s syndrome, cancer, diabetes, dyspraxia, stammering and learning disability – which could save the cost of your ticket!

To sign up and find out more please click here: https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/networking-and-events/our-latest-events/business-disability-forum-conference-2018-disability-in-the-modern-workplace/, call us on 020 7403-3020, or email events@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk.

We hope to see you there!

Three key rules for accessible businesses

By Marianne Rawlins, Limbless Association

The following piece features in the Spring 2018 edition of Step Forward, the quarterly newsletter publication of the Limbless Association.

We decided to featured this piece to mark Limb Loss Awareness Month this year (April 2018) and in it Lucy Ruck, Technology Taskforce Manager, discusses her views on what accessibility means for an amputee.

Man in a wheelchair calling an elevatorOrganisations are missing out on a vast pool of talent by failing to recruit employees with disabilities. Often, it’s not the case that organisations intentionally design their processes and practices to be inaccessible, but rather that they fail to consider how to make them open and inclusive. “One of the key areas of our work is to get disability onto organisations’ radars,” explains Lucy Ruck, Technology Taskforce Manager at  Business Disability Forum.

Disabled people can face many challenges when looking for work. Physical barriers, such as access to buildings, are obvious, but less overt issues can be harder to tackle. Sometimes, problems arise around unclear recruitment processes. “For example, we often come across websites that are inaccessible, meaning disabled applicants can’t even apply for jobs. Or it may be that a disabled candidate has an interview, but the organisation doesn’t know how to make adjustments for them during the selection process,” says Lucy.

The fear factor can also put off some organisations. They may be scared of asking the wrong questions in interviews or unsure about the legislation on employing disabled people. “Because of the stigma around disability, sometimes organisations decide it’s easier to employ someone else, and this is where Business Disability Forum can step in and support them. We help them with specific issues, and we can also review their processes.”

Business Disability Forum has over 300 members, including large corporations, such as Sainsbury’s, Barclays, Shell and Microsoft, as well as government departments like HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions. “They come to us for help. We are very much about supporting business – whether that’s in the private, public or voluntary sector – and act as a trusted ally.” The aim is to help organisations implement changes that will make it easier for them to attract disabled talent. “However, we understand that one size doesn’t fit all, and that adjustments will always need to be made,” adds Lucy.

Lucy Ruck speaking at Business Disability Forum's conference in 2017

Lucy Ruck speaking at Business Disability Forum’s conference in 2017

Lucy is an amputee and a long-standing member of the Limbless Association. “I became an amputee in October 1993 aged 17. I was on my way to college, where I was studying hairdressing, and I got off the train at my usual station. What I didn’t see was that a fast train was coming through the station. It hit me at 65mph. They found my leg half a mile up the track.”

The accident set Lucy’s career along a different trajectory. “Standing up all day as a hairdresser wasn’t the best option, so I went back to college to do my A-levels. After this, I decided to get an office job, as this would provide me with a good mix of sitting and standing. My previous jobs have ranged from admin, to tech and customer service and then onto my current role at Business Disability Forum.” The job is the perfect marriage of Lucy’s skills and experience, and allows her to pursue her dedication to promoting accessibility. “When I saw the role advertised I thought, ‘What a great fit!’ Finally, I could bring together tech, customer relations and disability – it was the dream job!”

Making tech accessible to all

Lucy runs Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce, a group of individuals from leading UK and global organisations who are working together to improve the use of inclusive design and accessible technology. The Taskforce provides tools, best practice, networking opportunities and technology industry influence to help organisations to create and deploy more accessible technology. “Working with these passionate people to make technology more accessible is a real pleasure,” she says.

Lucy’s tips for employers

  1. Look past the disability and see the person and their skills.
  2. Don’t be afraid of disability – organisations such as the BDF are there to guide and support you.
  3. Think of the advantages. Having a range of diverse talent is a benefit to your organisation. These employees will often be great problem-solvers and will provide you with a different perspective.


StepForward is the quarterly publication of the Limbless Association: www.limbless-association.org. For more information call 01245 216670 or email enquiries@limbless-association.org

Unlocking the potential of employees with neurodiverse conditions

Sign for RBS Business School, Edinburgh

Royal Bank of Scotland have just achieved Gold in Business Disability Forum’s Disability Standard.

In this blog, Louise Ferguson, Operational Manager at Royal Bank of Scotland, talks about how they worked with the consultancy Lexxic to improve support for employees.

In October 2016, we began to make referrals to Lexxic for individuals affected by dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, AD(H)D, and other neurological differences. Lexxic are Business Psychologists and specialists in dyslexia and neurodiverse conditions.

Previously, support for neurodiverse conditions had been provided through our Occupational Health providers. Workplace assessments would be carried out by an Occupational Therapist where an adult screening test would be undertaken to confirm likely-hood of a condition and its severity. In addition to this they would provide recommendations to support the employee in doing their role.

Working with Lexxic has enabled us to provide access to industry specialists who offer us the options of diagnostic testing, work place assessment, e-learning modules and one to one support training. The move to Lexxic has been incredibly beneficial for our employees with neurodiverse conditions, as well as their managers and colleagues. A clear advantage of the service provided by Lexxic is that they can run ‘lunch and learn’ awareness sessions for managers and colleagues, allowing them to better understand conditions and how best to work with and support their colleagues. Feedback from employees has been very positive.

We work closely with Royal Bank of Scotland’s employee led disability network ‘Enable’ to raise awareness of different conditions, and the support available in the workplace. We’ve really seen the benefit of unlocking the potential of those employees with neuro differences.

A Lexxic newsletter recently highlighted the story of Chris, a complaints handler in the bank who has dyspraxia. He shared his story in a post called ‘There’s a lot of things that I can do better than someone who doesn’t have dyspraxia’. He talked about the importance of raising awareness, and using the highlighted tools to make adjustments to his working practices.

The support Lexxic have (and continue) to provide has been very valuable. They have a good understanding of our business, and the employees’ needs. It’s great to hear about their new strategic alliance with Business Disability Forum.

Creating a culture of inclusion at Barclays – inspiring hearts, educating heads and enabling hands


By David Caldwell, Senior Digital Accessibility Consultant at Barclays and Member of Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce

Accessibility can be seen in two ways. A set of rules and guidelines which say ‘Thou shall do x and thou shan’t do y’ or a way where we consider the needs and situations of the people who will be using our products and develop our products to ensure that we don’t disable them.

By focusing on guidelines, standards and processes you build compliant products, but if you focus on people and fostering a culture of inclusion, you recognise that standards and guidelines are merely the start line and not the finish line. My taking this approach you recognise that accessibility isn’t about legal compliance, it’s about creating a brilliant experience for everyone.

The culture of our organisations is what drives us to choose one or other of these ways of viewing accessibility and if we want to move between these different views we need to change the culture of accessibility away from a compliance box ticking chore to an inclusive, open minded mindset focused on creating excellent experiences.

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photosSounds easy right? Of course, it’s not that simple. Culture is what helps people in organisations make decision about the best course of action to take. It’s the way we say and do things and as a result can be a difficult thing to change as it’s both hardwired into people in the organisation but also not generally something that’s written down – a lot of the time it’s the things we don’t communicate.

This matters for accessibility because if it’s the culture of an organisation to not include or prioritise accessibility or to just ‘do things the way they’ve always been done’, then we’re never going to progress and improve accessibility and the inclusion of everyone.

So, how do you start to change the culture? In all honest, it’s much like any type of change management. You need to focus on three areas: Hearts, Minds and Hands. In other words, you need to pull the heart strings, engage the rational brain and give the hands something to do.

Over the last two years we’ve been following this approach to pivot Barclays away from seeing accessibility as a ‘have to’ to seeing as a ‘want to’. This fundamental shift moves us from a compliance driven approach to one where we see accessibility as integral to our customer experience.

As a broad overview, here’s what we’ve done in each of the three areas:

  1. The heart – the heart is all about the emotional buy in that you need to get before the rational brain kicks in. It’s the bit inside us all that says ‘this is just the right thing to do’. Essentially it’s about building empathy. For us this included an element of storytelling- showing our colleagues how customers have been disabled by things we’ve done as well as helping them to understand the wider elements of accessibility and how it’s more than just people with permanent impairments.
  2. The head – this is the rational bit. It’s very rare that you’ll get full support or buy in with just the emotional elements of accessibility – because doing this right takes time and money and then you need the rational drivers to support the argument. Here we worked hard to identify new statistics on the size of the market and the scale of the possible. For example, we asked managers if they knew that there are 12.8 million people in the UK with a disability. That’s like the population of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff, Sheffield and Glasgow combined. We wouldn’t ignore all of these customers in any other context and cold, hard facts like this feed the rational brain.
  3. The hands – there’s very little point in creating engagement and buy in with people in your organisation if you can’t then get them to do anything. The hands area looks to articulate the ‘ok…what now’ element of culture change. For us we focused on four areas – Tooling, Controls, Learning and Components with each one serving a distinct purpose.

assitive-technology-at-desk.jpgWhat’s great about this approach is that when it starts working you’ll see it and hear it. You’ll see the focus change and the mindsets of leaders and individuals alike change because we’re no longer talking about another compliance thing we’re talking about enabling people, about creating amazing experiences that work for everyone and, fundamentally, creating sustainable commercial results because we know that when customers have great experiences they become more loyal.

Working in accessibility can be tough. It sometime feels like a daily battle to be heard. From my own experience I can honestly say that this approach and our focus on culture change makes my job more interesting and enjoyable. It breeds creatively and forces accessibility professionals to rethink our dialog and our approach.

Culture change isn’t easy but it’s really worth it and you’ll reap the benefits.


Losing the label – the disabled people you didn’t know you knew


By Bela Gor, Business Disability Forum

Who are disabled people?

Speaking as a lawyer, you might expect me to give you the definition of disability in the Equality Act or the percentage of people in the UK who are classed as disabled. While the definition in the law isn’t perfect, it certainly isn’t the worst I’ve seen.

But I must admit that I find the percentages rather more difficult to work with. I know that as a lawyer I should be good with numbers – but still I can’t picture the 13% or 19% of the UK population who are considered to be disabled, because I am unable to picture a group of 13.3 million disabled people.

What I can picture, however, are the people that I know. I can picture the elderly relatives who no longer want to visit us because with one of them having dementia changing trains is too difficult. I can picture the friend who asked me recently if it was normal to use the meeting room at work to cry. He’s working over sixty hours a week and doesn’t feel he can take a weekend off or even go off sick because that would be letting down his colleagues who would just have to pick up the work he wasn’t doing; not to mention his family. I can picture the dearly loved college friend who always makes time to see me when I’m in London but who I know is often exhausted after a week of navigating work, travel and just life with deteriorating vision (actually I’m more likely to cancel than her because travelling on the London Underground gives me migraines!)

Supermarket worker assisting a customerThere are bright spots. Going home after an exhausting day and asking Alexa (the Amazon Echo) to turn on the lights, read an audio book and set the alarm for tomorrow morning makes life just that little bit easier for someone with finds it difficult to see. The helpful and well trained railway employee who finds the right platform and takes passengers who need assistance to their booked seats on the train heading in the right direction is worth their weight in gold. A counsellor found through the employer’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) who confirms that working over sixty hours weeks and frequently breaking down into tears over small tasks is not “just part of the job” might just turn things round for a stressed out employee.

So I know a great many disabled people. Most of us probably do. What would make the future even brighter would be building a world that accepts that disabled people are us and not them – the faceless numbers. A world that is as frictionless as possible for us all. Disabled people don’t always describe themselves as such.

They/we just need the world to be a little more inclusive and thoughtful because we might be the disabled people we didn’t know we knew.

Business Disability Forum’s event ‘Looking beyond labels: visible and non-visible disabilities in the workplace and beyond’ will explore the same themes as this blog in detail, and give pointers for managers and HR Professionals on how to identify conditions and differences in their workforces and teams.

Capes, apps and AI – what future tech holds for disabled people


Showcase panel discussion photo by Will Houston

The panel discusses changing technology and its effects on disabled employees at the Technology Taskforce Showcase (photo by Will Houston, Enterprise Rent-A-Car)

By Dean Haynes, Business Disability Forum

The first Technology Taskforce Showcase (formally known as the Technology Taskforce SwapShop) of 2018 took place at the tail-end of February, hosted by perennial Technology Taskforce member KPMG at their Canary Wharf offices.

Focusing on the future of technology and disability, attendees were given the chance to see and hear about some of the latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and smart technologies, as well as how those with disabilities or impairments can make the most of this emerging tech. The Showcase culminated in a panel session where all of our experts were quizzed by our attendees.

Proceedings got underway with a brief introduction from Tony Cates, Senior sponsor for Disability at KPMG, before he handed over to our venerable compère for the afternoon, Technology Taskforce Manager, Lucy Ruck.

Project Cape

Our first presenters were Sean Gilroy, Finance Business Partner at the BBC, joined by Neurodiversity Project Lead & Researcher Leena Haque, who form part of the BBC’s Project Cape (Creating a Positive Environment). Sean and Leena set up the group to improve the support given to neurodivergent employees, as well as highlighting the skills and talents such individuals can bring to the table. As part of the Project’s work, Sean and Leena spoke about how ever-improving virtual reality (VR) technology can be used as an educational tool, an empathy machine and much more besides; they also demonstrated an immersive simulation that looks at the issues neurodivergent people can face in the workplace. Some attendees at the event were lucky enough to try out first-hand how this technology works, and you can also see how it’s used here on BBC Academy’s YouTube page.

The Welcome and Button app

Next up Gavin Neate, CEO and founder of Neatebox took to the stage to tell everyone how their two apps “Welcome” and “Button” are helping people with disabilities foster a more independent lifestyle, further citing the 13 million people in the UK alone with a disability, and their spending power of £249 billion. With the Welcome app, users set up a profile that is made available to the registered Welcome venue (these venues are steadily growing in number), alerting staff of any assistance they may need. Button tackles the everyday problem of the placement of pedestrian crossing controls for those with mobility or visual impairments. Often these buttons are placed inaccessibly far away from the crossing itself; Button electronically interacts with the crossing, letting users press them “virtually” through their smartphone or wearable device, thereby allowing users to focus on their positioning before crossing.

AI and the future of banking

We were then joined by Technology Taskforce stalwart Paul Smyth, Barclays’ Head of Digital Accessibility, who spoke about how AI will impact on the future of banking and how it will support their customers and colleagues with disabilities. As a longstanding member of both Business Disability Forum and the Technology Taskforce, Barclays have long seen the benefits of shifting their business culture from “must do” to “want to”, by way of including, educating and enabling people. The ever-increasing power of AT and AI will let Barclays offer safe, simple personalisation of their services that works for everyone. Paul also extolled the virtues of open banking, that lets customers use one website or app to access all of their banking services, regardless of provider.

AT benefits

Diane at Showcase by LucyR

Business Disability Forum CEO Diane Lightfoot closes the event

After a quick break, delegates came back to hear from Robin Christopherson MBE (and Archie), Head of Digital Inclusion at UK tech charity AbilityNet. As a blind user, Robin has first-hand experience of making use of AT and shared some of his knowledge, including a demo of Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant Alexa. He also talked about how he can control smart technology via the Amazon Echo. There is also a really great clip about the benefits, along with some of the challenges for the more mature generation in adopting this technology.

KMPG and new technologies

KPMG then returned to the stage, with their UK Innovation Lead-slash-Head of Digital Disruption Shamus Rae. Shamus’ “disruptive” role leads on the use of AI to change KPMG’s services and help its customers to embrace these new technologies. With a view to remove the friction or sticking points in customer transactions, KPMG are focusing on four pieces of tech:

  1. Augmented reality (AR);
  2. Mobility;
  3. Removing bias; and
  4. Neural lace.

AR has already hit the marketplace through Google Glass launched back in 2013 and continues to find favour in the tech sphere with Apple looking to release their own version within the next two years.

Mobility is being further improved thanks to AI with the progress being made in driverless cars, minimising or even removing the need for driver interaction, which is hoped will improve efficiency, reduce accidents, and increase people’s productivity (you can use your daily drive to work to actually get some work done!).

Finally, the neural lace, an implantable brain-computer interface that is in development most notably by Neuralink, a neurotechnology company founded by billionaire entrepreneur and engineer Elon Musk (most famously known for Tesla cars).

To end the session, our speakers formed a panel to be quizzed by those in attendance. Lucy got things started by asking what potential dangers there might be with the speed of innovation.

The panel didn’t always agree on what the future would hold, and which were the most important pieces of tech, including a discussion around the pros and cons of driverless cars. And it was suggested that the most important piece of technology we shall use in the future are our smartphones. Just think how these have developed in the last 10 years – what will the next 10 years hold for them!

Business Disability Forum’s Chief Executive Diane Lightfoot rounded up the Showcase by thanking all of our speakers, our generous hosts KPMG and the attendees for joining us.


For more information about our Technology Taskforce please visit https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/membership/technology-taskforce/ or contact Lucyr@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk

Why you should have your say on Blue Badges

Business Disability Forum

By Angela Matthews

Should the Blue Badge scheme be extended to people with non-visible conditions?

This question is being asked by the Department for Transport in their current consultation on the ‘Blue Badge’ scheme.

What is the Blue Badge scheme?

The Blue Badge scheme allows people with (predominantly) mobility conditions to park closer to their destination. This is usually related just to on-road parking, but we know through speaking to our Members and Partners that many employers and service providers also use Blue Badges as a way of prioritising parking in accessible parking bays.

The Blue Badge scheme has been in operation since 1970 and, currently, around 2.4million people in England are Blue Badge users. Although the Blue Badge scheme does not exclude people with non-visible disabilities from applying, it is not well-known that people with non-visible conditions can apply.

Our Advice Service receives many calls about parking arrangements for people employees and customers who do not have Blue Badges but would benefit from specific parking arrangements (such as those accessed by Blue Badge holders).

What is the consultation asking?

The scheme’s current eligibility criteria states that Blue Badges are for people who have “a permanent and substantial disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking”.

The consultation looks at who assesses this criteria and as well as the wording of the eligibility criteria. The prosed criterion reads as follows:

“a person who has an enduring and substantial disability the effect of which is that that person is unable to –

  • walk;
  • undertake any journey without it causing very considerable difficulty when walking;
  • undertake any journey without there being a risk of very considerable harm to the health or safety of that person or any other person;
  • follow the route of any journey without another person, assistance animal or orientation aid.”

What do you think?

We would like to hear from the following organisations:

  • Local authorities who issue Blue Badges;
  • Employers who have received questions or have cases where employees use Blue Badges to park at work;
  • Service providers – particularly supermarkets and retailers.

We are also speaking to many disabled employee networks to seek views from people with non-visible conditions who think they would benefit from the revised eligibility criteria.

How to respond

If you would like to contribute to our response by sharing your views and experiences with us, please contact us at advice@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk

The deadline for contributions is Friday 9 March 2018.