Everyone’s mental health: How inclusive is your workplace mental health strategy?

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

By Angela Matthews

Yesterday, Tuesday 10th October, was the eighth roundtable meeting of our Central Government Network, hosted once again by our colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As it was also Mental Health Awareness Day, I presented a summary of recent research on mental health in and out of the workplace.


Mental health in the UK

I used a couple of sources. I started with a report titled Surviving or Thriving? The State of the UK’s Mental Health (Centre for Mental Health, May 2017). Findings showed, firstly, something that probably will not surprise many of us: the general state of mental health in the UK as a whole is not good. In fact, only 13% of the UK population rate their mental health as ‘good’.

I was very interested in the finding that people over the age of 55 generally reported better mental health. Having worked in older people’s mental health services with a consistently full clinic and a long waiting list, I was interested to look into this more. What seemed to be behind this statistic was that this appeared to be a group demographic who generally have more ‘spare’ time; the age bracket was perhaps something of a ‘red herring’. People with more time to pursue things that many sources (the Government, NHS, so called ‘self-help’ information sources) tell us are ‘good’ for developing mental resilience: taking a walk, doing gentle exercise, seeing friends, spending time with family, finding an interest, taking up a new hobby.

Time repeatedly comes up in other research on happiness and mental wellbeing: how we manage it, what we fill it with, and the decisions we make about how we perceive it.

The research also finds that depression and panic attacks are the two most common symptoms experienced by people in the UK. Note, symptoms. What this should signal to employers is that people may experience depression yet may not necessarily have a diagnosis of depression, and people may have panic attacks and not have a diagnosis of an anxiety related condition. I was also fascinated to see that the third most common experience was that related to Seasonal Affective Conditions. For employers, this means that employees may want to work in different ways during different seasons. I have previously worked with employees who have wanted to start earlier in the morning and finish earlier in the afternoon during winter months in order to avoid having to work when it is dark. The changing daylight quality can also affect employees with other types of conditions such as migraines, photosensitivity, or some visual impairments for example. Seasonal changes can have a significant impact on people’s emotions and mood.

There was one last point I drew out from this research, which I felt was insightful for employers to consider. What type of ‘conditions’ do you think of when you hear the term “mental health”? Examples given in the report are: anxiety, eating disorder, alcohol or drug dependence, postnatal depression, seasonal affectiveness, depression, bipolar, obsessive compulsive conditions, psychosis, post traumatic stress, panic attacks, schizophrenia, personality disorder, phobias. This is quite a wide ranging list and, of course, by no means extensive.

But here’s the statistic: 40% of people who have mental health issues do not see their own experience mentioned on this list. Forty per cent. How do our workplace wellbeing and mental health narratives reflect this when the common conditions we talk about are not recognised by 40% of people who have struggled with their mental health?

Mental health in an inclusive workforce

The research titled Mental Health at Work 2017 was released just a week ago by Business in the Community. One of the headline findings was that whilst 60% of employees experience a work related mental health issue, only just over half of this number (31%) had actually been diagnosed with a mental health condition. This reinforces my earlier point, that not everyone (only half, according to this research) experiencing mental health issues will have a diagnosed mental health condition. There is a distinction here, and it means that line managers need to be knowledgeable and skilled to manage both the mental wellbeing of their employees, and also support employees who are unwell due to mental ill health. The distinction is critical, and too often overlooked. A lack of understanding of the difference can risk unintended exclusion and it can also cause a mismatch of understanding and communication between the employee and line manager. This is perhaps represented by the report’s finding that 91% of line managers felt knew they had a key role in managing the wellbeing of their employees at work, yet only 13% of employees felt they could talk to their line managers about mental health issues.

Also add into the mix that senior leaders were found to think that employees were being supported with their mental health at work a lot more than employees themselves actually reported, and then we quickly have all three key stakeholders (employees, line managers, and senior leaders) on three very different wavelengths: a recipe for low productivity, distrust, and an ineffective employee-manager relationship.
Lastly, and more positively, 50% of employees were found to be more comfortable talking about mental health issues than they were a year ago. Put all of this research together and we may conclude this: mental health is generally declining, but we are getting better at talking about it.

Well, only some of us. People over 40 years old were found to be more comfortable discussing mental health issues with their line manager than younger employees, and employees from black, Asian, or minority ethnic backgrounds were less comfortable to talk about such issues (and also less likely top be diagnosed). This causes me to ask employers the question, how inclusive are our narratives about mental health in the workplace? We as a business sector have progressed immense strides with our diversity and inclusion agenda, yet research is showing that we perhaps have yet to develop a language and culture around workplace mental health which is as inclusive and diverse as the workforces we have created.

Why raising awareness about mental health is only the first step

By Samuel Buckley

It’s World Mental Health Day today (10 October). It’s also at least the tenth mental health awareness day of the year so far, in a calendar that kicks off with ‘Blue Monday’ in January.

This is not a bad thing. Clearly there’s a real appetite for greater understanding of mental health conditions and challenging preconceptions and stigma. And maybe even more so this year it feels timely to devote days to talking about mental health: in 2017 we have seen Prince Harry and Prince William work hard to open up the conversation, taking bold steps in sharing personal experiences. Celebrities like Cara Delevigne, Kanye West, Gabby Logan and Ryan Giggs have all been vocal in the last couple of years either about past experiences or about managing present conditions.

Colleagues holding a meetingBut what do all these awareness days mean for employers?

First and foremost, the challenge is to make sure awareness raising and stigma-busting is backed by action.

Awareness-raising needs to be where employers start. It cannot be a goal in itself – it has to be a treated as a step towards achieving lasting change further down the line. There is no use in talking positively about mental health and encouraging openness, for instance, if there is no day-to-day support for workers, or managers who are well-equipped to help staff who experience mental ill-health. Even worse, calling for greater openness or awareness around mental health at work may, in some workplaces, only serve to highlight the fact that practical support is not there.

Cisco logoWe saw a great example of how mental health awareness can feed into action and building capability when Heather Carey, Account Manager at Cisco, shared her own story of living with anxiety to push for greater awareness in her workplace, but then ensured that Cisco followed this with action.

Heather launched a campaign to raise awareness of how stress and work pressures can impact on mental health and how the business could support employees’ wellbeing, before leading the training of 21 volunteers who are specially equipped to provide mental health support across Cisco.

By the end of 2016, this network of volunteers were able to provide support across all 17 of Cisco’s sites in the UK and Ireland, while many more employees joined a company-wide support network for wellbeing and mental health.

This success illustrates what we should aim to achieve with raising awareness of mental health conditions and how they may or may not affect employees at work. When awareness-raising spurs action and practical steps to support employees, the results can be dramatic and hugely rewarding. But this means awareness-raising cannot be the end point – it has to be a start.

Our latest podcast, ‘Mental Health At Work’ released to coincide with World Mental Health Day today (10 October) features our experts Christopher Watkins and Angela Matthews discussing mental health in the workplace as well as their own experiences. You can listen now on our website.

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Where we go wrong when we talk about dyslexia

Colleagues in a meeting

By Sam Buckley

This Dyslexia Awareness Week (2 October – 7 October) the most useful action for employers to take might be to avoid concentrating on dyslexia itself.

As with other conditions, it’s far more useful to explore how an employee can be enabled to interview or complete their job to the best of their ability than to focus on specific conditions or symptoms.

There are many preconceptions around dyslexia that need to be challenged if employers hope to recruit and retain a diverse pool of talented workers. Interestingly, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity’s list of myths associated with the condition could just as easily read as a list of misconceptions that would be barriers to someone with dyslexia in the workplace.

These myths include:

  • That dyslexia is a visual problem
  • That people with dyslexia are unable to read
  • That dyslexia limits academic performance

Man working on a computer at a desk

Assumptions that dyslexia is linked to visual problems, being unable to read, and intelligence have all been proven to be false.  Instead, there are a very wide range of traits associated with dyslexia that vary from person to person. In many people, the condition is not apparent, and may not affect the way a colleague works in any noticeable way or at all.

The best approach, then, is not to focus on the condition but the person, equipping employees and job candidates to perform at their best. Being open to adjusting various aspects either of recruitment and interview processes or the way an employee works means being open to the widest, most diverse range of talented people. It also means removing barriers for every person within this wide talent pool, whether they have a disability or long-term condition or not.

Indeed, a lot of the work we’ve done recently, such as the ‘Square holes for square pegs’ model on autism and neurodiverse conditions written by our Disability Trainer Daniel Wiles, is about making minor changes to workplaces and processes that play directly to the strengths of a diverse workforce. Specifically, this is about acknowledging that conditions such as dyslexia can present unique personal strengths – it’s just about approaching these conditions in the right way.

You can find out more about how workplace adjustments can help colleagues with various conditions in our podcast with Dr Nasser Siabi of Microlink or in our featured article by Nuance Communications on how speech-to-text software helps various employees.

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Learning disability – the hidden employment gap and how we can close it

Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive, Business Disability Forum

At Business Disability Forum we talk a lot about the disability employment gap. Approximately 47% disabled adults of working age are in employment as compared to 80% of non-disabled people. However, those statistics conceal the further and enormous gap when it comes to the employment of people with learning disabilities, which is estimated at less than 6% of those known to local authorities.

It’s a figure which hasn’t moved in more than 20 years – except to go down a percentage point over the last 12 months. And yet numerous studies show that most people with a learning disability want to work. So what’s going wrong? And what can employers do about it?

It’s a subject dear to my heart; before joining Business Disability Forum I spent 13 years at learning disability charity United Response where I saw time and time again the hugely transformational effect that getting a job – often for the first time – can have for a person with a learning disability. It’s not just income; the benefits of working – if it’s good work – include gains in confidence, social networks, health and wellbeing. It also helps to keep people safe; the sad fact remains that people with learning disabilities are often vulnerable to bullying and harassment and having a natural “circle of support” – by being visible in the community and having people who look out for you – is another important benefit of the workplace.

 So what do we mean by a learning disability?

According to the charity Mencap, 1 in 50 people in the UK have a learning disability. Mencap’s definition of learning disability is “a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life”.  Within that description though, there is a very broad spectrum from mild learning disability which may mean someone needs help with budgeting, paying bills, travel or a complex and severe learning disability with multiple and complex disabilities.

 What are the barriers – and what can we do about them?

Supermarket worker assisting a customerRecruitment and indeed attraction can be a big barrier so changing processes and/or being flexible in how someone can apply for a job can make a real difference. That could mean changing what you ask for in person specifications, making sure that only really essential criteria are included and being open to alternative ways of a candidate demonstrate this rather than insisting on prior work experience or academic qualifications. The application process itself can also be a barrier so being flexible on how to apply – giving options other than an online portal for example, and making sure any portal you have is accessible. Many people with a learning disability may not have a traditional CV so allowing people to demonstrate or evidence their skills in a different way can really help.

It could be changing how you interview. Many people find panel interviews intimidating but for some people with learning disabilities they can not only be a complete barrier but also fail to test the skills that will actually be needed in the job. A working interview – also called the “place and train” model – where someone has the opportunity to show that they can do the job, rather than being asked to talk about it, has been proven time and time again to be the most effective way of supporting people with a learning disability into work.

It’s absolutely crucial though that it’s a genuine placement – with a real opportunity of paid work at the end of it – and not just unpaid work.

Once in the job, training and induction is really important, with support provided – either a paid support worker or an in house “buddy” to help the person learn the job. Approaches such as TSI – Training in Systematic Instruction – can be really helpful in breaking a job down into its component parts and teaching these in a clear and consistent order. Bearing in mind that most learning disabilities are not visible, a Disability Smart employer will also be attuned to the fact that someone has a learning disability and to consider this first in addressing any difficulties with e.g. performance or timekeeping; it may well be that the employee has not understood what is expected of them and so the initial induction and ongoing line manager relationship is key. Simple good practice like providing information in easy read format (simple text supported by relevant pictures) can also make a real difference.

Why does it matter?

Visitor arriving at reception of an officeWell firstly, a person with a learning disability could be the best person for the job! There are lots of examples of people being really well matched to jobs that that employers have struggled to fill and doing them really well. There is also the documented effect on staff morale – numerous employers come back and say what a hugely positive impact it’s had when they’ve employed someone with a learning disability. One study showed that 72.2% of employers regarded the impact on company morale as an important factor in deciding to employ people with a learning disability. 97% of employers said they were likely to hire this group again. Business Disability Forum Member National Grid runs a supported internship EmployAbility Programme for young people with a learning disability. They found hugely positive outcomes not just for the young people who took part but also for their staff who took new pride in their jobs as a result of teaching them to others.

The hard stats support the business case too. One study revealed that people with a learning disability stay in their jobs 3.5 times longer than their co-workers (though it’s important to remember that in some cases that could be around a lack of opportunities to move on). The same study showed lower costs around sickness absence and reliability.

There’s lots of support out there to help employers.

We at Business Disability Forum have just updated and refreshed our Briefing on learning disability which is free to Partners and discounted to members – if you like a copy, please get in touch with us by emailing membership@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk.

You can hear my podcast on learning disability here

You can read a piece I contributed to in the Guardian here

I’ll also be speaking at a Fringe event at Conservative party conference on Tuesday 3 October, alongside United Response, Channel 4’s Health and Social Care Correspondent Victoria MacDonald and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Learning Disability, Mark Harper MP. It’s at 4pm in the Midland Hotel. Do come and join us if you are there.

Lessons from the 2017 International Disability Employment Forum in South Korea

Brendan Roach and Eona Kim in Seoul

Brendan Roach, Senior Disability Consultant at Business Disability Forum, in Seoul with Eona Kim, Deputy Director of Employment Development Institute (EDI).

By Brendan Roach

I was in Seoul, South Korea earlier this month to speak at the 2017 International Disability Employment Forum.

The three-day event was organised by the Korea Employment Agency for the Disabled (KEAD) and the Korean Ministry of Employment and Labor. KEAD, which provides services for both people with disabilities and employers such as job placements, vocational training and assistive technology support, is working hard to ensure that Korea’s disabled job seekers benefit from the new President Moon Jae-in’s administration’s flagship job creation strategy.

The forum bought together experts from around the world in order to share successes and challenges relating to a number of elements of disability and employment strategy.

Here are some of the interesting points that came out of the discussions over the three days.


Day one: Mandatory employment systems (or quotas)

On day one of the forum, policy leads from Japan, Germany and South Korea shared successes and challenges regarding to their country’s quota systems.

Quotas are an interesting topic for me as the UK abandoned its own ineffective quota system in 1995 with the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (now the Equality Act 2010) which banned discrimination in a number of areas including recruitment and employment.

It was interesting to hear Peter Mozet (Head of division ‘Policy towards persons with severe disabilities’ at the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in Germany) explain that whilst employment rates of people with disabilities in Germany is increasing, it’s impossible to assess the impact of the quota given that it’s just one of a number of disability-related labour market interventions.

During the session, we heard that around 50% of private companies in South Korea don’t comply with the quota. It was also suggested that employers in Germany spend around €500 million a year on fines for non-compliance with the quota – a stark figure which highlights the extent of the waste of both human potential and money. It made me wonder how many of Business Disability Forum’s global members know how much they spend on levies for non-compliance with quotas on a country by country basis?


Day two: Employment services, vocational training and employer case studies

On the second day we discussed Japan, Germany and South Korea’s approaches to employment services and vocational training.

One of the reasons that Business Disability Forum was founded over 25 years ago was that initiatives aimed at supporting people with disabilities into employment often failed to take into account the needs of employers. I was keen to hear the examples of how different services were working with employers. For example:

  • In response to Korean business leaders’ concerns that they can’t find qualified candidates with disabilities, KEAD now co-design training courses with employers in order to ensure that trainees are equipped with the skills that businesses need. Training is then delivered in partnership with employers at KEAD’s ‘Individualised Training Centre’.
  • The Vocational Training Department of Japan’s National Vocational Rehabilitation Center provides training for managers and colleagues to help them feel confident and knowledgeable in work with disabled colleagues.

Employer case studies

Brendan Roach speaking at the 2017 International Disability Employment Forum

Brendan Roach speaking at the 2017 International Disability Employment Forum

The employers represented at the Forum varied in approach, although all specialised in the employment of people with disabilities. For example, Samhall AB, a state-owned company in Sweden, has a mandate to create work that furthers the development of people with disabilities and Hanuri (a subsidiary of Korean firm LG Electronics) employs a large proportion of disabled workers and was established specifically to help LG meet its obligations under the Korean quota system.

The theme of inclusion in the mainstream labour market ran through much of the discussion between employers. For example:

  • Hanuri struggle to retain skilled employees because they want to work for mainstream employers either to develop their career or because they fear stigma as a result of working for an employer that is known for specifically for hiring people with disabilities.
  • Samhall must ensure that 1100 employees transition from sheltered employment into mainstream employment every year.


Day three: Changes in social environment and the employment of people with disabilities


On day three, I was part of a panel which discussed future challenges for disability and employment such as an aging population, mental ill-health, economic downturn and technological advances.

Disability and aging

Kazuyuki Kokubun (Director, Employment Development and Promotion Dept. Japan Organization for Employment of the Elderly, Persons with Disabilities and Jobseekers) shared the Japanese government’s employment strategy regarding the twin challenges of the country’s low birth rate and rapidly aging population. In addition to encouraging wellbeing initiatives, the government is also encouraging employers to adopt the approach of making workplace adjustments (e.g. changes to how, when or where work is done) for older employees.

This focus on making workplace adjustments for older workers mirrors the approach of leading Business Disability Forum members who apply their disability know-how to recruiting and retaining older workers.

Mental health

Christopher Prinz (Senior Policy Analyst, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) highlighted mental-health related policy challenges in a number of areas including workplaces and employers. Christopher highlighted the importance of:

  • Raising awareness and competence among management and co-workers.
  • Promoting employee assistance programmes.
  • Ensuring that occupational health advisers have strong psychological expertise.
  • Developing a robust approach to managing sickness abse
    nce which includes a strong focus on return-to-work support.

These recommendations certainly chime with our approach at Business Disability Forum, where we advocate a three pronged approach to managing mental health at work that focuses on both proactive and responsive measures and on creating cultural change. You can read more about our approach here.


Future of work



My own presentation focused on the potential impact on disability and employment of economic downturn and future industrial changes such as the digital era.

It’s clear that technological developments bring both challenges and opportunities for employers and employees with disabilities. In terms of the benefits:

  • Technology can liberate the potential of employees with disabilities. For example screen reader software enables visually impaired colleagues to access the internet and sign language users can now access real-time sign language interpretation via their tablet device rather than having to rely on booking an interpreter to attend a meeting in person.
  • Digital advances means that employees are increasingly able to work remotely which might enable employees with disabilities to manage their work and impairment more effectively as a result of having greater control over how, where and when work is carried out.

Technology doesn’t always liberate though. For example:

  • There is often a lack of awareness about the availability of technical adjustments on the part of both individuals and employers.
  • The legacy systems used by large organisations are often inaccessible and expensive to retrofit.
  • Inaccessible online recruitment websites can mean that some talented applicants with disabilities don’t get passed the application phase.

To support businesses to navigate these challenges, Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce (a group of some of the world’s largest suppliers and procurers of technology) has created an Accessible Technology Charter and Accessibility Maturity Model to help organisations measure and improve their performance.

Look out for more from Business Disability Forum on the future of work as it relates to disability in 2018.


On the way home

As I headed home from a fascinating three days, I reflected on some of the learning for Business Disability Forum’s global members and what might represent common principles for the variety of stakeholders and nationalities represented at the Forum.

Certainly for Business Disability Forum’s global members, it will be important to:

  • Ensure that you have a clear understanding of the quota requirements of each country in which you operate and develop a strategy for recruiting more talented employees with disabilities. This means access to wider pool of talent and paying less in fines.
  • The strategy should aim to make mainstream recruitment processes as accessible as possible and to identify local agencies who understand your resourcing requirements and equip candidates with disabilities with the skills your business needs.
  • Understand and address specific regional and local demographic issues. For example, a strategy to retain an aging workforce is clearly a priority in Japan, North America and much of Europe but may not be your most pressing concern in say Africa or the Middle East.

More generally, it was clear that wherever there is focus on disability and employment it will be vital that:

  • Action is taken to the change attitudes of business and the wider public and that negative stereotypes and low expectations of people with disabilities are routinely and robustly challenged.
  • Job seekers with disabilities are equipped with the skills required by today and tomorrow’s employers.
  • Employers are positioned as a valued customer in any initiative designed to support people with disabilities into work. They also need access to practical guidance and support in order to turn commitment into meaningful action.

What universities can learn from Manchester Metropolitan’s approach to disability

Picture of Manchester city hall
By Samuel Buckley

Over the 13 years organisations have been using our Disability Standard to develop and improve the ways they work with disabled people, only 2 universities have joined the ranks of the highest-scoring organisations – Manchester Metropolitan University and the Open University.

Under our Disability Standard, organisations are scored, on a 100-point scale, according to how good practice is in different business areas and how well the whole organisation approaches disability. Top scoring organisations enter our Roll of Honour – scoring Bronze (70%), Silver (80%) or Gold (90%). So far, only 2 universities have made it into one of these top three tiers.

Manchester Metropolitan became the first and so far only university to achieve a top Gold score in 2017, garnering a mark of 92 on the Disability Standard’s 100-point scoring system.

So what sets the top-scoring Manchester Metropolitan University’s approach aside from the other 130 universities operating in the UK?

Perhaps more than anything else, we’ve found that a key ingredient of a successful approach to disability is positivity. Manchester Met’s positive culture around diversity and inclusion went together with willingness by staff to take responsibility for their work on accessibility.

Crucially, Manchester Met also analysed their current practice and sought opinions from staff and students. They are particularly responsive to feedback and the need to make adjustments creating an accessible 3D campus map for a disabled student for example.
Finally, the university’s good practice was enabled by the way that it distributed knowledge among its staff, using bespoke guides for disabled staff, managers and job candidates, to support the processes around adjustments.

Indeed the staff were credited by Jean-Noel Ezingeard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, who said: “The award is result of a tremendous amount of work from the Equality & Diversity team, our Disabled Staff Forum, Equality & Diversity Champions and colleagues across the University that have worked very hard to deliver the environment that’s been recognised by the award. Beyond the badge, this is also a celebration of our positive culture toward Equality and Diversity – something we are all proud of.”

Using the Disability Standard repeatedly over several years helped the university to identify areas for improvement, enabling staff to develop practice to the point where the became a sector leader.

In short, then, Manchester Metropolitan’s success is down to its approach – as it is with any organisation – rather than resources. Likewise, a similarly unified approach garnered the Open University a Bronze rating in 2016.

Universities have a lot to gain by taking this whole-organisational approach to disability. Britain’s universities employ some 750,000 people, and cater to around 2.28 million students. A great number of these will have disabilities or long-term health conditions – and they will walk away from services and workplaces that don’t welcome or include them.

Perhaps even more pertinent is the fact that a university, as with any organisation, that welcomes disabled people is one that welcomes everyone.

When it comes to going global with accessible IT, the future is now

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

By Neil Milliken, Head of Accessibility and Digital Inclusion, Atos

As more and more businesses find they have to consider their work not just on a national but an international scale, the phrase ‘full accessibility’ takes on a new meaning. At Atos, for instance, we have around 100,000 employees located in more than 70 countries – so how do we ensure accessibility for all when we are working at this scale?

For those in IT and technology, this is a very pertinent question, because IT is central to our new global style of working. It isn’t a challenge that we can ignore if we want our systems to work for everyone.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day in May made it a good time to consider this question, and certainly it was great to see that so many organisations like Microsoft, Orange and Barclays share how they met the challenge at an event we held at Atos to mark the day. We used IT to make this event globally accessible too, in keeping with the theme: we held events in the UK, US, France, Spain, Austria and India, and live-streamed the UK event with closed captioning.

This kind of approach is key to accessibility on a global scale: it is about providing a standard service regardless of location or country. New technology and IT systems provide a huge opportunity in doing this, because they provide a single platform for customers and employees to use all over the world. But this also means they need to work, and to work perfectly, for everyone.

home-worker-image-obscured-person-using-a-laptop-with-mug-of-coffeeThis means taking a single approach which has been shown to work with your IT systems locally but then adapting it for different locations, working styles, and countries. At Atos, for example, we are seeking to do this by taking our UK model and using it as a blueprint for our work internationally.

The key elements of this blueprint? First and foremost, a holistic approach that goes beyond the technology itself. Our work on accessibility naturally included practical solutions such as assistive technology and overcoming any potential compatibility barriers with existing IT systems, but it also meant changing the way we approach governance around IT to incorporate more portable devices, flexible working and availability of specialized software.

A good way in to establishing this new way of working is to use an ‘tried-and-tested’ method, which for us was the ‘Accessibility Maturity Model’ developed by Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce. Applying the Model when developing our approach to accessibility also meant we could use

Taking a holistic approach also involved building knowledge of accessibility among staff. We did this with specific training on accessibility for colleagues but went further by including accessibility in our standard development methodologies and creating a world first Accessibility Apprenticeship program.

Another element to this is building on that knowledge base and encouraging employees to exchange thoughts and learning. We did this at Atos though our enterprise social network and our think tank the “Scientific Community” which produces thought leadership for the organisation, publishing blogs magazines and white papers and also keeping people up to date with “learn with Adrian” sessions every hosted by our CEO Adrian Gregory.

One way to keep up the knowledge exchange is to engage with others working in the same field within a safe space. With us at Atos this came in the form of Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce, where senior people from a range of sectors come together to discuss our work around accessibility and share ideas.

Key to the holistic approach happening, though, and central to the success of any accessibility initiative, is senior buy-in. You need this not just to affect changes in thinking or procedures but also so you have a highly visible person to champion accessibility. At Atos, this started with our Head of Strategy but we now have support from our Global CIO as well. On a global level, this also means securing the buy-in of regional managers so that you can be supported in implementing the same changes at different locations and have a senior figure to support that rollout.

The last element, and one that is very much relevant in the world of IT, is keeping track of developments in the sector, and in 2017 those developments are happening as fast ever. We are seeing increased automation, huge advances in AI and even, with Elon Musk and neural lace, research into how computer systems can interface with the human brain. This is all very interesting to watch, and indeed some of it is still very much at the theoretical stage: but there’s no doubt that at some point it will have a bearing on accessibility and the way this is delivered for employees and customers.

Perhaps most immediate impact is from automation, and indeed there is an imperative for businesses now in reskilling workers for the new economy that automation and AI will bring. But again this is a major opportunity – for in creating these new roles, we can put accessibility at the centre of employees’ remits from the get-go.

We have still got a way to go on digital accessibility in the business world, and accessibility as a whole. But the rewards for making progress are obvious. As many people point out, this is the right thing to do but is also a commercial imperative: significantly, the biggest calls for greater accessibility come from customers, even more so than staff. At Atos some of our highest customer satisfaction ratings come from disabled people, for instance, because of the accessible features we have implemented. Furthermore for any organization hoping to be successful it pays to harness the talents of every member of staff – and key to that is removing all possible barriers.

These developments can all be harnessed in making businesses more open and inclusive for everyone, and the benefits that follow: it just remains to meet the challenges of those developments.