Blue Monday: fake, but useful

By Jacob Spargo-Mabbs, Business Disability Forum

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.

Because of this, we’re adding a new resource to our Mental Health Toolkit. Entitled ‘Why having friends at work matters’, our new resource emphasises the role workplace friends play in supporting employees’ mental health, and encourages employers to consider the ways in which they could make their workplaces more sociable.

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.

Is 2020 the year of accessibility?

By Lucy Ruck, Taskforce Manager at Business Disability Forum

A man holds a tablet and 2020 in 3D appears. There are patterns across the photo

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.

Networking can make a huge difference and really help to move organisations forward and help maintain that positive momentum. We have a Technology Showcase event coming up on Tuesday 3 March, generously hosted by PwC, but there are also some amazing events run on a monthly basis by London Accessibility and Nottingham 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.

Disability rights are human rights – and why this matters on Human Rights Day 2019

Colourful stick figures in front of a colourful world map

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.

Happy #HumanRightsDay.

 

Why the next Government must support business on disability inclusion

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.

We are calling on every business to consider how their organisation can contribute to making these asks a reality for the lives of disabled people.

Man working on a computer at a desk

Man working on a computer at a desk

Not all value is as clear as dollars and cents

Jodie May 2019

By Jodie Greer, IT Accessibility Lead at Shell Information Technology International Limited

How many of us would have a business, or a job if there weren’t other people somewhere in the chain? Be that colleagues, customers, potential new recruits, suppliers etc. So how can you really put a value on accessibility?

In many forums I hear the same familiar questions, wanting to put a $ mark against accessibility goals and wanting to know the number of people impacted. Well, what if I told you there aren’t any statistics?

Some people would disagree with me and research shows that globally there are more than 1.3 billion people living with a disability* and together with their friends and family that group has a spending power of $8 trillion**.

Those of us in global organisations also contend with the numerous legislations around the world, meaning in some countries we cannot ask staff to share if they have a disability and sadly we all contend with the stigma that is still very apparent with regards some disabilities that makes people reluctant to share voluntarily.

In the workplace and with your customer base can you really put a value on making people as productive as they can be and/or enabling people to make use of your goods and services? Let’s not forget that accessibility doesn’t only enable people with disabilities, these good practices can prove beneficial for many. Some examples, captions can be invaluable for someone with a hearing impairment and can be just as beneficial for someone facing a language barrier, colour contrast can make all the difference for some people with a visual impairment to access information and also help those of us with good vision to stop squinting as we try to decipher what’s in front of us and good meeting practice can ensure we all take away the same messages without relying on the ability to recognise sarcasm or distinguish what’s said by motivated people all speaking at the same time.

The reason I suggest there aren’t any statistics is that the world keeps turning. Not just literally, but the demographic you are serving today will be different tomorrow and again the day after and so on. Staff who do not require adjustments today may do tomorrow, customers who can use your products today may not be able to next week. Are you prepared to lose them? That’s the true value of accessibility.

Most of us love a statistic, so I would say think about the value you put on your staff and customers and whether you can run an effective and commercially viable business without them (if you can please share how as that sounds like an opportunity not to be missed and the lottery isn’t working out for me) and then translate that in to $$ to decide if you can afford to be anything but truly accessible.

Accessibility is simply good business sense and the Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce provide support and guidance to those who want to be successful.

Data sources: *The World Bank and **The Global Economics of Disability

Learning disability: shifting the dial on employment

Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum

Diane Lightfoot

Diane Lightfoot

Identity means very different things to different people and it can change many times in a lifetime.

Our Identity is shaped by our experiences and the world around us.

It’s also shaped by what we do every day; one of the main ways that most of us define ourselves is through our job and one of the first things we tend to ask when we meet someone new is “what do you do?” or even “where do you work?”.

For too many disabled people, that’s a really difficult question to answer. But for most people with a learning disability, it’s impossible. Though the figures for the employment of disabled people overall have crept up to 51%, those for the employment of people with a learning disability remain at a woeful 6% – as compared to over 80% employment for working age adults as a whole.

So, to mark this year’s Learning Disability Week, I wanted to shine a light on what’s needed to change this.

A confession: I have a particular interest here, having worked for a learning disability charity for 13 years before joining Business Disability Forum. During those 13 years, it struck me that work – good work – is, for many people with learning disabilities, the most genuine form of inclusion there is. It’s something many of us are lucky enough to be able to take for granted and so we probably don’t think of all the myriad benefits of work when we begin our commute each morning. It’s not just about paying the rent or mortgage (though few would argue that’s pretty important!) but also a social group, emotional support – a natural way of building the “circles of support” that are so often talked about for people with learning disabilities), self-esteem and yes, identity.

At Business Disability Forum, we work with organisations across all sectors to help them get better at recruiting retaining disabled employees and serving disabled customers. Our 300 members employ around 15% of the UK workforce and around 8 million people worldwide. But what we are ultimately here for – I believe – is to transform the life chances that disabled people have as employees and consumers – and includes people with a learning disability.

I’ve been at BDF for 2.5 years now and one of the things I am pleased to see is increased interest and focus on recruitment rather than just retention. Skills shortages in sectors such as construction mean that employers are recognising the need to reach the widest possible talent pool.

So how can you get better at employing people with learning disabilities?

When recruiting, think about what you really need for the job. We’ve all been there when someone in our team leaves and we think we must get the vacant post filled as soon as possible; yesterday, ideally. So it’s all too easy to dust down the old job description and person spec and even the old advert, give it a quick once over and do exactly what you did to recruit last time.

But what if you took a step back?

What if you paused for a moment to think about whether you really need those qualifications or three years’ experience or a driving licence or whether someone might be able to demonstrate to you that they can do the job another way? What if you thought about the outcomes you need from the job and whether they might be achieved differently? It’s also about challenging your frame of reference; the Maynard Review made recommendations to the entry level for apprenticeships to open them up to people with learning disabilities by waiving the requirement for Maths and English GCSE. That’s great news. But I’m willing to bet that the people who originally set the entry criteria weren’t trying to set them high to exclude people with a learning disability! They probably thought they were setting them at a really attainable level. So, its’ worth challenging yourself about what you really need.

Then, when you advertise, make sure you offer alternative formats including easy read (simple text supported by pictures). It’s also vital to make sure any sifting process – whether automated or human – doesn’t automatically screen out people with a less traditional CV or one that has gaps as this may well exclude people (not just with a learning disability) who for whatever reason haven’t had the opportunity to build their portfolio.

And once at assessment, it’s about testing the right skills. I don’t know many people who actively love interviews but for some people with a learning disability (or indeed who are neurodiverse) may really struggle with the traditional panel format. Offering a work trial – which is legally a reasonable adjustment – gives people to demonstrate the skills they will need to show in the workplace.

Once in the job, inclusive onboard such as buddying schemes of “week one mentors” for new employees with a learning disability can really help with orientation and helping someone get used to their new role and environment. And other approaches such as job carving (where you remove an aspect/s of a job that someone may find a barrier – for example dealing with money) or Training in Systematic Assumption (TSI) where a job is taught by breaking processes down into individual component tasks – can make all the difference in an employee with a learning disability thriving at work. Our Advice Service recently worked with a large employer to understand why people with learning disabilities were being recruited into the organisation but not successfully completing the probation period. We found that passing the probation period was dependent on every employee scoring well in a comprehensive health and safety training exercise. The health and safety training was generic and not tailored to job roles. When we tailored the health and safety assessment to the employee’s specific role, the employee passed his probation and remained successfully in post.

There are still challenges; people with learning disabilities are among those most impacted by the Access to Work cap. Whilst the cap has been raised, it still remains a barrier for people who require “human support” a work – and that might be the difference in being able to afford a job coach for an employee with a learning disability or not.

There are challenges too in raising aspirations, well before the workplace. Far too many young people with a learning disability are still growing up without the encouragement to – let along the expectation of – working. Job readiness needs to keep pace with the changing landscape of entry level jobs – the dwindling of supermarket checkout roles being an obvious example – and the changing requirements of employers. Equally, employers need to be open to doing things differently and to understand a work trial is not only a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act, but is also, for many jobs, a far better measure of whether someone can actually do a job as opposed to telling you about it.

This Learning Disability Week, let’s work together and shift the dial on those woeful statistics once and for all.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum

 

To mark Learning Disability Week, we are offering a 25% discount on two year intranet licences on a resources bundle to include our Learning Disabilities Briefing, Managing Difficult Conversations and Line Manager Guide on Non-visible Disabilities. Please contact our publications team on +44 (020) 7089 2430 or email publications@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk” to find out more and to order your bundle.