Why every employer should see the films at the Technology Taskforce Film Festival

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By Jeff A. King, Assistant Vice President, European IT, Enterprise Rent-A-Car

We’ve teamed up with the Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce for a unique event. It’s a Film Festival that provides a look at the world through the eyes of young disabled students preparing to go for their first jobs.

It goes without saying that workplaces need to understand each new generation of graduates. After all they are the people who will ultimately shape the organisation and ensure it meets the future with fresh ideas and remains relevant. More immediately, this is about getting the best out of every employee in the organisation and utilising the most diverse possible pool of talent.

Therefore it is a given that workplaces need to understand disabled employees and candidates, for the same reason. It’s the right thing to do and means your business is fair and open, but, more importantly, it also means that every employee has the chance to succeed and achieve their full potential in an environment where they are valued and respected.

Judging films for this year’s Film Festival has been particularly interesting because this new generation of disabled talent has grown up or come of age with hard-fought legislation such as the DDA and Equality Act already in place.

This means they will bring a formidable range of new ideas and approaches to the workplace, but also that they will expect and want new things from their employer. This shouldn’t be a source of concern for recruiters – it should be treated as a real opportunity to develop the way we work and problem-solve.

So it’s just down to us as organisations to rise to the challenge.

Some of the most inspiring aspects of the Film Festival entries were the ways they showed how understanding and adjustments, whether this was by entire organisations or just by individuals working together, can break down any barrier.

We specifically wanted to see the entrants weave in the theme of technology and another great thing to see was how technology has enabled not only disabled people, but entire workforces to operate in a more accessible way.

Seeing the work of these talented young filmmakers, I am reminded of how successful this approach was in one of our interns, who shared her story on our website.

Mollie recently started with us as a Management Trainee Intern at our Midlands group and her experience shows how simple adjustments to the work environment can enable a talented candidate to shine. She immediately felt able to share the fact that she had dyslexia when she came to work for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and was also secure in the knowledge that she would receive any necessary adjustments in a timely manner.

This meant that a talented new trainee was able to take on every aspect of her new job to the best of her ability, and that there were no barriers when it came to hiring new talent.

758500bf-8d25-49ab-ae05-1ef6f601618bSuccesses like this are among the many reasons why I would like to encourage as many businesses as possible to see these films. Hearing what can help break down barriers for disabled people – be that technology, collaboration or adjustments – in their own words, is something all businesses should do.

We’ll be screening our own film at the Film Festival, ‘Blind Hike’, which I feel sums up what we are hoping to achieve in terms of breaking down barriers: it’s about no experience or achievement being off limits and realising the potential that everyone has.

The honest truth about red, amber and green

By Hari Sundaresantraffic lights

In our latest guest blog, new BDF Board Member Hari Sundaresan talks about his experience of revealing his disability to his colleagues and helping to maintain an open culture around disability at BT.

I started out as a graduate scientist at Adastral and have enjoyed some very interesting jobs. But for years I hid the fact I had a specific vision-related condition. It hasn’t held me back but I was often worried that it would make a difference if people found out, and not in a good way.

Then, in a team meeting a few years ago, I had no choice but to share the thing I had always felt embarrassed about. Picture the scene. My team are showing me a slide as part of a project status update…

‘Hari, you don’t seem very worried about the status of these projects?’

‘Why would I be? They are mostly green aren’t they?’

‘No! They are mostly red!’

‘Ah…then there is something I need to tell you.’

It was out. I had to admit to being colour blind for the first time in my career. People knowing isn’t a big deal these days; but it used to be a big deal for me. Now I tell everyone who I am working with, to write the words ‘Red’, Amber’ and ‘Green’ and not just rely on colours to tell me the status of their project. It works fine.

I guess this was the day I was my “whole” self at work and by being so my colleagues and I both adjusted so that we get the job done. It made me feel so much better about the whole business of having a visual condition.

This is one of the reasons I became BT’s Disability Champion.

To me this means I can personally influence BT’s journey to becoming a company who is really confident with disability:

  • I want everyone to get that difference is just part of life and we are so much better for it
  • I want us all to  feel we can be our whole selves at work and that we are much more likely to succeed if we are
  • I want us all to get the adjustments we need to do our jobs well and that most of the time it’s going to be something pretty  quick and simple
  • I want to carry on talking about disability at BT, and I want everyone to hear it, so please join in and help me share the conversation.

It’s a journey I’m now keen to influence on an even larger scale as a board member of BDF. It feels like there’s a lot more work to be done and I’m looking forward to a busy and exciting 2017!

Is there really a business case for website accessibility?

By Rick Williams

home-worker-image-obscured-person-using-a-laptop-with-mug-of-coffee

Following the publication of the Click-Away Pound Report http://www.clickawaypound.com I’ve been reflecting on why website accessibility and usability for disabled people is still an issue after all these years. It is a puzzle to me that 71% of disabled users click-away from sites with access barriers and consequently displace £11.75 B to accessible sites. Why do businesses let that happen? It definitely isn’t good business on any level.

This situation exists despite:

  • The Equality Act and its predecessor – the Disability Discrimination Act
  • International standards
  • Government guidelines
  • A British Standard
  • Expert guidance and discussions
  • Campaigns

The traditional business case

It seems to me there are three key aspects to the broader business case:

  • Legal
  • PR
  • Commercial

These three issues are, of course, inter-related but are worth considering individually.

In reality the legal risks of having an inaccessible website are low in the UK. To make a case a customer would need to demonstrate a breach of the Equality Act which affected them personally and this would need to be done in a County or High court which would be expensive and time consuming. No cases in this field have been pursued to their conclusion; the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has initiated several cases against businesses with inaccessible sites but the cases were settled out of court, with the organisations involved agreeing to address the issues. The lack of cases coming to court probably explains why the law has had little impact in this area since its introduction (in the form of the Disability Discrimination Act) in 1995, although challenges are always a possibility. Interestingly, in the USA the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 allows for class actions and the imposition of much higher compensation payments. Even so, the US approach has not delivered a fully accessible web presence.

There are potential PR risks if website accessibility is ignored and this has implications, albeit limited, for loss of reputation. Any business strategy based on customer-focus and inclusivity is quickly undermined by the lack of an inclusive website. Such stories are unlikely to generate significant coverage in mainstream media and result in PR damage unless a legal challenge is mounted, but they do attract attention on social media and generate ’mood music’‘ of negativity about the business’s understanding of the issues which can be damaging to the brand.

Even commercial judgements such as lost or displaced revenue has not driven business to ensure accessible websites; if it had there wouldn’t be this issue. This surely can only mean businesses don’t understand its size and implications.

Clearly this business case has failed to gain traction. What is the reality that business is failing to grasp?

The business issues

Considering the trends identified in the Survey and applying them to the national data is illuminating.

  • The most recent ONS estimate of the UK population is 65.11 million in mid-2015 of whom 87.9% (46.47 million) have internet access.
  • CAPGemini projected overall UK online spending to be £126 billion by the beginning of 2016 equating to an average spend per head of the UK population with internet access of £2710.
  • In 2016, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated there were 8.6 million internet users with a disability in the UK
  • This Survey found that 71% of internet users with a disability have access needs; this translates to 6.1 million people
  • Taking an average spend per head of £2710, the online spending power of 6.1 million disabled people with access needs in 2016 is £16.55 billion.
  • The Survey found that 71% of the total 6.1 million disabled internet users with access needs (4.3 million people) simply click-away when confronted with a problematic website.
  • These figures equate to a click-away figure of £11.75 billion lost in 2016 from those sites which are not accessible.

These calculations are extrapolated from the Survey’s findings so care must be taken when considering them. Nevertheless, these figures are so large that even allowing for a significant margin of interpretation they are too large to be ignored.

This assessment is supported by findings from our wider work in this field which indicates that over 70% of websites present significant accessibility and usability barriers to disabled users. This means that over two-thirds of businesses are significantly undermining their own potential online customer base. This spend is not lost but simply moves elsewhere as disabled users with access needs turn to a website which is more user friendly. Two-thirds of online retailers are passing customers and sales to their competitors.

Conclusion

To answer the question ‘Is there really a business case’ I believe the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’, both nationally and at the level of the individual business.  However, business needs to get a better understanding of the bottom line implications and adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach to website accessibility rather than treating it as a ‘nice to do’ or ‘bolt-on’.

A brief look at the numbers in the Click-Away Pound report should be enough to persuade organisations that they are potentially ignoring and excluding a large number of potential customers. Also businesses need to bear in mind that if a disabled shopper clicks away from their site to one of their competitors, they show little inclination to return.

Take a look at the Click-Away Pound report and get an insight into the business issues and how inaccessible websites impact on your business.

http://www.clickawaypound.com

Congenital Heart Defects – how a supportive employer makes all the difference

By Nicola Holt 


It’s Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Awareness week this week. These conditions tend to be overlooked in conversations about heart disease, so it’s a good chance to talk about how it can affect people, dispel some common myths; and share some ideas about how employers can make the lives of CHD sufferers a little easier.

Congenital defects start before birth, while the heart is still forming. They come in a variety of types. A hole in the heart is the most common, a condition which is easily fixed nowadays but just a few decades ago would have been debilitating and possibly fatal.

Modern medicine has come a very long way in a short space of time, so people with congenital heart defects have very high survival rates and, usually, a high standard of life. Valves can be replaced, blocked blood vessels can be opened with stents, heart rhythms can be paced, and whole hearts can be transplanted. Despite huge leaps in treatment and technology, a CHD requires lifelong care and often lifelong medication.

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Living with a congenital heart defect

I was diagnosed with CHD when I was 4 and had surgery at 7. In 2014 my pulmonary valve began to fail, and I had surgery to replace it with a shiny new one. I also had a hole fixed, and a pacemaker fitted. As well as some of the more philosophical conclusions people draw when faced with a situation like that, it taught me that an efficient, well-prepared and compassionate employer is vital when you’re faced with a traumatic life event.

What would my employer think?

The last thing you need when you have a heart condition is stress. Work is one of the most common sources of stress at the best of times, and being ill is another one, so that’s an unfortunate combination.

Being told that you have a heart condition can come as a huge shock, and the necessity for invasive open-heart surgery is daunting. It’s important that an employer has processes in place to handle situations like this, and make information about those processes readily available. If it is, people can find out what to expect and plan ahead.

This is particularly important for sick pay. If the policy is clear and fair, it takes away a lot of the stress. If you’re lying in a hospital bed worrying about getting back to work, it’ll take you longer to recover.

My first thoughts, after the initial fear of being told I needed surgery, were about my job. How would they cope without me? Would they tolerate me being off for months? Would I get sick pay? If I didn’t, how would I pay my mortgage? And what about the ongoing care, months of appointments and tests? Because Fujitsu has policies for all of these it didn’t take me long to find out exactly what I needed to do, how much time I could take off, and what the pay situation was.

It’s also vital to create a supportive environment in which people feel comfortable talking about their health issues. It might seem like a very personal thing, but open communication is good for the business as well as the individual.

Friday afternoon, one hour’s notice

You don’t always get a lot of time to plan. I was phoned at 4pm on Friday and asked to go to the hospital for a pulmonary valve replacement the following Monday. An hour’s notice that I’d need around 3 months off.

Hospital timetables are complex and ever-shifting things and if a date comes up, you take it. Because I work in such a supportive environment, I was able to tell everyone what was going on ahead of time without any fear that I’d be judged. That enabled me to get a detailed plan into place so everyone knew what they needed to do and what work they’d be covering.

Even admitting that you have a heart problem is an issue for some people. It’s sometimes seen as a weakness, particularly if the person is in a high-profile, fast-paced job. As an employer, if you make it harder for people to be open about their condition, it’s going to be harder for everyone if one of your employees suddenly disappears for a few months.

The necessity for support doesn’t end with the surgery. In fact, that’s often the easy bit. Open heart surgery takes months to recover from. During that time there are all sorts of issues to manage – mobility is severely restricted, and the medication can make a quick return to work impossible.

Workplace adaptations

Fujitsu sent me to see an occupational health expert as soon as I was well enough to get there. He helped me to identify the adaptations I needed. There’s an easy ordering process for anyone who could benefit from additional help whether it’s technology or a more comfortable chair. When you’ve had your rib cage opened a couple of times, comfort becomes very important!

Those processes meant that I didn’t have to worry about booking appointments or trying to get hold of equipment. If you put too much bureaucracy in the way, people won’t get the help that they need. And, of course, the law obliges employers to make reasonable adjustments to enable people to do their jobs effectively.

Even if a CHD sufferer isn’t having surgery there are adjustments that can be made. Are they expected to carry heavy equipment? That can be an issue with some conditions, as can climbing stairs.

I have a light-weight laptop which is easier for me to carry to meetings; and multiple charging cables so I can dot them around my various working locations. The small things really matter. Employers should all have a policy for providing these.

Returning to work

A phased return to work is crucial so there needs to be a policy in place to manage this. A day or two a week, or a couple of hours a day, maybe some time working from home. Different arrangements will work for different people and different conditions.

I went back to work part time. It was disorientating and difficult. The pain was tough, the painkillers were tough, but the most difficult aspect was just not knowing what was going on. I like to know what everyone is doing and when. I like to have a plan in my head so I can make sure everything gets done. My team handled everything amazingly, but it felt disorientating. They’d coped disturbingly well without me, and I felt like a surplus cog. It took me a few weeks to get back into the swing of things.

Most people who have invasive heart surgery need a lot of aftercare. Cardiac rehabilitation and physiotherapy appointments are usually necessary for several months, and the drug treatments go on for longer. Warfarin treatment means regular blood tests and is usually long-term or even life-long.

The most important thing in this whole process was my line manager. A supportive manager makes all the difference in the world. The bureaucracy was all handled in the background while I was off, he supported me before the process and helped me plan, and all of the communication I received was supportive and helpful.

I was eased back into work with the help of all the people around me, and never felt pushed to do anything beyond my comfort zone. There’s no doubt the attitude of my manager and colleagues helped me to recover more quickly.

Friends and fellow CHD patient stories

I know I’ve been very lucky. A quick survey of friends and fellow CHD patients threw up a disturbing selection of stories from people with less supportive employers. Some were sent dozens of letters asking for updates and sick notes, some were pushed into returning to work when they weren’t ready and became ill again.

Some were passed over for promotion and believed it to be entirely because they were seen as weak, or a liability. Some even lost their jobs because their employers didn’t want to employ people who would need time off for treatment; or quit because they couldn’t cope with the stress of all the bureaucracy. All of their employers have lost out. They’ve let people go who were hard-working, dedicated and capable, just because they didn’t have the right support and processes in place.

I think what’s most impressive about the Fujitsu approach is the genuine desire to improve, continuously. The SEED group is there for long term support. Communication, training and processes are being analysed and improved to make them more effective. A happy and healthy workforce is recognised as being good for business, and the people improving these processes really care.

What could you do differently at work to help people with long-term health conditions?

Busting some myths around Congenital Heart Defects

  • Congenital heart defects aren’t lifestyle related. Staying healthy is a good idea but it doesn’t cause the defects. They’re often genetic.
  • A cure is difficult. Many people need repeated surgery throughout their lives and rely on drugs to stay healthy. Sometimes people need surgery every ten years or so, particularly if valves need replacing.
  • It’s not just about the heart. Chronic conditions like this are associated with pain, anxiety and depression so it’s important to take a holistic view
  • It doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Some people will struggle to climb stairs and get out of breath easily. Others can climb mountains. It depends on the type and severity of the condition.
  • It’s not that rare. It’s the most common congenital defect, affecting almost 1% of the population
  • You can’t tell when someone has a heart condition. Just because someone looks healthy doesn’t mean that they are, and a lot of the issues associated with CHD are hidden. You can sometimes spot us by the impressive selection of scars though!
  • Heart problems affect people of every age. CHD is a congenital condition, it’s there before birth and throughout life.

For more information or to visit the Fujitsu Responsible Business blog – visit: http://blog.uk.fujitsu.com/category/responsible-business/#.VsNDyXSLReU 

The Click Away Pound survey is officially launched

By Rick Williams


“Here’s a question: does the Equality Act place obligations on business about making their websites accessible and usable for disabled people? Well… err…yes.

OK, so the second question: why is it so many websites aren’t readily accessible or usable for disabled people? I don’t know the answer but it puzzles me.

I’m a blind guy and use a screen reader – you know, that bit of software that reads out what’s on the screen with a voice like Micky Mouse on helium. I would say I was quite an experienced user but it amazes me the number of websites that I find hard to use or can’t use at all! This is so frequent now I got to the point of not even noticing. I just tried one and if it didn’t work I tried another wherever possible. Last year I started keeping stats just for my own curiosity. When doing a search for something new, especially if I wanted to buy something, it was surprising to find that I would typically look at three or four sites before I found one I could use easily.

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Do I contact the sites I can’t access and take up the issues? Actually, I’ve given up. I have done it but… well they usually don’t understand or even reply.

On the other hand if I find a site I can use then I use it as much as possible; often even if I know I might be able to get things cheaper elsewhere. For example, I find it easier to have my supermarket shopping delivered and the best site I found to use is Ocado, so I use it. I know some things would be cheaper elsewhere but, well, the accessibility of the site and the app make it so easy why would I bother to look elsewhere when my experience tells me I’m likely to find problems.

The other thing that I find odd is that my company has been running Business Disability Forum’s e-check service http://www.e-check-it.com since 2008. In that time 70% of the sites we’ve reviewed were given a ‘red’ assessment – in other words ‘significant potential commercial, PR or legal risk’. Even more surprising is the low number of organisations who have got such assessments who’ve done anything about it!

So, putting this together: there is a law but it isn’t that successful and many businesses don’t seem to think this is an issue. OK, so what we need to do is find out what this costs businesses and maybe the bottom line will persuade them that website accessibility and usability is important as a business issue.

Working with Business Disability Forum and supported by the RNIB and Enterprise Rent-a-Car we’ve just launched the Click-Away Pound survey, which aims to find out what disabled people’s experiences are when shopping online, what they do about problematic sites and the potential costs to business of not thinking about the issue.

If you have a disability give it a go – only takes 10 minutes and will help improve the Internet experience for disabled people.”

For more information and to take the survey visit: http://www.clickawaypound.com

Rick Williams
Managing Director
Freeney Williams Ltd
http://www.freeneywilliams.com

Why senior sponsorship/ leadership is crucial to improving an organisation’s disability performance

By Joanna Wootten


Why does leadership matter in regards to disability? Put simply, if employees or work streams aren’t told to think about disability, or prioritise disabled employees or customers, it’s unlikely to happen consistently or systematically. Of course, there will always be individuals doing their best ‘under the radar’. It is also important to note that many people are nervous about getting it wrong, or feel unequipped to address the issue of disability correctly. Organisations should support employees in getting it right – this means ensuring the appropriate systems are in place as well as having the right attitude.

Joanna Wootten giving a presentation

The Disability Standard – Business Disability Forum’s management tool to help businesses measure and improve their performance on disability, reinforces this idea of having strong leadership at the top. Amongst the ten criteria of the Standard – which include ICT, Workplace Adjustments and Recruitment, senior sponsorship remains fundamental. Such support creates both cultural and financial permission, while also empowering employees to tackle sensitive issues with confidence.

If, however, you are struggling to get your colleagues to ‘buy-in’ to your idea, it can be effective to begin with a single issue. This should help to catch people’s attention and imagination. I have witnessed some amazing achievements when companies have offered their support to a particular charity or organisation. People can get very enthused supporting a charity which has a knock on effect on their employee engagement, as well as increasing their understanding and support for diversity initiatives.

While it can be difficult to instigate the first step to becoming disability-smart, it is very encouraging to see an increasing number of organisations that are doing exceptional work within this area and using the Disability Standard to monitor their progress.

We have all seen the Barclays advertisements showing people with visual impairments using talking ATMs. Also, from a personal viewpoint, as a deaf customer, I really value Barclays’ commitment to accessibility as I have used both their online chat function, and accessed their services via a video interpreting service.

It’s apparent that there is leadership from the top as I have seen various senior people including their Chairman, CEO and CEO of Personal & Corporate Banking all talking about the importance of disability, stating it is not just a CSR issue, but fundamental to their business model.

I asked Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays, what the company had done to make disability ‘business as usual.’ He pinpointed an event called ‘Living in our customers’ world’ as being pivotal. During this event, attendees – including senior business leaders, were able to test Barclays’ disability simulation kits in order to feel the physical effects of different disabilities. As a result, attendees left the room with a personal insight into the challenges that disabled customers face, and were motivated to ‘use their influence and resources to deliver strategic and operational change.’

Kathryn Townsend, who leads Barclays’ Strategic Transformation – Accessibility & Inclusion, said:

“Barclays has really invested in this by investing in full time resources (mine and Paul Smyth’s teams) whose sole focus is accessibility. We are also given freedom and support to identify the ‘next big thing’ we should adopt, or the key internal issues we need to fix. Without a doubt, our Chief Executive not only believes, but really understands and champions that this is core to how we do business – not an add on.”

I recently spoke with Graeme Whippy, Senior Disability Manager at Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) who said how useful it had been having Mark Fisher, former Director of Operations, championing disability at the company. Graeme discussed how senior sponsorship had helped enable him and his colleagues to talk to people across the business and get them to take disability seriously. As a result, LBG significantly improved their performance across all 10 areas of the Disability Standard. This was particularly true regarding the company’s Workplace Adjustments policy which was completely transformed in 2010 into a centrally funded, award-winning service.

Senior sponsorship has also helped to ensure longevity of commitment at LBG, proven by the implementation of Key Performance Indicators in place, and regular reports to David Oldfield, the current Director of Operations.

Sometimes, however, something has to go wrong before leadership will take disability seriously. This was exemplified at the Civil Service after the organisation’s People Survey demonstrated very low engagement levels among disabled staff, partly because the systems were not in place to support them effectively.

A Civil Service Task Group on Disability found an employee who had been put on 18 months gardening leave because they were waiting for a £15-£30 mouse to be approved, tested and placed on their computer. Having discovered such issues, a Permanent Secretaries’ Reference Group on Disability was created. Now, the Department for Work and Pensions and BDF member leads the way in relation to workplace adjustments, and has shared its best practice with other government departments.

I asked Jenny Groves at Nationwide about the topic of Executive sponsorship. Jenny said:

“In business, the most effective way to achieve success, in whatever you set out to do, is to get your people behind your goals. Ambition is infectious and when you see leaders excited about, and dedicated to, such an important subject, it inspires everyone else. Improving disability performance is about much more than tangible, physical changes. It’s also about changing culture and the way we think, both as individuals and as a company. Whether it’s a business, a school or a community, an organisation’s culture is driven from the behaviours and actions displayed by those at the very top. We know we have the right people in place to increase Nationwide’s accessibility and become a disability-smart, disability-confident business with the support of our senior leaders and Business Disability Forum.”

Discussing the importance of leadership and why it is needed to achieve real change, Stephanie Smith, Director of Operations for Allianz Retail observes:

“Disability awareness and understanding has increased exponentially in recent years, but providing for disabled customers is still seen by many organisations as optional. However, with an aging population and the advent of social media, organisations that are off the pace are increasingly becoming exposed. Having the right services and products for all customers, has always been important of course, but now the impact of getting it wrong is becoming more tangible. So why is it hard for some organisations to focus on what is so obviously the right thing to do? A mind-set and language change is critical, and can only be led from the top. The diversity agenda needs life breathed into it, it needs to be omnipresent in everything you do in your business, from the top to the bottom. And you need to prioritise and invest – not massively, but enough to ensure that in a world where budgets are cut and investments curbed, diversity isn’t the thing always squeezed off the agenda.”

Ultimately, one must allocate resources in a way that will work for the business. For example, I work closely with Sainsbury’s, and they have a board member with responsibility for disability. He chairs two working groups that report to him on a regular basis: one focusing on customers, and the other focusing on employees.

If you aren’t sure how to begin improving your company’s performance on disability, using the Disability Standard and the help available at Business Disability Forum is a very useful starting point.

But it’s important to remember that it’s not just about beautiful systems and ticking the boxes, it’s about creating and/or maintaining the right environment so that people want to work for your company, or use your services. After all, as Winston Churchill said: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”


For more information on using the Disability Standard, visit: https://www.disabilitystandard.com/about/

For more information on Barclays Accessibility Statement, visit: http://www.barclays.co.uk/Accessibility/Barclaysaccessibilitystatement/P1242641724754

Click the link to view the Lloyds Banking Group Workplace Adjustments case study: https://www.disabilitystandard.com/media_manager/public/86/Resources/BDF%20Lloyds%20BG%20Workplace%20adjustments%20case%20study.pdf

For more information on Nationwide, visit: http://www.nationwide.co.uk/

For more information on Allianz, visit: https://www.allianz.com/en/careers/allianz_as_an_employer/diversity.html

Life as a disabled entrepreneur – specialist disability consultant Rick Williams discusses what it takes to start a successful business

By Rick Williams

In 2014, 500,000 disabled people set up their own businesses. Forming part of a positive trend, this figure represents a further increase from the previous year. In order to support this growing number, Business Disability Forum recently asked me to reflect upon my own experiences as a disabled entrepreneur and discuss what it takes to set up a successful business. Image of Rick Williams In February of 2001 I set up my own business after 30 years as a career civil servant. I was bored and decided to see what I could do for myself in business terms. 14 years later, my company Freeney Williams Ltd is now one of the largest specialist disability consultancies in the UK and Europe. The point from where I started, to where I am now, was an interesting journey. It demanded hard work, effort and emotion, not-to-mention the sheer amount of hours. Despite this, I wouldn’t swap it or have gone back to being a ‘slave to the wage.’

My business idea was simple:

‘Go out and tell organisations how they should improve the way they employ, serve and do business with disabled people.’

‘What a good idea’! I thought. ‘Well was it?’ I talked to a number of people about this to see whether they thought it would work. In particular, I remember talking to Susan Scott-Parker who was CEO of the Employers’ Forum on Disability, which became the Business Disability Forum in 2012. Susan said, and I quote:

‘So you want to set up a business which means you need to talk to people who won’t want to talk to you about this subject, tell them things they don’t want to hear about, what they need to do differently and you expect them to pay you?’

Susan went on to say:

‘I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t sound like a great business model.’

Actually, Susan went on to be very influential and supportive over the years and I’m not sure I could have achieved as much as I have without her advice, guidance and expertise – all of which she gave willingly.

Based on my experiences, the advice I would offer to disabled individuals who are considering a similar path would be to start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is my idea?
  • What is it I’m selling?
  • Will anyone pay for it?
  • How do I tell them about it and get them to buy it?
  • What is the competition like and what makes me unique?
  • How much money is it likely to make and is it enough?
  • Who can help me?
  • Will I enjoy it?

On top of that, of course, there are other questions around the practicalities associated with the effects of any disability. Providing advice on this subject is difficult as there are a wide variety of options available to assist disabled people in coping with the effects of their disability. It is, however, of major importance to utilise the advice and resources that are available to you. Despite what is often said, I found the Access to Work scheme very helpful, although I did have to ‘push’ a bit. Ultimately, I received the help I asked for which, in turn, helped me to understand what more I needed to make my business work. It is also very beneficial to speak with other individuals who have similar disabilities – it is amazing how much generosity and support is available.

When I started my business, I found that the key element was getting the basic idea sorted, and this then became my first priority. I remember it took me several months and a lot of pain to write my first business plan. My business mentor more-or-less threw out my first effort and made me start again, suggesting I be more realistic – something I have now done to others! After several attempts, my mentor eventually approved my plan, which ultimately proved very useful in helping me clarify what I needed to do and how I was going to do it. Without a good business plan, no one will take you seriously when starting up.

So, here are my tips:

  • Get a business adviser who knows what they are talking about and who you get on with
  • Consider finding a disabled mentor to help you through the issues about your own disability and the adjustments which might help you
  • Develop a realistic business plan but be prepared to be flexible
  • While developing your plan, talk to people to ask their advice, ask them if they think it would work and if they would pay for your services
  • Stick at it and do the things you don’t like doing as well as those you do
  • Remember, it is pointless having a great product no one wants to buy, or even worse, they don’t know about!

And finally, enjoy yourself!

Rick Williams CFCIPD

Managing Director Freeney Williams Ltd


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