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

Supporting employees returning to work after a stroke

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy, Advice and Research

Angela Matthews, head of policy, research and advice at Business Disability Forum, looking ahead at the audience

Angela Matthews, head of policy, research and advice at Business Disability Forum

This morning, Stroke Association released new research which showed 15 per cent of stroke survivors returning to the workplace feel unsupported by their employer.  In fact, 37 per cent people under the age of 65 who had a stroke gave up work, and another 9 per cent either missed out on promotion or were made redundant after having a stroke.

Business Disability Forum’s CEO, Diane Lightfoot, spoke on Sky News this morning about this new research. She emphasised how stroke happens unexpectedly, and it is therefore not something an employee or employer can readily plan for in their usual individual workplace adjustments planning.

Stroke survivors are often still recovering when they return to work. It can often take longer to recover than an employer’s average sick pay policy covers. This means employees may try to come back to work before they are ready, because they don’t want to experience personal financial hardship (43 per cent of stroke survivors said they experience financial hardship following their stroke). As stroke survivors’ bodies are often still healing when they come back to work, they might be physically slower, they might now have to complete tasks in different ways (using different keyboards, assistive technology, or carrying things differently, for example), or they might be using mobility aids; but this does not mean they are now unable to work or are intellectually less capable.

The usual ways of supporting any employee at work apply, such as ensuring they know they can talk to someone (a line manager or employee wellbeing support professional, for example); making adjustments specific to the employee’s situation; and regular, support meetings to review recovery, workload, and working conditions. There are however some specific things that managers supporting stroke survivors should also remember:

  • There are lots of medical appointments after a stroke – consultants, speech and language therapists, counsellors, nerve tests, physiotherapy, for example. Time off (ideally, paid) for appointments is often hugely appreciated. Check your absence and time off policies and advise the employee how they should discuss and request time off for these.
  • Redeployment as a reasonable adjustment and job carving are so under-utilised and poorly understood, but they can be the difference between a stroke survivor leaving and staying in work. Check that your HR teams and managers know how to discuss and arrange such new working patterns with employees where appropriate.
  • Ensure return to work procedures, approach to making workplace adjustments, and phased returns are available and supportively managed. If arranging phased returns or reduced working hours, ensure you also re-prioritise and re-consider the employee’s workload. Giving the employee the same workload on reduced hours does not make for a supportive return to work and will not help the employee recover as much as possible.
  • Stroke survivors may now move in a different way and their confidence in their own mobility might be reduced for a while. They may now need to use the lift instead of the stairs. Check if you need to discuss new Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) with employees where appropriate, and ensure there is an effective review period in place to manage this.
  • Be patient. Stroke survivors are often still getting used to how different their body now feels, learning to do things differently, and trying to re-gain mental and physical confidence after an unexpected, frightening, life-changing event when they come back to work. This is as new to them as it is for you as the employer or manager.

For more information, Members and Partners can contact us to get a copy of our briefing on supporting stroke survivors in the workplace.  

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

Why our response to London’s car-free day is about more than just inaccessible transport

Angela Matthews, Business Disability Forum

Angela Matthews

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Research

For those who have not been following our transport-related activity during the last week, we spoke out about how Sadiq Khan’s announcement of a car-free day in London has given no visible consideration to its impact on disabled people.

The announcement of a day to “promote walking, cycling, and use of public transport” is striking since recent campaigns have highlighted the frequent obstructions on pavements disabled people experience, and the inaccessibility of public transport disabled people experience every day. This also comes shortly after Department for Transport’s launch of the Inclusive Transport Strategy and their revision of the Blue Badge Scheme, which has been updated to be more inclusive to people with disabilities and conditions which are less immediately visible to others.

But, not only are many disabled people prevented from having clear, accessible streets to navigate or from using transport that is reliably accessible on a car-free day, they are also prevented from taking part in a public awareness campaign that is about London’s air pollution – and I’m quite sure even some disabled people are concerned about our environment.

This brings us to another fundamental cause for concern that emerges from this debate: the exclusion of disabled people from public social action campaigns. Disabled people’s representation in environmental activism is not a new issue. ‘Green’ movements have increasingly acknowledged the shift that is needed in making this global campaign accessible to everyone. Environmental activist groups and organisations have acknowledged what we would have previously called the “business case” for making their campaigns accessible to disabled people; that is, simply, if they make their campaigns accessible, millions more people can be involved, meaning the bigger and more likely their campaign is to succeed.

This ‘no brainer’ approach only skims the surface. There is a more critical issue at root here. If social action is not open (that is, accessible) to every person in our society, it is not inclusive, democratic, or representative. There is no equal citizenship – for any of us – until everyone is enabled to take part. For a Government in a country which is said by others to excel in human rights and which is hailed for how far we have come in terms of disability inclusion, we have got this car-free day radically wrong.

Denying participation by inaccessibility to even one person, let alone a whole ‘group’ of people, is the active silencing of voices. And we need to consider, is this really who the UK want to be?

Read information about our accessible transport survey, open until 10 July 2019

Further thoughts from Business Disability Forum on inclusive transport:

Join the Valuable 500 and make 2019 the year of the inclusion revolution

By Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum

“This is the inclusion revolution, right here and right now.” Challenging words spoken by the amazing Dr Caroline Casey, founder of #Valuable, at Business Disability Forum’s Scottish Conference, back in December.

Dr Caroline Casey on stage

Dr Caroline Casey CEO, Binc

If you have been working in the disability space for any length of time, it can be easy to become despondent, and wonder if the change that we have all been calling for and working towards for so many years will ever happen. The global disability employment gap is wider now than it was in 2010, for example. And too many big businesses which talk the language of diversity, fail to include disability.

This makes no sense when you consider that disability is the one characteristic which can and does – and will – affect us all. And yet it is too often the Cinderella of the diversity world.

But last week something amazing did happen. For the first time ever, disability inclusion took centre stage at the most influential global event in the world.

The World Economic Forum four-day annual conference in Davos brings together leading figures from business and politics to discuss issues of global importance. Usual topics on the agenda include security and the economy, and, more recently, the environment and the gender pay gap, but never the value of the 1.3 billion people living in the world with a disability. Until now.

Thanks to the incredible and visionary leadership of Dr Caroline Casey, for the first time in the Forum’s history, disability was a main stage event. It is hard to overstate what a big deal that is. The buzz started towards the beginning of the week and by the time Caroline took to the main stage on Thursday, joined by CEOs and global business leaders, including former CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, it felt as though something was really happening.

They highlighted the actions that global organisations can take to become “the tipping-point for change” and to “unlock the business, social and economic value of people living with disabilities across the world”.

I am proud to say that Business Disability Forum Partners and Members, Unilever, Microsoft, Barclays, Fujitsu and Accenture, were among the first businesses to sign up to become part of the Valuable 500 – a growing cohort of businesses who are committed to putting disability on the agenda at the highest global level.

Valuable log - black stripe and an orange heartThe Valuable 500 is calling on global organisations to commit to putting disability on their board agendas in 2019, with recent research by Business Disability Forum Partner, EY, showing that over half of global senior executives, rarely or never discuss disability on leadership agendas.


I said earlier in this blog that too often disability is the Cinderella of the diversity world. And a brilliant new film created by AMV, DIVERSISH, launched at the conference in Davos, makes this point brilliantly. It shows that many businesses may call themselves diverse yet overlook disability in their definition of diversity. They are as the film says, diversish. You can see the film here:

So what now? How can we ensure that the historic events of Davos turn into the longer-term inclusion revolution we have all hoped for?

As an expert partner of the Valuable 500, Business Disability Forum will be among organisations ready to provide practical resources and advice on how they can bring about meaningful, top-down and embedded change within their organisations, during 2019 and beyond. It’s an opportunity and challenge which we relish.

But this change can only happen if more global businesses follow the example set by Unilever, Microsoft, Barclays, Fujitsu and Accenture, and sign up to the Valuable 500 pledge.

As Sir Richard Branson says, “Stand up as allies for change. Consider how you can improve your disability performance and commit to unlocking the value of over 1.3 billion disabled people and families across the world.”

You can find out more and apply to be a Valuable 500 business at thevaluable500.com.

Let’s make sure that this is only the start of the inclusion revolution that we and so many others in this space have been seeking for so long.

Thinking globally about disability and business

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Our Global Taskforce met for the first time in September 2018

By Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive, Business Disability Forum

To mark the United Nations International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPD), I wanted to share some of the things we have been doing at Business Disability Forum over the past few months to get disability on the global stage.

Forty-five per cent of our members are global or have some sort of international presence. Together, they employ over 8 million people across the world. Many have a presence in developing countries where there is a real opportunity to realise the theme for this year’s IDPD: that is, of “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.”

We upped the ante on our global focus in earnest earlier this year, with the launch of our new Global Taskforce, co-chaired by Shell, back in April. Since then, it has developed into a lively and collaborative community of global businesses including Accenture, Barclays, GSK, EY, Microlink, Unilever, KPMG and more. As with all our Taskforces, it’s a forum where organisations can share best practices and also challenges – a “safe space” to talk about what’s not working and how we might work collectively to fix it.

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Our Global Framework, released in July, uses a scoring system to assess practice

When I first spoke to Partners to moot the idea of a global taskforce, they told me that they didn’t want “another talking shop”. So, the taskforce has been deliberately “action – task!” oriented. We began with the development of our new Global Business Disability Framework, based on our UK based Disability Standard and reframed as a “maturity model” as a self-assessment tool for global leads. We were delighted to launch the Framework at the UK Government’s Global Disability Summit back in July 2018 and it is now being used by global organisations to measure and improve their corporate approach to disability inclusion.

Next year will see the taskforce publish research, create a comprehensive suite of guidance tailored for global business and develop the next iteration of the Global Framework.

We’ve also been on tour! In the last few months we’ve spoken at conferences and held meetings in France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.

I and my colleagues Brendan and Delphine were very pleased to attend the ILO Global Business Disability Network (GBDN) conference in Geneva last month where I presented our Framework and continued to build our collaboration with the ILO. We really enjoy our partnership with the GBDN and encourage our members to work with them, especially by using their global presence to support the establishment of national business and disability networks in the countries where they are present. We were really pleased to see the Bangladesh network doing well, a new China network just launched and a network in India due to launch in 2019. With that in mind, we were also delighted to host a delegation from the Ministries of Inclusion, Education and Human Rights in Brazil at our London office.

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The conversation around disability is shifting to cities all over the world

I was also lucky enough to join our member CAFE – the Centre for Access to Football in Europe – in Bilbao a couple of weeks ago to speak at their triennial conference at the San Mames stadium. It was a fabulous event in a stunning city and a privilege to talk to such a diverse audience about how the beautiful game can make a real difference to disability employment.

Fittingly, the most recent meeting of our Global Taskforce was on Friday (30 November) hosted by our Founder Leader Barclays at which we discussed strategic approaches to improving disability inclusion globally and how to communicate effectively with a global internal and external audience. Central to this is our partnership with and support to the #Valuable campaign which is seeking to get disability on the agenda of global boards worldwide and we were delighted when Unilever CEO Paul Polman announced our collaboration on stage at One Young World in October.

So, as we celebrate IDPD today with a whole host of events across the world, let’s hope that this is just the start of really shifting the dial on the inclusion of disabled people worldwide.

For more information on Business Disability Forum’s Global Taskforce and the Global Business Disability Framework, visit: https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/membership/global-taskforce.

Poverty and disability in the UK: the potential impact of Brexit

Rain

By Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer, Business Disability Forum

In my third and final blog in our series on poverty and disability in the UK, I look at the very topical issue of Brexit and its potential impact.

I have written these blogs to coincide with the UN Rapporteur on Extreme poverty and Human rights’ current visit to the UK. The implications of Brexit on poverty is a key issue that the rapporteur has been considering during his two-week long visit. Business Disability Forum was one of the organisations asked to submit evidence on this and other issues affecting income levels of disabled people to Philip Alston ahead of the trip.

At the time of publishing, the Brexit negotiations seem to be in ever more turmoil. Given this, and how much is at stake, we questioned our timing for this blog, but felt that whilst the bigger picture remains deeply uncertain, it’s vital that we continue to represent the rights of disabled people and ensure that they do not become a casualty of this uncertainty.

It should also be noted that our concerns over Brexit, expressed here, do not relate to the decision to leave the European Union. On this we remain neutral. Instead it is the unintended consequences of the mechanisms being used as part of the Brexit process which have and continue to concern us and many other disability and human rights groups.

Here is what we said.

 

The impact of Brexit legislation on accessibility

Research undertaken by Business Disability Forum in February 2018 showed 39 per cent of businesses feel there would be no change to disability related legislation post-Brexit, and 47 per cent did not feel Brexit would have any impact on disabled people’s opportunities[1].

We are concerned, however, that this may well not be the case should the Trade Bill 2017-19 (currently, at time of writing, at the House of Lords Committee stage) complete its journey through parliament without the addition of significant safeguards.

As it stands, the Bill currently allows ministers to change a wide range of laws without Parliamentary scrutiny in order to implement international trade agreements. One of the Acts affected by this is the Equality Act 2010, which secures many rights for disabled people.

Without safeguards added, the Trade Bill will, for example, permit specific aspects of the Equality Act 2010 to be immediately suspended should accessibility requirements make doing trade deals difficult. In effect, it could allow accessibility for disabled people to become an optional, disposable element of any contract the UK enters into if it would further trade. Such wide ranging powers to change primary legislation by the Executive and without Parliamentary scrutiny is unprecedented and hugely concerning. The current Government has provided assurances that protections enshrined in law for over twenty years will be protected but we cannot be sure that such assurances will be respected by any future Government. Rights this important must be protected by our democratic processes and any changes scrutinised by elected representatives of the people including disabled people.

 

Wider context

Why are we highlighting such a seemingly technical point such as the potential effect on vehicle accessibility regulations of the Trade Bill in the midst of all the many difficult aspects of the Brexit negotiations? Trade is of course vital to the future prosperity of the UK and we are not suggesting that the country’s ability to enter into good trade deals should in any way be hampered. What we are saying is that no agreement post Brexit or at any time should be at the expense of the rights of some of the most disadvantaged people in our country. The UK has been a leader in protecting the rights of disabled people and now is not the time to allow any roll back on that leadership role or to allow anyone else to do so in the future.

The Trade Bill is completing its passage through parliament, at a time when UK-wide scrutiny into disabled people’s experiences of public transport has found that disabled people are already greatly disadvantaged by the standard of public transport in the UK. Since 2013, Select Committees and All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) in the UK[2] have looked at the competence of transport to meet the needs of people with disabilities in the UK. In addition, the Department for Transport also led a major consultation on accessible transport this year, which led to the publication of the UK’s ‘Inclusive Transport Strategy: Achieving Equal Access for Disabled People’ in August.

 

The effect of inaccessible transport on employment and poverty

 The Government recognised the barrier that inaccessible transport represents to disabled people getting and staying in work, in its ‘Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability’ strategy[3].

Feedback from Business Disability Forum members and partners shows that workplace adjustments related to transport (for example, travelling to work, and travelling to meetings, or between ever-growing ‘multi-sited’ workplaces) are some of the most commonly requested adjustments we see employers making for employees, due to them experiencing difficulties with inaccessible or a lack or inclusive travel. These are matters we are trying to address through our current Going Places campaign.

We have also seen an increased number of calls to our Advice Service since Access to Work, the UK Government’s scheme for providing funding support to businesses to help cover the cost of adjustments, decreased funding available to cover transport-related support for disabled employees. In these cases, employees have had to have some of their work duties reallocated to another employee, change roles completely, or even reduce their hours.

 

Social isolation

But it is not only access to employment opportunities which is affected by the availability of accessible transport, but social inclusion generally. Without suitable transport on offer, disabled people are at greater risk of social isolation as they become cut off from vital networks and community and healthcare services.

They are also less able to access shops and businesses, which in turn has a knock-on effect on the economy.

 

Making accessibility a priority

The UN rapporteur is set to conclude his visit today. As he issues his interim findings, we hope that issues such as accessible transport and its implications for the life chances of disabled people are acknowledged and addressed, and legislation such as the Trade Bill, reviewed.

Disabled people are at far greater risk of poverty than non-disabled people, due to the factors covered in this series of blogs. This visit has enabled us to raise awareness of these issues. Let’s hope that the rapporteur’s final report, due next year, will offer some solid recommendations which lead to positive change.

 

 

[1] See https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/media-centre/news/press-release-businesses-unprepared-for-threats-to-disability-rights-post-brexit-survey-finds/ [Accessed 10 September].

[2] For example, the Transport Committee (2013-2014); Young Disabled People’s APPG (20152-16); APPG on Disability (2018).

[3] Published by the Department for Work and Pensions (2017).