Working together to drive the disability agenda is #Valuable

By Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum

Business Disability Forum is delighted to be an expert partner of the Valuable500 which returned this week to the World Economic Forum in Davos. It’s been a brilliant and exciting year with #Valuable founder Caroline Casey seemingly circumnavigating the globe in her tireless efforts to engage with CEOs of some of the world’s most iconic brands.

The results speak for themselves: after launching just one year ago, an amazing 240 global leaders have personally committed to putting disability on the board agenda, signalling a huge and vital step forward in the inclusion agenda.

Many of them are Business Disability Forum Partners and Members and we work with them to provide pragmatic support and advice to support their “Disability Smart” journey. For if #Valuable and the Valuable 500 is the (very compelling) “why”, winning hearts and minds, we at Business Disability Forum are the “how” – helping business put the practical actions in place that turn commitment into reality.

The UK has long been at the forefront of driving the disability agenda forward – Business Disability Forum itself was set up almost 30 years ago as the world’s first disability business network – but though huge progress has been made, disability has too often been seen as the” poor relation” in diversity terms. Thankfully, however, in the UK and globally, there is now a growing awareness of disability and an increasing recognition that it is part of being human: it is the one strand of diversity which can and most likely will affect every one of us, whether we acquire a disability ourselves or are close to someone who does.

The 300+ companies that we work with already recognise that disabled people are not only a very large and important talent pool but a hugely significant consumer market too. And, as global brands start to focus on getting it right for this customer group, they will no doubt realise one of our core messages: that when you get it right for disabled people, you get it right for everyone.

And it’s not just about customers; businesses are also increasingly recognising that it is no longer OK to have an external brand that doesn’t match their internal culture and values (and vice versa) – so a focus on the employee space is really important too. In December 2019, Unilever – the first company to join the #Valuable campaign and whom we are proud to count among our Partner group – announced their commitment to becoming the employer of choice for people with disabilities, and a vision that 5% of their workforce worldwide will comprise of disabled people by 2025.

I hope that following the World Economic Forum this month, many more companies will not only sign up to the Valuable 500 but move forward with the leadership and action that will make disability inclusion a reality.

Meanwhile, my huge congratulations to #DisabilitySmart Partners and Members who have signed up to the #Valuable500 over the last year. All of us @DisabilitySmart look forward to working with you to achieve the #InclusionRevolution together #WEF20.

Now, in 2020, it feels as though there is a real opportunity and appetite for a sea change that will transform opportunities for disabled people worldwide. It’s time for business – Disability Smart business – to lead the way.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum

You can read more about the Valuable 500 and the organisations signed up so far in the report launched this week here

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.

What does the Queen’s Speech promise for disabled people?

Yesterday (19 December 2019), the Queen addressed Parliament to deliver her 2019 speech. Angela Matthews, our Head of Policy, looks at the disability and business-related elements of what she promises her Government will deliver

Houses of Parliament

Leaving the EU and trade agreements

Leaving the European Union (EU) on 31 January is a priority. After this date, global trade agreements will commence. Business Disability Forum has worked hard to provide evidence for why the Government must expand its international trade agreement procedures to ensure the impact on accessibility and disability inclusion is not forgotten or disregarded during such decisions. The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has recommended such to Parliament (Business Disability Forum made this recommendation during the Committee’s call for written evidence on the issue earlier this year). Our policy team will be monitoring how far this recommendation becomes a reality embedded into the heart of the Government trade agreement decision-making processes. The Queen promised in her speech that the “integrity and prosperity of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance to my Government”. Developing more equality-conscious procedures in our global economic decision-making is a great, hugely impactful way for the Government to live up to this.

The NHS

The Queen also promises that the Government will “deliver on the people’s priorities”. The topic that follows is, of course, the NHS. The NHS is crucial to supporting and maintaining our everyday general health; but for very many employees, is it the system that supports their condition so that that can stay in work. As the Improving lives strategy brings the health and work settings ever closer together, never has it been clearer that for many, many employees, the NHS is a huge part of their lives that they rely on (for example ongoing treatment and rehabilitation which allows them to be well as they stay in and develop at work). For this reason alone (and many others), there will be a ‘sigh of relief’ that hospital charges will be removed “for those in greatest need”. Who those in “greatest need” are, we are yet to see. Many carers and people receiving treatment often need to be parked at hospitals for a day at a time as visits and treatment cycles and appointments can be lengthy. The financial impact of just parking in the place someone needs to be for their or someone else’s disability or condition can be immense.

Working life

“Measures will be brought forward to encourage flexible working” will be welcomed by many. Our policy and advice teams still see that one of the top three adjustments employees with disabilities and long-term conditions say helps them stay employed is their employer’s flexible working culture. For this reason (and others), we have seen many more of our membership organisations revise their flexible working policy for all staff, and for flexible working to be introduced into workplace adjustment policies. Alongside this, the Queen also reminds us that there will be new measures to allow greater leave entitlement to unpaid carers, who are the somewhat ‘silent backbone’ supporting the social care system at present. Without supportive carer policies, we hear of employees with caring responsibilities often care for a relative, partner or neighbour, which can have an impact on their own physical and mental energy levels, and while coming into work and trying to be productive. Measures to support the millions of unpaid carers in our economy are not just welcome, but crucial.

Education

We are promised that “every child has access to high quality education”. The promise of increased skills development and better education opportunities was a feature of many pre-election manifestos. We cannot emphasise enough that “high quality” must necessarily include accessible and inclusive (a topic we asked for action on in our recent manifesto), which many learning formats, programmes and qualification structures are currently not. And this must include people with disabilities at all ages. We know that not everyone is ready for (or wants to be) learning and taking part in non-mandatory education at the same age and time as everyone else (sometimes for disability-related reasons) and an inclusive society needs to ensure that learning and development opportunities are available to people when they choose.

A new Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission

The Queen announced that a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission” will be established which we heard would “undertake a review of every aspect of the post-Brexit constitutional settlement”. We wait to hear the specific terms of reference for this Commission and trust that the Commission does not just “promote human rights” but enhances and enforces them.

For more policy news go to businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/policy

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

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.