Disability confident one year on

By George Selvanera

Business Disability Forum (BDF) were more than delighted when Ian Duncan Smith decided in 2013 – inspired by his joining our annual President’s Group dinner for ‘captains of industry’ and disabled opinion leaders – to help us to promote wider recognition of the term ‘disability confidence’- which we created back in 2005 in an effort to make it easier to engage and equip business leaders to improve their corporate disability performance.
Disability confidence enables us to demonstrate the business and ethical rationale for learning how to recruit on the basis of merit; for learning how to adapt so that human beings in all their diversity can contribute to business success; and learning how to deliver excellence at every step of every customers’ experience. Disability confidence is about leaders and managers across the private and public sectors feeling more confident at a personal level as they interact with ever more disabled applicants, disabled colleagues and disabled customers.

And here we are, one year on in the Government’s Disability Confident campaign. At BDF,  we work with many companies and public sector organisations striving to improve their disability performance. We are all too conscious that there is still much more to do, so we encourage everyone to support the Disability Confident campaign and:

  • Understand that disability impacts all parts of the business;
  • Identify, and remove barriers, for groups of people;
  • Be willing and able to make adjustments for individuals; and
  • Not make assumptions based on someone’s disability.

Business disability confidence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

By George Selvanera

With the Government keen to enhance the UK’s export performance of professional and business services from the already net £19bn receipts per year, Business Disability Forum (BDF) has been undertaking some rather extraordinary professional services exporting to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

BDF, a membership body that comprises some of the UK’s biggest and well-known business and public sector organisations collaborating to improve disability performance, has been contracted by the KSA Ministry of Labor to assist with the development of a KSA Disability Confidence Index to support improved disability confidence amongst the Kingdom’s private sector.

This is truly ground-breaking work in applying lessons learned from the more than 20 years of working with UK corporates and public sector organisations.

BDF’s pioneering Disability Standard provides a whole-of-organisation framework for improving disability performance recognising that a corporate approach championed by a senior sponsor is the surest way of embedding good quality accessible recruitment, retention and career development opportunities for disabled people.

However, context is critical. The Saudi starting point is totally different to the UK.

There are no enforced legal protections for disabled people and culturally, disability often remains taboo.

It was to my great sadness that I realised that deaf people would largely be non-verbal too, as they had never been taught to speak and that schooling for deaf children is wholly different and substantially simpler than the curriculum for hearing children.

Many people have told us that non-visible impairments such as mental health, autism and dyslexia are not talked about at work or in the wider society.

Indeed, for some people they find out accidentally, sometimes decades later, that close friends have another child- a disabled child who may even be in their 20s or 30s.

BDF’s work is developing and piloting a bespoke KSA Disability Confidence Index collaborating with seven of the largest corporates in the Kingdom and contributing to the wider development of a business disability confident certification system.

These cover industries including pharmaceutical and medical supplies distribution, edible oil production, steel and air conditioning manufacturing and tractor manufacture.

We have been impressed that there are some examples of good practice that should be nurtured and promoted and we would encourage here in the UK. For example, several companies have:

  • Forged links with disability non-government organisations to support active recruitment of appropriately skilled disabled candidates
  • Established cross-functional teams led by senior executive sponsors to review and improve disability confidence across all areas of the business, and
  • Implemented flexible workplace adjustment processes that are responsive to individual disabled staff needs.

There is obviously a long way to go to mirror where the UK is; and that’s even accepting UK companies have some way to go in achieving best practice for disabled employees, candidates and customers as well.

All in all, an assignment like no other.

That said, the Middle East is a rapidly growing market for business and professional services and the UK is uniquely positioned by language, trade and cultural ties and business practice to support that growth.

Awkward about disability in work as well

By Susan Scott-Parker

On the left is the text

Scope’s Awkward campaign shows how far we still have to go. In particular, it reveals how much depends on bringing human beings together, to start a very different person to person conversation, if we are to see these damaging deep rooted assumptions and stereotypes regarding people with disabilities finally fall by the wayside.

The Scope study, read alongside two other recent publications, should give us all food for thought – all three require us to face up to the fact that for most of society, (including many themselves legally protected as ‘disabled’) the word “disability”, is still heard as almost an insult. It’s a code word for someone who if genuine is inevitably dependent, sad, ‘unfit’, and if not genuine, for example when a government needs to justify throwing one off benefit, is a fraudster, scrounger, and irritant.

We know that at least one in three Europeans will be disabled or close to someone who is – yet 43% of those answering the Scope survey state that they do not know anyone who is ‘disabled’. Not only do they believe the label does not apply to them personally, (logically 10-15% of these respondents will themselves have a disability), but they have apparently never met anyone with diabetes, cancer, alzheimer’s, depression, stammer, dyslexia, hearing loss, RSI, arthritis… It doesn’t add up – unless you spot the fact that people tend to apply the label ‘disabled’ only to those they do not know personally, and then usually only to those who fit the visible stereotypes of wheelchair users, guide dog drivers, BSL interpreter users, etc…

It is clear that for many a stranger can be ‘disabled’ (it will always be stranger ‘faking’ disability to gain unfair advantage) but people we know, people a lot like us, well, they have a health condition, a balance problem, a wonky knee, a rugby injury…are feeling a bit down….

I often ask audiences to stand, if they can, and then read out a list of commonly encountered ‘disabilities’ – saying: “please sit down when I mention a disability which you have yourself or which applies to someone you know”.

In almost every case the entire audience will be sitting down before I finish. At one event, one man was left standing from the one hundred delegates when my list ran out. We decided afterwards he probably had a hearing impairment. My message: “obviously disability is about us …not about them.”, but the message is taking a long time to permeate to the world around us.

We must confront the fact that most people (and I would include many in the House of Commons) still hear the word as to do with an individual’s failure, a personal deficiency and inadequacy, even a lack of moral fibre; disability is rarely defined as society’s failure to treat us all fairly and with respect. The DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) in 1995 was miles ahead of UK popular opinion – we still desperately need the public education campaign which enables everyone to explain why it is that: “to turn me down for a job because I am disabled is fundamentally no different than turning me down because of my race or gender”.

The Scope survey focuses on attitudes and attitudes tend to justify a worldview, which then triggers behaviour. In this instance, we have a worldview that by positioning disabled people as ‘the other’, as ‘not like me’ – takes away their right to dignity and respect. And so these attitudes reinforce and disguise a largely unrecognised, yet often shocking level of ill treatment and abuse, as revealed by the second report to hit my screen recently.

The 2013 research report ‘the ill treatment of employees with disabilities in British workplaces’ published in Work, Employment and Society makes for sobering reading.

The British Workplace Behaviour Survey found significant differences in the experience of poor treatment of employees with a disability or long term health condition, when compared with other employees. For example:

  • More than one in three disabled people have been shouted at or experienced someone losing their temper with them compared with less than one in four non-disabled people.
  • More than one in ten disabled employees have experienced actual physical violence at work compared with less than one in 20 non-disabled people.
  • Close to one in four disabled people have been insulted or had offensive remarks made about them at work compared with less than one in six in non-disabled counterparts.
  • Close to one in six disabled people have experienced hints or signals from others that they should quit their job as compared with just over one in 20 non-disabled people.

People with different disabilities also have different experiences, so as hard as it is for these disabled employees generally, it gets even harder for those with non-visible or hidden impairments. Employees with a learning difficulty or a mental health condition had an increased likelihood of experiencing poor treatment at work by an extraordinary 177%.

Deeply troubling is that nearly half of the more serious examples of poor treatment were from line managers, supervisors or employers. The research found that line managers failed to comply with legislation often because of rigid procedures on sickness absence and discipline. Senior managers implicitly convey the message that compliance with equality legislation doesn’t really matter, by leaving the detail of operationalising how relevant policies actually work to the line manager.

Yet when we move the conversation from: ‘About Them’ to ‘About Us and how our organisations adapt for human beings’ … a different story begins to emerge in report number three.…

Kate Nash recently launched her ground breaking work Secrets & Big News …55 public and private sector organisations, employing hundreds of thousands people, have said that they have much to learn if they are to treat their disabled employees properly and if they are to enable their people to be themselves at work. These employers are breaking new ground and genuinely want to develop a better and more meaningful conversation with their employees. By participating in an anonymous survey conducted by Kate Nash Associates they are creating new conversations and opportunities with their disabled employees. I will come back to this extremely important work in a later blog.

I want to conclude today by saying that these reports provide ample evidence that the status quo is neither acceptable nor unavoidable – however, we will not get different results in five years time unless we start doing things differently – very differently.

At the very least, we need to use this information to challenge the all too many organisations who flatly refuse to admit that they have any need to improve their disability performance. Ironically, it is precisely because so many organisations are out of touch with the people they employ, out of touch with their customers, out of touch with the demographic realities around them – that they continue to behave as though disability has no impact on their business – and can and should be left to doctors, charities and social workers.

A huge well known company employing hundreds of thousands of people, most at minimum wage, recently refused to join BDF because: “we aren’t broken”. Another company explained; “we are too young” to address disability though they only employed 70,000. And another argues ‘we need to focus and our focus is on women this year’.

We are looking for radical ideas for how to close the performance gap between those companies, often our Members, who are determined to deliver best practice and the thousands of ‘not yet- members’ and ‘never will be member’ organisations who remain trapped in the old medical damage time warp. Above all we need to invest in the leadership potential of disabled people – real change will only happen when we enable everyone to understand that disability and disabled people, and potentially disabled people are part of everyone’s world. We are determined to re-launch our leadership programme for disabled social entrepreneurs in the next 12 months – again all proposals for how to maximise the impact of this initiative are greatly welcomed.

“Disability Confidence”

By Susan Scott-Parker

Susan Scott-Parker

We were of course more than delighted when Ian Duncan Smith decided in 2013 – inspired by his joining our annual Business Disability Forum (BDF) President’s Group dinner for ‘captains of industry’ and disabled opinion leaders – to help us to promote wider recognition of the term ‘disability confidence’- which we created back in 2005 in an effort to make it easier to engage and equip business leaders to improve their corporate disability performance.

I can still remember walking round the office chanting: “Disability Confidence”; “Disability Competence” over and over – trying to persuade myself that the phrase was both say-able and usable and that we could define it in such a way as to make it useful… – before we launched our guide to the business case for becoming ‘Disability Confident’ in 2005 .

It was vital that the term be more than a slogan, catchphrase, empty rhetoric – so we launched not just the phrase but our formal definition. We said that a disability confident company would:

  • Understand that disability impacts all parts of the business.
  • Identify, and remove barriers, for groups of people.
  • Be willing and able to make adjustments for individuals.
  • Not make assumptions based on someone’s disability.

In other words – we sought to equip the business community with a visualisation of what they would be doing differently when they started to deliver disability best practice.

It is a source of much delight that Government recognised we were making it easier to open a new conversation with employers – moving from blaming them for their failure to ‘get it’ – to encouraging business in very practical ways to build its capacity to employ and do business with disability people.

Indeed Maria Eagle, then Minister for Disabled People, not only joined us in Madrid at the garden of the UK Ambassador, as Barclays Spain promoted the concept of business disability confidence to the Spanish business community– she joined us at the hotel for the ‘thank heavens that went to plan’ glass (or two) of wine afterwards.

DWP officials presumably saw the impact the concept was having on business in Hong Kong (Community Business launched their guide for employers in Hong Kong and Singapore: “Towards Disability Confidence” in 2011) and in Australia where it has long been integral to the work of the Australian Employers Network on Disability and Workfocus.

We were more than delighted when Ian Duncan Smith announced that he would help us to reach the SME community and in the process enable those funded to help disabled people into work to understand that it is absolutely their job to help employers understand how disability affects them directly, learn how to remove obstacles for groups, make adjustments for individuals and to stop making assumptions about what people can do on the basis of labels. This is more important than ever given the Government’s priority of moving more disabled people off benefits and into employment.

The phrase ‘disability confidence’ must be understood as much more than a campaign slogan– we created it because we needed to open a new conversation with business (and indeed the public sector as service provider and employer) given that all too often the ONLY conversation any employer had on this subject started with the rather scary sentence: “Why don’t you hire more disabled people…?” followed by rather futile efforts to generalise about millions and millions of human beings.

Disability confidence on the other hand (or as we say, the corporate best practice we brand ‘disability confidence’) enables us to demonstrate the business and ethical rationale for learning how to recruit on the basis of merit; for learning how to adapt so that human beings in all their diversity can contribute to business success; and learning how to deliver excellence at every step of every customers’ experience.

Disability confidence is about leaders and managers across the private and public sectors feeling more confident at a personal level as they interact with ever more disabled applicants, disabled colleagues and disabled customers.

I look forward to closer working with the DWP to explore how, in collaboration, we maximise the impact of the Government’s Disability Confident campaign by communicating what this corporate best practice looks like – and encouraging as many organisations as possible to measure and improve their performance by using our Disability Standard – recognising that securing and sustaining best practice in disability performance requires changes across the whole organisation.

Opinion piece: London beyond sight: The city via audio description

By Zaynab Garba

Art Beyond Sight is a project that started in New York in 2006 which has recently come to London. It is a compilation of detailed audio descriptions and commentary of well known landmarks around the city, delivered by well known locals.

Last year 40 audio files were released to the public featuring commentaries of different landmarks around the capital delivered by some famous and infamous Londoners. Steven Berkoff speaking about The Shard and Sir Derek Jacobi on the Old Vic are just part of a wonderful line up of correspondents. Though my personal favourite has to be Alastair Stewart delivering his take on the Cenotaph. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Alastair speak of his personal affiliations and views on what the monument represents, as well as his knowledge of it’s esthetic intricacies and mathematic proportions. Working with professional describers to deliver each piece, the narrator is able to talk about aspects of Lutyen’s monument that a seeing person may miss, like the fact that the Portland stone from which it is built mirrors that of the buildings around it and that it’s outer sides are designed at an angle which means they would meet 1000 feet in the air if they kept on rising.

Well known voices, enigmatic delivery and interesting content all serve in making this project truly beyond sight. The project makes London’s visual culture accessible to all, including those with visual impairments. You can view London Beyond Site through the link below.


Opinion piece: assist-Mi can help you offer exemplary customer service to your disabled customers

This image is a visual example of how the assist-Mi app works

It can be very frustrating when traveling or attending a meeting and your requested support is delayed or just not in place. This could be a thing of the past though, as assist-Mi have launched a new app/interface that has been described as the ‘ultimate concierge service’. Offering disabled people the ability to request assistance directly on their smartphone alerting the service provider in real-time.

The app has built-in GPS, which means organisations would know the exact arrival time of their customers. Making this not only a perfect reasonable adjustment that complies with the Equality Act 2010, but also a service that can be rolled out to all, giving an enhanced customer service experience.

“assist-Mi is the first app of its kind to hit the market. Free to disabled people it can be stand-alone or integrated into service provider’s own apps to give the user the reassurance that seamless, low-key assistance will be available to suit their profiled requirements, which means you enter your needs once.” Neil Herron, Strategy Director, assist-Mi.

For information about getting assist-Mi for your organisation, please contact assist-Mi today: http://www.assist-mi.com/contact-us/

Legal update: Talking bout my generation

By Bela Gor

Much is written about Baby Boomers (it’s all their fault), and Generation X & Y and whatever comes next – Z presumably. It’s all about what we’ve done and how we behave.

One thing that strikes me is that this behaviour is unlikely to change as we age. The view the Western world has of little old ladies and upright old gents who put up with things quietly, is l think likely to take a knocking as Generation X reaches retirement. We are a generation who have seen ‘people power’ from the dismantling of the Berlin wall to the Arab Spring and we have developed a certain sense of entitlement.  I don’t think we are going to take kindly to being ignored or provided with poor service just because we can remember the day Elvis died.

This is something that retailers in particular would be wise to wake up to. I can fully see myself refusing to spend my hard earned or saved cash with businesses that don’t provide easy to use websites or in stores that resemble obstacle courses. In particular I think Generation X is going to expect good service. We are unlikely to quietly get on with it with a stiff upper lip and all that. I think we are going to shout about poor service loudly – probably on twitter and Facebook or whatever new thing has come along to replace them that we will have embraced on our next generation iGadget.  As something like 80% of the UK’s wealth is held by the over 50s we’ll be able to afford those lovely easy to use new gadgets remember.
The wiser amongst those who want to sell things to us – retailers, banks, airlines have already woken up to this and are actively thinking about mainstreaming accessibility into their products and services. Just as well I say. I’m off to air my list of complaints now.