Identity through the lens of disability: Business Disability Forum Film Festival 2019! 

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

Anticipation was high before this June’s Business Disability Forum’s Film Festival – and the day didn’t disappoint!

This year the question that would spur the film entrants on was:

“Identity through the lens of disability, what does this mean to you?”

Noeleen Crowley far left, Diane Lightfoot left. Oliver Kent right, Neil Shanlin right and Lucy Ruck. There is also a BSL interpreter

Noeleen Crowley far left, Diane Lightfoot left. Oliver Kent right, Neil Shanlin right and Lucy Ruck

Entrants had 10 days to complete this film challenge and the resulting ones were judged from the world of advertising, film and TV, professional services and disability: Oliver Kent, a former BBC producer, Neil Shanlin, Creative Director/Creative at AMV BBDO, Noeleen Cowley, Partner, Banking Operations and Customers at KPMG and Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum.

Popcorn and candy floss

Popcorn and candy floss

Popcorn and candy floss was consumed in abundance as the winners were announced at this year’s festival hosted by KPMG and prize donors reached far and wide from companies such as Amazon, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Shell, 1stAveMachine and Flare Studios.

Prizes at this year's festival

Prizes at this year’s festival

Our highly commended films were awarded to: ‘Don’t give up’ – Magdalena Stahrova (Unique) and ‘The Only Way’ by Valentina Catenacci, both winning prizes of an Amazon Firestick and £50 Amazon vouchers donated by Amazon.

Highly commended Magdalena Stahrova, a camera man is ataking the photo of her with accompanying guests

Highly commended Magdalena Stahrova (right) with accompanying guests

Third place was awarded to the creators of the film ‘No Guesses Found’, entered by team ELK Medium (Georgie Cubin and Jane Leggat), exploring how dyslexia affects people differently, and highlighting that there is no universal experience of disability. They won two Amazon echo dots, two firesticks, as well as Amazon vouchers donated by Amazon.

Second place was awarded to the team JRZ (John Ford, Ritesh Vara and Zoe Norgrove) who entered with the film ‘Four’. The film explores the world from the perspective of someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). They won three days’ work experience opportunity with Flare Studio, a drone, £50 Amazon vouchers from Amazon and three HD firesticks.

And *drumroll please*…

First place winning entry ‘Same Difference’ was created by Samuel Ash and William Horsefield (also known as team Wolfpack). ‘Same Difference’ is based on their experiences of deafness. They won three days’ work experience with film production company 1stAveMachine, GoPro HERO Action Camera, donated by Shell, drone, as well as £100 Amazon vouchers donated by Enterprise Rent -a- car and £50 Amazon vouchers donated by Amazon.

Winners Samuel Ash (left) and William Horsefield (right) holding their awards, There are film props behind them.

Winners Samuel Ash (left) and William Horsefield (right)

“Now”, “powerful”, “fun” and “human” were some of the words used to describe some of the films on the day.

Neil Shanlin said: “I was impressed with the overall level of work. Every single story was one that was worth telling and I saw respect for me as the viewer. The films were a great representation of what it is to be in Britain today.”

After the films were watched, the crowd enjoyed networking (taking photos alongside the hypersized film props) and delicious canapés, talking about the impact the films had on them. Film Festival goers were also able to enjoy an exhibition of photographic work by Helen Light and Laurie Glees, two students from Morley College, London.

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Film props

The standard of the films continue to grow higher every festival – we really look forward to seeing you next year!

People are talking to each other at Business Disability Forum's Film Festival 2019

Networking at Business Disability Forum’s Film Festival 2019

 

View all the finalists’ films in one place – here!

View our press release here!

To find out more about our events, go to https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/networking-and-events/

Leadership driving change

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

On Thursday 25 April, we were delighted to host our annual conference 2019: Disability leading the way.

When we chose this theme, we wanted to reflect the importance of leadership in driving change. But you don’t have to be senior to be a leader and so we also wanted to reflect the importance of leadership not just at senior level but through all levels of the organisation.

Caroline Casey talking to people

Caroline Casey and guests

We support businesses to become “Disability-Smart” via our own Disability Standard which is a whole-organisation accreditation and which reflects our ethos that getting it right for disabled people is not just the domain of HR or D&I but needs a cross business commitment to getting it right. So it’s no surprise that a key area of the Standard – “Know how” is all about the confidence of line managers – in being confident to have a conversation with a disabled employee and to know how to respond to requests for support – including adjustments – and indeed this was a recurring theme in our Great big workplace adjustments survey. It’s also about the confidence of customer facing staff to meet the needs of everyone.

Too often, disability is parked in the “too difficult” or “too sensitive” box – and in too many cases, the fear of getting it wrong means that people don’t do anything as they are so worried about causing offence. This might mean being afraid to ask a disabled colleague what adjustment they might need for a meeting or pretending not to see a disabled customer – something which people with a visual impairment tell us happens all too often.

Welcoming disabled customers guide and a Legoland coaster

Welcoming disabled customers guide

So in March with support from our member Merlin, we launched our new Welcoming disabled customers guide which is full of really practical hints and tips for frontline staff on how to communicate with and provide excellent support to every customer. The spending power of disabled people in the UK is around £249 billion per year and rising. This means that quite apart from being the right thing to do as an ethical retailer, it makes good business sense to provide services, premises and websites that are both accessible and usable for the widest possible group of customers. Businesses who instil the confidence in their people to be disability smart and ask how to best serve all their customers stand to reap considerable business benefits. Yet disabled customers more often than any other experience poor customer service. The Extra Costs Commission 2014 found that three quarters (75%) of disabled people and their families had left a shop or business because of poor disability awareness or understanding. This is entirely unnecessary as often all that is needed is to ask “how can I help?”.

BDF

Attendees at Business Disability Forum Annual Conference 2019, 25 April 2019, hosted by the British Library

And at the conference I was delighted to launch our Meetings matter guide as a really practical tool to make meetings a positive, productive and – dare I say – pleasurable experience for all involved. Millions of meetings take place every day – from work team meetings and organisational away days to stakeholder or client consultations and meetings that can decide the future and the lives of the people affected. For too many disabled people, however, meetings are frustrating experiences in which they can never fully participate because often simple adjustments have not been made by the meeting organiser or chairperson. Adjustments aren’t a “nice to have”; they are absolutely essential for disabled people who might otherwise leave a meeting with incomplete or inaccurate information or simply not be able to attend at all.

Business Disability Forum Meetings matter guide - A guide to hosting inclusive meetings.

Meetings matter guide

As we often say, if you get things right for disabled people, you get them right for everyone. Accessible meetings mean more productive meetings for everyone.

On the stage is the Change in our time? Leaders of today panel with Asif Sadiq ME, Mike Clarke, Caroline Casey, Victoria Cleland, Mike Clarke and Brian Heyworth and a BSL interpreter.

Change in our time? Leaders of today panel with Asif Sadiq ME, Mike Clarke, Caroline Casey, Victoria Cleland, Mike Clarke and Brian Heyworth.

You can also lead by making a difference wherever you work in an organisation and whatever your position in society. One way to show leadership is to speak out and say what other people are often to afraid or embarrassed to talk about and thereby break down barriers and challenge taboos. Our session “breaking down barriers” aimed to shine a light on less understood conditions – and those which are perhaps deemed less socially acceptable to talk about – but which have a real impact on people’s working lives. If you would like more indepth information on specific conditions, take a look at our updated and expanded briefings series – developed in partnership with expert organisations and providing practical guidance on disability as it affects business.

Because this is what we do at Business Disability Forum. We create a safe space to talk to business and for businesses to talk to each other about disability and we enable pragmatic, scalable business solutions.

Disability leading the way: our CEO’s round-up

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

 In the latter half of last month, I was delighted to open our annual conference 2019: ‘Disability leading the way’.

It was wonderful to see so many friends old and new – including those who travelled from as far afield as Paris, Amsterdam and Singapore to join us!

This year we were at a new venue – the British Library Knowledge Centre – thanks to the generous sponsorship of HSBC, a long-standing Partner and friend of Business Disability Forum.

Business Disability Forum is a not for profit membership organisation that helps businesses recruit and retain disabled employees and serve disabled customers. We exist to help organisations – of all shapes, sizes and sectors – to become disability-smart in how they recruit and retain disabled employees and serve disabled customers. Ultimately our purpose is all about transforming the life chances of disabled people as employees and consumers and enabling them to access the same opportunities that their non-disabled peers take for granted.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum at the lectern of the annual conference Disability leading the way

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

We have more than 28 years’ experience of working with public and private sector organisations since way back in 1991 when we were set up to be instrumental in the creation of the Disability Discrimination Act to now, when our 300 members collectively employ around 15% of the UK workforce and 8 million people worldwide.

And, nearly three decades later, the “thought leadership” side of our work remains incredibly important.

Our policy activity is informed by the views and experiences of our members and in the past year alone has included an invited submission to NICE on Workplace Adjustments Passports, a response to the Joint Human Rights Committee on human and disability rights in international agreements (which is somewhat topical!), feedback to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s draft strategy 2019-2022 and responses on Enforcement of the Equality Act. We also made a major contribution to the Lord Holmes Review of public appointments which we are continuing to support.

At our 2018 conference, I said that disability is too often the poor relation in diversity – parked in the “too difficult” or “too sensitive” box. And yet, it is the one strand of diversity that has the potential to affect each and every one of us. I said that it should be the one aspect of diversity that everyone is talking about.

So, in the past year I’ve been delighted to have seen disability finally making the headlines and rocketing up the agenda as a consumer issue, thanks in no small part to the #Valuable campaign which we are proud to support as an expert partner.

It is often said (because it is true!) that if you get it right for disabled people you are more likely to get it right for everyone – because you are thinking about individual human beings and their needs rather than designing from a policy or structure (be it a building or website) first approach. And why on earth would any business want to exclude a potential employee or customer?

And that is why we chose as our theme for this year’s conference: Disability: leading the way.

Molly Watt, Marianne Waite and Oliver Lam-Watson, panellists, they are smiling

Molly Watt, Marianne Waite and Oliver Lam-Watson, panellists of the ‘the next generation, changemakers and innovators’

When we came up with this theme, we also wanted to reflect the importance of senior leadership in driving change. Time and time again we see that this is critical in building an inclusive culture, modelling “what matters round here”. and that’s why it’s the first point of our Disability Standard. That’s why too, the #Valuable campaign is focusing on getting disability on the agenda at board level and why the #Valuable 500 was launched at the World Economic Forum in January this year.

We also know that one of the corner stones of getting it right for disabled people – particularly in the workplace – is making adjustments – and here too senior leaders have a very important role to play.

Getting adjustments right doesn’t have to be difficult. It is often very simple. Yet too often, the adjustments that would make all the difference prove strangely difficult to put in place and adjustments are consistently one of the top topics to our advice service. So, to find out a bit more and to dig into this important topic, in March this year we launched The Great Big Workplace Adjustments survey in partnership with Microlink to find out what the picture looks like for disabled employees in 2019.

We were overwhelmed by the response with over 1200 people taking part, which really does show how incredibly important this topic is. Not surprisingly, the survey findings reveal that, when in place, adjustments can have a significant and positive impact on the workplace experiences of disabled people or people with long term conditions.

However, at the same time, far too many respondents are still worried about asking for adjustments to be put in place, despite feeling that they would benefit from such arrangements. Employees are worried, not just about how their manager would react to them having adjustments, but how other colleagues would as well. It is concerning that this includes many people who have asked for adjustments previously and this highlights the continued need to change attitudes towards disability, particularly at senior management and board level.

There is a perception, widely held by respondents with managerial responsibilities, that adjustments and support for staff with disabilities are not a priority at board or senior leadership level.

So how can senior leaders help?

Last year I spoke about disability at what on the face of it were two very different settings – Wharfability and the construction sector. Yet for both the huge issue in talking about disability was fear of stigma or low expectations or being judged for admitting a “weakness”. So, if you have a senior figure who champions the disability agenda and/or shares that they have disability, it is hugely powerful in communicating that it’s OK to talk about it.

This is also really important in the context of adjustments; we know that the more senior someone is, the less likely they are to “declare” (I use the term deliberately) a disability. And, at a senior level, someone may not need to ask for adjustments but with the autonomy that comes with their position, be able to just quietly get on with working in way that suits them, whether that is flexible working patterns, working at home, ordering some specific kit, have a specific dedicated space or office. It may not even cross a senior person’s mind that what they are doing is essentially, putting in place – self-serving – their own adjustments.

A panoramic view of Business Disability Forum Annual Conference 2019 hosted by the British Library

Business Disability Forum Annual Conference 2019 – audience

So why bother saying? Well, because at a more junior level someone would need to ask – and talk about their disability – and our survey shows that too many people are still worried about doing that. We know that – like it or not! – the actions and behaviour of senior people have a disproportionate impact on those around them. So, it’s really important that senior leaders model that behaviour and make it feel safe for everyone to ask for the adjustments that they need.

If we want to increase the number of disabled people and people with long term conditions entering into and remaining in employment, then getting it right on workplace adjustments is vital. The findings published last week are just a starting point. Over the coming months we will be looking at how we can use the findings to influence the advice we give to businesses and Government, and to demonstrate the need for additional research to be carried out on this very important topic. We would like to thank everyone who has given their time to contribute to this important piece of research so far.

You can download our key findings at www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/adjustments and please tweet about it using the hashtag #AdjustOurWorkPlaces

At our conference, we started a conversation about about leadership and disability, but it doesn’t end here. We want to keep the conversation – and action – going. To misquote the late, great, David Bowie: “We can be leaders. Not just for one day.”

 

Diane Lightfoot, CEO

Conference round up: Who really leads the way?

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Advice

Martyn Sibley, one of the panellists at the conference looks on

Martyn Sibley, one of the panellists at the conference

We have been thrilled to get such great feedback on last week’s conference titled ‘Disability leading the way’. Throughout the day, we heard from: business leaders on what they have implemented to ensure disability stays on the agenda at every level of the business; senior diversity leads on the role in mobilising and advancing change in workforces; and disabled people on the change they wanted to see and be for the future of disabled people’s rights.

Some fascinating directions were debated. Below, I give my thoughts on three key topics that came up from the perspective of my role as Head of Policy: legislation, campaigning and leadership.

Do we need more legislation?

I recently asked this question at a roundtable where the delegates were business leaders and heads of disability and employment third sector organisations. One of the business leaders shook his head enthusiastically and said, “No way”. At our conference, I was taken with Hector Minto’s (Senior Technology Evangelist, Microsoft) words during the penultimate panel of the day (“Leading the way: our Disability-Smart Award winners”). He spoke about using the law to help businesses understand what they need to do. As an example, the law on accessible websites is clear and gives a description of what an accessible website needs to be. Practice can then be built upon this, for example, Microsoft’s in-built accessibility checker on Office 365.

(From left to right): Change in our time? Leaders of today panel: Asif Sadiq, Mike Clarke, Caroline Casey, Victoria Cleland and Brian Heyworth. Caroline Casey is talking.

(From left to right): Change in our time? Leaders of today panel: Asif Sadiq, Mike Clarke, Caroline Casey, Victoria Cleland and Brian Heyworth.

In addition, in November 2018, we responded to the Government Digital Service’s consultation on the UK’s implementation of European Union’s regulations on the accessibility of public sector websites. While collecting evidence for this, we heard from more than one hundred disabled people who said digital barriers remain huge and, as a result, they wanted more legislation and monitoring of inclusive websites.

Ultimately, as much as we hear about ‘legislation fatigue’, the law has changed things for disabled people and has provided methods for recourse for when these rights are denied (figures this week show a rise in employment tribunal disability discrimination claims).

But who made such law happen? Who were the leaders?

Making way for change ‘on the ground’

A common theme throughout the day was that “anyone can be leaders”. While this can be true, those leading change are often different from those implementing change. As an example, disability rights legislation (or any rights-based legislation) did not come from the State all of a sudden upon deciding that disabled people should have more rights. There were years and years of campaigning ‘on the ground’ to make disabled people’s experiences visible.

In America during 1977, after almost a month of street protests, hundreds of disabled people took over state buildings to put pressure on the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to move forward legislation that would secure rights and access for disabled people further. After years of campaigning, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. Similarly in the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act did not happen overnight. It took years and years of disabled people speaking their stories outside Government buildings, blocking the streets, chaining themselves to public transport.

Wendy Irwin (Head of Equality and Diversity, Royal College of Nursing), also on the panel, used a key word: “agency”. It needs people at ‘grassroots’ level, exercising agency, to make way for change – and then others need to take over and make that change happen. Change needs both the campaigners and the strategists; the campaigners make space for the strategists to effect change. This is why inclusive leaders at senior level are so crucial.

The right leaders

Exercising agency is only one element of creating change. To make change happen, a body (a Government or business) must have the right leaders in place to both hear the issues and activate change. This takes us to the last panel of the day (“Leaders of Today”), where Brain Heyworth (Global Head of Client Strategy, HSBC) said, “If the leaders are not working [i.e. making things better for disabled people], change the leaders”. We then heard from Mike Clarke (National Diversity Manager, Environment Agency) that equality and inclusion is on the agenda at every senior level meeting at Environment Agency and, if a senior leader comes to a meeting having done nothing to further inclusion since the group last met, they are asked to leave the meeting. This was good news coming just after Diane Lightfoot (CEO, Business Disability Forum) and I had discussed that our latest research, The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2019, had found that 51 per cent of senior leaders said supporting disabled staff at work is not on their board agenda.

Diane Lightfoot holds the Welcoming disabled customers guide

Diane Lightfoot holds the Welcoming disabled customers guide

Moving forward

Everyone can be leaders, but leaders come with different roles. We need people to make barriers visible, and we need people to remove those barriers. When Simon Minty (Sminty Ltd and Business Disability Forum Ambassador) asked the panel of young people (“The Next Generation, Change Makers and Innovators”) what they wanted to see happen next, Abi Brown (disability rights activist and writer) said equal access to buildings, and Molly Watt (Accessibility and Usability Consultant and author) said better access as consumers and for businesses to recognise their role in influencing the future of disability rights.

It is then perhaps no accident that the organisations with the most effective disability inclusion strategies and whose data shows increasing levels of disabled employee engagement and development are the organisations where the disabled staff network and senior leaders have strong communication and are highly collaborative. We are seeing more disabled employee network leads at the meetings with senior leaders at the organisations we work with. At the same time, as above, disabled people throughout the day said they still can’t get into a high percentage of the shops or café buildings in their area.

Good things are happening, but there is no shortage of more to be done. Does your organisation have the right leaders, at every level, making way for and implementing the changes that are needed?

 

Our Welcoming disabled customers guide is available to view here

A journey through time… our technology showcase

By Dean Haynes, Business Disability Forum

and Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

On 28 February, delegates descended on Technology Taskforce member PwC’s London office for the latest edition of our annual Technology Showcase, entitled “Disability, identity and technology: A journey through time”.

Sarah Churchman, PwC’s Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer started proceedings with a welcome. As PwC hosted on the day Sarah emphasised why she was happy to host the event: “At the end of the day, at PwC, we want to create an environment in which everyone feels they belong, where they feel empowered to be the best they can be.”

Sarah Churchman, PwC’s Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer

Sarah Churchman, PwC’s Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer

Our very own Lucy Ruck led the day and introduced Paul Smyth of Barclays who took to the stage. While many know Paul and the work he leads on at Barclays as their Head of Digital Access, few know about his personal journey, and how he has been “disabled by technology [and] enabled by technology”.

Paul Smyth of Barclays

Paul Smyth of Barclays

Going from using outdated and cumbersome tech like desk-sized magnifiers and tape recorders(!), Paul worked his way through a business degree and joined Barclays and has recently been named as one of the Government’s newest disability champions. Embracing his difference and disability has shaped his skillset and work ethic, where increasingly inaccessible technology forced him to “be the change he want[ed] to see in the world” and make things better for the next person like him.

Sharing his story he stated: “…My eight‑year‑old self, I could remember like it was yesterday, hearing from the eye doctor that you will lose most if not all of your sight very soon. I remember my eight‑year‑old self, what scared me, it wasn’t the prospect of going blind, it was the prospect of being different. I think maybe my eight‑year‑old self even then understood there are barriers constructed in the world around us and there are barriers that also exist in the mind of others that shape what we can and can’t do, what we can and can’t above, about capability and possibility.”

Elisabeth Ward of Scope then took the opportunity to tell us her story as a congenital amputee, defining herself through other’s perception of “normal”, when technical support only became available when she got to university and her impairment was finally recognised.

Elisabeth Ward from Scope

Elisabeth Ward of Scope

As a child, Elisabeth carried around a booklet explaining why she was different, but she was also determined not to be left behind – and at secondary school the level of understanding was not high: “For example, in PE I struggled to control a hockey stick, and the other students treated me as though this was my fault. I would regularly strain my hand and wrist and the teacher just expected me to get on with it. There was no support to help me find solutions. I never felt like it was okay to say, actually, this isn’t working, I am not like everyone else, and I need it to change.” Overcoming the need to fit into what people expected of her at university and taking advantage of available support let her confidence flourish, which continued as she entered the workplace.

A former boss who likely thought they were doing the right thing unconsciously held Elisabeth back, but assistance from Access to Work changed things dramatically, opening a world of assistive tech like a rollerball mouse and half-keyboard. Working at Scope has encouraged Elisabeth to inspire change from all levels of society and challenge stigmas so that we can all keep learning to provide accessible solutions for everyone. She said: “ I can now stand up in a room full of strangers and openly and proudly say, hey look, I am disabled, I’m missing a hand and this makes me different. Even when I go outside, I no longer have to compartmentalise that part of me. It feels like a whole new world, one where I’m not the problem; it’s society that needs to change.”

James Hallam, Controls Assurance at PwC, making an entrance on his electric-assisted handcycle at the event

James Hallam, Controls Assurance at PwC, making an entrance on his electric-assisted handcycle

Our third and final speaker was James Hallam, Controls Assurance at PwC, who made quite the entrance on his electric-assisted handcycle and told those in attendance about his Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) handcycle, that has given James the power to use his legs again.

After a cycling accident back in 1996, James’ positivity led him to not ask people for help; travelling across London and using the tube in a wheelchair soon put paid to that! James added that while it’s about you and your approach to the world, but it’s also about how the world approaches you. What was initially diagnosed as a muscle strain but turned out to be a nearly life-threatening broken leg led to James paying more attention to his lower body, and finally starting to use a FES handcycle that enabled him to make his leg muscles work after over twenty years. James then spoke about his own depression, which was assumed had stemmed from his injury, but in fact was caused by something far more innocuous. In the same way that asking for help with a physical disability needs to have the stigma taken away from it, the same needs to be said for people’s mental wellbeing. He stated: “..you can get quite stigmatised or defined by your chair, or your sight or whatever you can’t do, and people don’t necessarily see what you can do. I think that’s a real shame.”

Lucy Ruck

Lucy Ruck

Following a panel discussion with our speakers and host Lucy, making use of the interactive platform Slido, delegates were able to engage with the following tech exhibitors:

Texthelp – helping everyone read, write and communicate with clarity.

PWC Disability, Ability and Wellbeing Network.

Posturite – ergonomic suppliers and service providers.

MyClearText – on-site and remote speech-to-text reporting.

Microsoft – empower every organisation to achieve more.

Microlink – leaders in the field of assistive technology.

Iansyst – assistive technology specialists.

Bennett workplace – workplace & ergonomic solutions.

One of the audience stated: “[We heard] really great stories from the speakers, they demonstrated the success assistive technology has had on their lives. They served as great role models for how with support, grit and the right tools, disability dissolves and ability thrives.”

To find out more about our events, visit here

Why being disability-smart means delivering for every customer

Welcoming disabled customers guide and a Legoland coaster

Welcoming disabled customers guide

By Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

The most successful businesses are known not just for their products or services or their competitiveness on price but for their customer service – and this means excellent customer service for every customer.

But disabled consumers far too often still experience poor customer service. This usually isn’t because businesses don’t want disabled customers or even that customer facing staff don’t want to serve disabled customers, but is often because of fear; fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and giving offence which means that customer facing staff too often say or do nothing.

The good news is that businesses who instill the confidence in their people to be “disability smart” and to ask how to best serve all their customers stand to reap considerable business benefits.

Back in 2014, the Extra Costs Commission 2014 asked 2,500 disabled people whether they had left a shop or business because of poor disability awareness or understanding and 75% said that they had. This figure rises to around 80% for people with a memory impairment, autism or a learning disability. Within that 75% headline figure, seven out of ten (70%) had left a high street shop, half (50%) had left a restaurant, pub or club, and a quarter (27%) had left a supermarket.

As well as being the wrong thing ethically and morally, it also makes no sense for businesses, financially. The spending power of disabled people and their friends and families – also known as the Purple Pound – is huge and currently estimated at £249bn per year in the UK alone. And from that same survey, the Extra Costs Commission estimated that the 8.4 million people in the UK who “walk away” were losing British Business around £1.8 billion per month. It’s not just about disabled people either; Millennials – and all of us – are increasingly making ethical and values-based choices on where we spend our time and money. So, I believe that getting it right and providing brilliant service for disabled customers can actually become a USP.

The encouraging news is that businesses are finally waking up to this. The #Valuable campaign and the launch of the #Valuable500 at the World Economic Forum in January this year is all about the power of disability at brand level and the importance of including disabled people in products and services, right from the design stage. #Valuable500 aims to get disability on the agenda at board level in 500 – or more! – global companies and Virgin Media, Unilever, Microsoft and Barclays have already signed up. So how can you follow in their footsteps?

Just last week, with the support of our Member Merlin Entertainments plc, we were delighted to launch our new ‘Welcoming Disabled Customers’ guide at Legoland Windsor, to help every business provide brilliant service to disabled customers. Designed as a simple reference tool, it aims to give confidence to customer-facing staff with really practical and simple hints and tips.

Diane and a Lego model

Diane Lightfoot (right) and a Lego model

It’s split into sections so that it’s easily digestible and can be used as a quick reference guide when needed. It starts with practical tips on how to support customers with different types of impairments, for example, how best to guide a customer with a visual impairment up or down stairs, plus helpful information on etiquette, for example, that someone’s wheelchair is part of their personal space.

As anyone who has heard me speak knows (!), one of the stats I like to use is that over 90% of disabilities are not immediately visible. So, it’s likely that for a large proportion of the time, customer facing staff may not know that a customer is disabled. So, the second part of the guide gives general advice and things to think about and to be aware of, like being clear when communicating, not using confusing language or simply taking time to ask what someone needs: “how can I help you?” really can go a long way! In this way, we hope that the guide will have the added benefit of making customer facing colleagues better at serving every customer because if you can get it right for disabled customers you get it right for everyone.

Legoland Hotel, Windsor

Legoland Hotel, Windsor

It was great to see this ethos put into practice at our Legoland launch where the commitment to getting it right for disabled customers was obvious in every staff member. We heard some really moving stories from parents whose disabled child had been able to be “just another child” in their experience of Legoland and from the Legoland team whose passion for opening up as many attractions to as many people as possible was so apparent. We had the privilege of seeing not only the different options for accessible bedrooms in the hotel – we visited the “adventure” themed floor and it was great to see the different options available – as well as surely the funkiest Changing Places toilet ever and a very peaceful and beautiful sensory centre to enable everyone to enjoy the delights of Denmark’s greatest export (it’s something to build on). The fun setting (yes, we all had our photo taken with Lego sculptures and more!) didn’t detract from the fact that Merlin Entertainments plc are very keen to keep on improving in taking customer service for people with all kinds of conditions and disabilities seriously.

With World Consumer Rights Day on Friday (15 March) and Disability Access Day on Saturday (16 March), the spotlight is firmly on customer service delivery, this week. But, let’s ensure that it doesn’t stop there. Meeting the needs of all customers is something which businesses should be doing every day of the year. If you would like to know more, then why not get in touch to find out how we can help?

To learn more about being disability-smart, contact our membership team

Email David Goodchild, our Executive Director of Membership & Business Development

Diane Lightfoot

CEO, Business Disability Forum

“Sous le ciel de Paris” – working together towards a Disability-Smart world

By Delphine Leveneur, Business Disability forum

[Article first published on LinkedIn]

group photo of all European and Canadian attendees posing with organisers from the French Ministry of Justice

European and Canadian attendees posing in a group photo with organisers from the French Ministry of Justice

Like in the famous song, last week saw me strolling ‘sous le ciel de Paris’ (under Paris’ sky) to speak at a European conference on disability at work.

This event, organised and hosted by the French Ministry of Justice (Ministère de la Justice), was an opportunity for experts from Canada, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and the UK to exchange with guests and staff from the French ministry of Justice on good practices in Europe and beyond.

Photo of Nicole Belloubet, French Ministry of Justice

Nicole Belloubet, French Ministry of Justice, opened the conference on Thursday

The French Justice Minister, Nicole Belloubet, opened the conference by reminding the audience that disability is a priority for the [French] government”. She outlined that the French ministry of Justice continues its work to improve inclusion of disabled staff, taking concrete actions such as increasing links with universities to facilitate the transition from higher education to employment. She also mentioned workplace adjustment process, manager and staff training as well as digital accessibility as areas that are being looked at for improvement.

Over the course of two days, we heard about new and innovative steps taken in France around inclusion of disabled people in the workplace. I will write a separate article focusing on the changes to French legislation and French initiatives in the upcoming weeks.

Photo of Sir Philip Rutnam speaking. Also on the photo: Malin Ekman Alden (Sweden), Robin Baltes (Germany) and N. Saussure (France)

Sir Philip Rutnam, UK Civil Service Disability Champion speaks. Also on the photo: Malin Ekman Alden (Sweden), Robin Baltes (Germany) and N. Saussure (France)

Sir Philip Rutnam, UK Civil Service Disability Champion shared great insight on the work done in the UK, particularly around the Fast Stream program, a graduate leadership development programme and around and around the UK government Disability Confident scheme, which “supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to your workplace”.

Photo of Peter Mozet (Germany)

Peter Mozet (Germany) shares the work accomplished by the German federal government around disability inclusion

Amongst all the good practices shared, we also heard about the quota system in Germany and how there, disabled staff in the public sector elect a representative who can (amongst many other things) attend disabled candidates’ interviews to ensure the process is fair. I very much liked this democratic process!

The conference’s special guest Yazmine Laroche, Deputy Minister, Public Service Accessibility, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, shared exciting news from Canada. Their C-81 Accessibility Act is currently being reviewed by the Canadian Senate. This new piece of legislation, follows a consultation open to all Canadians and looks at areas including :

  • built environments;
  • employment;
  • information and communication technologies;
  • procurement of goods and services;
  • delivering programs and services;
  • and transportation.

Canada being a federal country, this Act would only apply to organisations under federal responsibility.

I’ve always believed that there is no border when talking about disability (or any other diversity and inclusion topic for that matter). There is much to learn when looking beyond our own country. If proof was needed, not surprisingly, the themes that were mentioned during the conferences mentioned are similar to the ones we hear about in the UK, amongst which were:

  • the need for senior leaders to champion the topic;
  • issues around career progression and representation of disabled people in senior leadership;
  • training of line managers;
  • thinking about disability inclusion at the beginning of any discussion to avoid retrofitting.
  • access to employment – including transition from education.
Photo of Yazmine Laroche and Delphine Leveneur on stage. A French Sign Language interpreter is working on the side

Yazmine Laroche shares insight from Canada

In her closing remarks, Yazmine Laroche reminded attendees that although countries will adopt different approaches to disability inclusion, in every part of society including employment, reflecting our own ways and our culture, people with disabilities need to be included every step of the way.

And that for me is the most important message that was shared with all attendees during these two days. Disability is not just a topic that should be discussed on occasion then forgotten for another year. It has to be included in every aspect of a business if we truly want to build an inclusive workplace and society.