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

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

Help to shape research on global disability inclusion strategies

Two hands shaking across a night landscape

Globally, an estimated one billion people have a disability (that’s 15% of the world’s population). There is strong evidence that disability and poverty are linked, with disabled people more likely to live in poverty due to higher unemployment, lower income levels and lower attainment of skills and qualifications. This is a global trend but, unsurprisingly, is especially pronounced in low income countries.

Half of the organisations that we support at Business Disability Forum are global. Between them, they employ more than 8 million people globally. Members and Partners are increasingly telling us that their ambition is to get it right for employees and customers with disabilities wherever they are in world.

Whilst it’s relatively early days, we’re already seeing some brilliant examples of organisations approaching disability as a global business issue. For example, Accenture has a global disability strategy and Shell has developed a global process for making workplace adjustments for employees with disabilities.

Please share your views!

With this in mind, Business Disability Forum is conducting research into disability inclusion at a global business level.

Sponsored by Shell, the project is exploring the existence, and challenges, businesses face in developing a global strategy, as well as lessons learnt so far.

We know this is a complex, but incredibly important area of our work and the only way of exploring it fully is to talk to as many global businesses as possible. It does not matter where your organisation currently stands regarding commitment, or activity, relating to a global strategy for disability inclusion – please share your views in this short online survey.

The body of research will be used to develop guiding principles and practical steps for diversity and inclusion professionals to use within their own organisations. Findings from the survey and the wider research will be published in 2020.

If you work in a global organisation and have a view on how disability inclusion is working, or might work, at a global level in your business, then please take part.  The survey is anonymous and an opinion piece of research, you will not be required to know or share any data. It will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

To take part in the survey please click on the following link https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/GDSS8V6

Please contact us at global@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk if a different format of the questionnaire would work better for you. Do not hesitate to contact us at the same email address if you have any other queries.

Business Disability Forum thanks all contributors for their time and input into this important piece of research. 

Autism and your workplace  

A master in your field with incredible knowledge and passion which radiates brightly as you speak, but yet struggling with employment – or know someone who is?

Unfortunately, this is the case for many individuals on the Autistic Spectrum. In fact, 80% of adults with Autism are unemployed (UN, 2015). A barrier exists between talented individuals and the future workplace, and that barrier is the current mindset within workplace environments.

The challenge

Care and support for Autistic children is growing within the education system and it is clear that early detection and intervention are important factors for development. But what support is available for adults with Autism in the workplace?

It can be a daunting experience for anyone, leaving the education system for the ‘big, wide world of work’. That brings a mixture of nerves, uncertainty and a little excitement at new found independence. For someone with social difficulties where change and the unknown causes distress, this transition can be extremely difficult, especially in a world which doesn’t facilitate neurodiversity.

Only 3 in 10 employers include neurodiversity in their HR policies (CIPD, 2018). The processes put in place to hire and retain employees do not nurture the neurodiverse mind.

neurodiversity thought

The workplace is missing out on a spectrum of talent

Neurodiverse conditions are a part of human diversity with each making the world a more interesting and unique place to be. Those with Autism experience the world differently and offer original concepts of shared experiences.

A spectrum condition including diagnoses such as Aspergers, there are a variety of characteristics associated with Autism that can be advantageous to the workplace; heightened senses, strong eye for detail, intense concentration, ability to recognise patterns and solve problems, loyalty, strong memory, a literal mindset, logical approach and average to above average intelligence are just a few. Interestingly, individuals with Autism tend to be savants in their industry due to passionate enthusiasm around their interests.

“Autism…offers a chance for us to glimpse an awe-filled vision of the world that otherwise might pass us by” (Dr. Colin Zimbleman)

 

So, how can you be mindful of different minds?

Changing the workplace mindset means to recognise the diversity of each and every individual and be proactive in facilitating differing needs, from recruitment through to nurturing and retaining employees.

 

Recruitment and hiring

Begin by rethinking what skills are truly important for the role; the ability to make eye contact when communicating or, bringing novel ideas and a wealth of knowledge to the job? Job descriptions should be based on the actual skills required for the job and not related to generic social abilities.

During the hiring process consider ditching traditional interviews which can be difficult for individuals who struggle to communicate. Instead, offer work trials or tasks which allow potential employees the chance to demonstrate their skills. If this isn’t possible then make reasonable adjustments to aid the interview process; give the candidate the questions in advance so they have some time to process and prepare and perhaps allow an extra little bit of time for their responses.

 

Retain employees

Flexibility towards personalised working is key to nurturing employees with Autism. With a tendency to be hypersensitive, too many distractions can cause overstimulation. Provide quiet zones or noise cancelling headphones to aid a calm environment. Additionally, you can facilitate diverse ways of processing with the use of assistive technology.

Reduce anxiety and stress with structured routines; provide clear deadlines and help plan workloads by assigning time slots to tasks. Practice forward-thinking and adapt the literal mindset by being instructive; this reduces the distress caused by change and the unknown, and ensures clear expectations.

Finally, it can often be difficult for someone with Autism to express their feelings, especially if they don’t know who to turn to. Provide a support network with a dedicated ‘buddy’ and schedule weekly one to one check ins.

 

If you want to find out more about embracing neurodiversity within the workplace, download Texthelp’s Neurodiversity Guide.

 Business Disability Forum also has a Briefing for Employment adjustment for people with Autism, including Asperger Syndrome.

Going places at our summer reception

By Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

Diane Lightfoot at the summer reception, addressing the crowd

Diane Lightfoot at the summer reception

Last week we held our annual Business Disability Forum summer reception where it was wonderful to to be joined by some new as well as some more familiar faces!

Our summer reception has historically been our Partner group reception but this year we wanted to open it up to members too and judging by the number of people in a room, that decision has been very well received!

This year’s reception – fittingly for the time of year – was on the theme of “Going Places” with a focus on summer holidays. Huge thanks to our Partner Sainsbury’s for hosting us and providing a selection of foods from around the world which certainly got us in the holiday mood! Our sponsor for the event was the Go-Ahead Group and we were delighted to have their support not only as a very important part of going on holiday is “getting there”, but also because we launched the initial findings from our accessible transport survey at the event.

A colourful banner for Business Disability Forum's summer reception 2019

Summer reception 2019

In May, we launched an accessible transport consultation as part of our “Going Places” campaign, titled “Getting There: How accessible is UK public transport in 2019?”. We wanted to find out more about disabled people’s experience of using tubes, trains, taxis, buses, trams, coaches, and planes travel whether for work or leisure. The results are based on the experiences of 236 people who got in touch with us to share their views. The results are perhaps not surprising:

Our headline finding is that inaccessible transport is preventing disabled people from going places.

Travel difficulties are preventing 4 out of 10 disabled people from going shopping and a third from going to work or going on holiday. At the same time, a quarter of disabled people said they found it hard getting to the GP or hospital.

The research found that:

  • The most popular type of public transport used in an average month is train (59 per cent of disabled respondents use the train regularly), followed by bus (50 per cent), and taxi (34 per cent).
  • 44 per cent said they have been prevented from taking part in leisure activities (such as going to the cinema, theme park, or exhibition) due to inaccessible transport.
  • 38 per cent said they couldn’t go shopping.
  • 34 per cent said they have been prevented from getting to work
  • 33 per cent said they have been prevented from going on holiday
  • 25 per cent said they find it hard to get to the places that help them manage their condition or get treatment (such as the GP, hospital, rehab or physio).

Our research is published a year on from the publication of the Government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy, which aims to create an equal access transport system for disabled passengers by 2030, and at a time of increased campaigning around the inaccessibility of public transport across the UK.

It shows the huge impact that inaccessible public transport is having on the lives of disabled people and the subsequent knock on effect on the economy. People are telling us that transport difficulties are making it harder for them to get to work. This is particularly worrying when you consider the growing numbers of organisations which are becoming multi-sited or are looking to relocate. We are also concerned that transport issues may be limiting the roles which disabled people feel they can apply for, ruling out those which require travel.

Inaccessible transport is also preventing disabled people from spending their income, by influencing decisions about where to shop and to spend leisure time, and whether to go on holiday. With the collective spending power of disabled people in the UK standing at £249 billion, this represents a significant loss to business.

But the other thing we are seeing is that one size doesn’t fit all. For example, lots of people are saying how easy airport signage and communications are, and then others are saying they can’t read airport signs and that departure boards are very inaccessible. What this tells us more than anything is that people are different! We all do things in different ways and need to use things differently. So, flexibility and a range of options is the key to the future of inclusive transport.

We are also really encouraged by the number of transport companies who have joined us as Members and who are really committed to making a difference for their disabled customers. We are seeing some examples of real innovation in this space, such as Network Rail’s approach to inclusive design, TfL’s refurbishment of priority seating to help raise awareness of the needs of people with non-visible disabilities and Gatwick Airport’s Lanyard scheme. Great ideas don’t have to be complicated; Brighton and Hove Buses have an award-winning scheme called “Helping Hand” that empowers bus users to discreetly and directly advise the driver of any assistance they need. The yellow card holds a brief written instruction for the driver that can be shown upon boarding the bus so that the driver is immediately made aware of the customer’s needs or requirements without the customer having to verbally communicate it. It’s been particularly useful for people with non-visible disabilities and is now being used off the bus as well – in taxis, shops and cinemas. For example, the “Please face me I lip read” can help anywhere at any time.

So, things are changing and changing for the better and we need to keep that momentum no matter what the future is about to bring us. Now more than ever business needs the best workers to get to and travel for work and we all need to be able to access rest and relaxation.

We will be using the research to make a series of recommendations to the Government as part of their current consultations on transport accessibility and as part of our Going Places campaign. You can follow the debate with the hashtag #BDFGettingThere

Last but not least, a huge thanks to all our Partners and Members for being on this Disability Smart journey with us and for driving change not just in your businesses but across society. Inclusion itself is a journey, not a destination, but thanks to your support we can make it easier for everyone not to only to be Going Places but to be Getting There as well.

Diane Lightfoot
CEO

Ps We are looking at the “Getting on” aspect of our Going Places theme with our new career development courses taking place this October and November, generously hosted by our Partner RBS in Edinburgh and led by Phil Friend and Dave Rees. There are a few places still available on this 3-day residential course – heavily subsided thanks to RBS’s generosity – so if you are interested please have a look here

Not all value is as clear as dollars and cents

Jodie May 2019

By Jodie Greer, IT Accessibility Lead at Shell Information Technology International Limited

How many of us would have a business, or a job if there weren’t other people somewhere in the chain? Be that colleagues, customers, potential new recruits, suppliers etc. So how can you really put a value on accessibility?

In many forums I hear the same familiar questions, wanting to put a $ mark against accessibility goals and wanting to know the number of people impacted. Well, what if I told you there aren’t any statistics?

Some people would disagree with me and research shows that globally there are more than 1.3 billion people living with a disability* and together with their friends and family that group has a spending power of $8 trillion**.

Those of us in global organisations also contend with the numerous legislations around the world, meaning in some countries we cannot ask staff to share if they have a disability and sadly we all contend with the stigma that is still very apparent with regards some disabilities that makes people reluctant to share voluntarily.

In the workplace and with your customer base can you really put a value on making people as productive as they can be and/or enabling people to make use of your goods and services? Let’s not forget that accessibility doesn’t only enable people with disabilities, these good practices can prove beneficial for many. Some examples, captions can be invaluable for someone with a hearing impairment and can be just as beneficial for someone facing a language barrier, colour contrast can make all the difference for some people with a visual impairment to access information and also help those of us with good vision to stop squinting as we try to decipher what’s in front of us and good meeting practice can ensure we all take away the same messages without relying on the ability to recognise sarcasm or distinguish what’s said by motivated people all speaking at the same time.

The reason I suggest there aren’t any statistics is that the world keeps turning. Not just literally, but the demographic you are serving today will be different tomorrow and again the day after and so on. Staff who do not require adjustments today may do tomorrow, customers who can use your products today may not be able to next week. Are you prepared to lose them? That’s the true value of accessibility.

Most of us love a statistic, so I would say think about the value you put on your staff and customers and whether you can run an effective and commercially viable business without them (if you can please share how as that sounds like an opportunity not to be missed and the lottery isn’t working out for me) and then translate that in to $$ to decide if you can afford to be anything but truly accessible.

Accessibility is simply good business sense and the Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce provide support and guidance to those who want to be successful.

Data sources: *The World Bank and **The Global Economics of Disability

Be part of the inclusion revolution – accessible HR software survey: now open!

Lucy Ruck, Business Disability Forum

Global business leaders are tasked with one universal goal – to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive marketplace while driving performance, productivity and efficiency. In the context of an ever-evolving digital business landscape, CEOs are increasingly looking to HR to spearhead the digital transformation process to achieve this goal.  

That’s why many organisations choose to invest in HR software solutions, or as they’re commonly referred to, Talent Management Suites (TM Suites), to engage employees and help them to be more strategic and productive. These tools can be immeasurably useful to seamlessly share information, open up communication, develop employee competencies as well as help HR professionals to plan for, attract and retain a blossoming workforce.

A bird holding the clipboard with the writing that says "Want to be a part of the inclusion revolution?"

Designed to improve workforce engagement, collaboration, and development by allowing staff to complete tasks such as expense reports, performance reviews and setting goals or connecting with new team members as part of the on-boarding process, TM Suites need to address the core assistive technology features that enable all employees to participate in the very best way they can.

What we hope to achieve

Business Disability Forum and Texthelp have seen first-hand the tangible benefits of developing truly accessible applications from the ground-up, and we want to use the survey to create a clear and up-to-date picture of accessibility and the user experience within HR software solutions.  

We will use the findings to develop what we hope will be one of the most informed pieces of research on the topic, helping us to understand how we can meaningfully include everyone in the workforce through HR software solutions with built-in accessibility.  We are also keen to utilise the results to explore how organisations can realise the untapped benefits of prioritising accessibility within HR software to help everyone achieve their full potential.

Survey details

The survey is quick and easy to complete and will help us to further our understanding of the user experience and current accessibility within TM Suites, as well as identify areas of success in terms of accessibility.

We are calling on anyone with experience of TM Suites, either as a user or administrator, to take part in the short survey.

Findings from the survey will be circulated through the Business Disability Forum newsletter and the Texthelp and Business Disability Forum social media channels / websites.

Respondents will remain confidential, however, the opening questions of the survey will aim to determine both the size of the organisation and industry sector that you represent.   If you complete the survey and don’t mind us getting in touch for further information on your responses please provide us with your contact details at the close of the survey.

Support the inclusion revolution by taking our short survey today.  The survey closes at 8am on Tuesday 9th July 2019.  

To complete the survey in a different way email n.branagh@texthelp.com