The unsung people helping millions stay in work – and why we need to acknowledge them

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Angela Matthews

By Angela Matthews, Business Disability Forum

At Business Disability Forum we put a big focus on the idea of ‘Going Places’ – being able to get into work, to get on at work, and to lead a productive life. The conversations about this of kind social mobility for disabled people tend to focus on what businesses and government can do – making buildings accessible, adapting workstations or interviews. But there is another critical factor that seldom discussed, and that is the GP or general practitioner.

“GPs are the bedrock of the NHS. They are the first port of call,” Matt Hancock (Health and Social Care Secretary), announced at the National Association of Primary Care’s conference in October. He was talking about GPs’ roles in ‘preventing’ ill health, not their role in the lives of the some 26 million people in England who are ‘managing’ long-term conditions.

But GPs are also the first port of call for millions of people working with a disability or long-term condition. Put simply, without the role of the GP, many would not be able to stay in work.

I am one of those people.

GPs roles in the ongoing management of people’s conditions is severely under-recognised and rarely celebrated. Yet without GPs, many people would not be able to manage their conditions in a way that also enables them to work, take part in leisure or social activities, or be as independent as many of us are.

I often think that a GPs working environment can be challenging: particularly in rural areas where they are often based in poorly maintained physical environments, ever-increasing workloads, and more demands being made on their time alongside continued budget pressures at Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) level, to name just some examples. Yet the UK is desperate to attract more people into the profession to ensure we have a primary care service fit for a more populated ageing future.

Consider that, while facing these challenges, my GP is the key professional figure that makes my life work. My GP speaks to me most months about how I am getting on with my medications and treatment. For example, he might ask is my current formula manageable with what I am currently needing to do at work? If not, we can change it. Or how does this medication work if the first part of your day is sat on a train commuting into the city?  How easy was it to get your medical supplies this month?

When my hospital team need to change something in my treatment, they write to my GP requesting him to make the changes on my prescription. I log onto my patient app and I can see it has been done within a few days. I no longer go into the surgery just to request my medication. Neither do I send an email, or make a phone call. I request this through the app; I send any comments to my GP via this app, and it also allows me to see when my GP has sent my prescription to the pharmacy, which always happens within just a few days. I get off the train from work in the evening, collect my car, and go to the pharmacy which is open until 10.00 pm to collect my supplies. It is a perfect example of how the future is in finding that intelligent ‘sweet spot’ between humanity and technology.

Before this, I had to work reduced hours for a week each month while convincing my previous GP what I needed, checking the pharmacy could get what had been prescribed, and facilitating communication between surgery receptionists and the pharmacy about the complexity of my prescription requirements. I am not alone; I hear of many people who do not work or have to reduce their hours because they literally ‘don t have time’ to have a job while managing their medical condition.

As per the Government’s Work and Health Strategy, the primary healthcare setting is absolutely pivotal for retaining and increasing the employment of people who can work but need to manage complex and fluctuating medical conditions every day of their lives.

A switched on, understanding GP can be everything for sustaining the social and economic contribution of the tens of millions of individuals managing their work and personal lives with long-term medical conditions today.

Poverty and disability in the UK: why disability employment is so important

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By Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer, Business Disability Forum

Welcome to the first of our three blogs looking at the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty in the UK, which will look at the different factors affecting poverty among disabled people today. In this piece, we look at the relationship between employment and poverty.

The UN Special Rapporteur is currently visiting the UK (6—16 November 2018), exploring the realities and causes of poverty in the United Kingdom. Business Disability Forum were invited to send evidence to the Rapporteur in advance of his visit, and produced a document setting out how persistent barriers to work and services push many disabled people into poverty.

So what did we say?

Poverty among disabled people at a glance

When we talk about poverty here, we use the approach taken by the UK Government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) to measure poverty in the UK, namely households who earn less than 60 per cent of the median household income. The current median household income is currently £27,200[1], meaning households with an income of less than £16,320 are, by definition, living ‘in poverty’.[2]

A major inquiry by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into “Being Disabled in Britain” [3] found that 30 per cent of working age adults in families where at least one person is disabled were living in poverty, compared with 18 per cent of households without a disabled family member. In addition, the National Policy Institute  can ascribe poverty “directly associated with disability” to 28 per cent of disabled people in the UK, which is over 3 million individuals.

In looking at the root causes of this situation, we applied Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s framework of ‘social causes’ of poverty, namely:

  • Unemployment, under-employment, and discrimination at work.
  • Low levels of skills and education.
  • An ineffective welfare system.
  • High costs of living.
  • Discrimination through work and access to services.

Disabled people have been shown repeatedly to have a magnified experiences of all of these ‘social causes’, so, put simply, they are more likely to live in poverty.

Worse, these same factors prevent many disabled people from ‘Going Places’, progressing into (or within) work, accessing services, and improving their living situations.

Employment and its problems

An abandoned shop front in the US courtesy of Pixabay

There is no doubt that jobs can transform lives – but the opportunities have to be there first

Employment opportunities, and the extent to which they are accessible or inaccessible, can be make-or-break when it comes to moving in and out of poverty.

But disabled people are still less likely to be employed that non-disabled people. There exists a 32 percentage point gap between the employment rate of disabled and that of non-disabled people. Currently, 48 per cent of working age[4] disabled people are in work, compared to 81 per cent of non-disabled people, meaning less than half of disabled people of working age are in work.[5]

This is despite the overall employment rate in the UK being at its highest for forty years.[6]

Sadly even this is only half the story. There are also employment gaps between different groups of disabled people. Of note, we see people who require ‘human support’ rather than technological solutions are at most risk of not getting or falling out of work due to the ‘cost’ and lack of funding to provide the support that works for them. The groups who experience this most are people with learning disabilities, severe mental health conditions, and people who require ‘human’ communications support (such as interpreters).

Then there is the problem of getting on. Research carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows disabled people who are in work also experience an often significant pay gap – a reported 13 per cent pay gap for disabled men, and 7 per cent for disabled women.

As with employment gaps, there are impairment-dependent pay gaps. People with learning disabilities, severe mental health conditions, and neurological conditions experienced a bigger gap than other impairments (for example, the biggest pay gap exists for men with learning disabilities, which at the time of writing stands at an unacceptable 60 per cent).[7]

Why is this?

We would suggest that these gaps are a consequence of recurring, systemic discrimination across all levels of society including, as above, unemployment, progression in employment, lack of support when in work, lack of access to inclusive healthcare and support services, and lack of accessible transport to fully take part in training and career development opportunities.

Closing the gap

Of course, addressing this is a central reason that Business Disability Forum came together in the first place, twenty-seven years ago.

Hundreds of businesses employing millions of people have made great strides towards levelling the field since then.

It takes a lot of work, as any one of our Members and Partners will tell you. An effective approach to equality involves the whole organisation, from its policies to its image, from its managers to its training, from its offices to its website.

But if an organisation brings its different teams and elements into alignment on this issue, it can become a hugely powerful force for closing these gaps and enabling people to ‘go places’ – in their careers and their lives.

The causes of poverty among disabled people in the UK are hugely complex and interlinked, but opening up employment opportunities can be a decisive move in the right direction.

As the UN Special Rapporteur continues his visit, we will release more blogs exploring this hugely important topic, including extra costs and the effectiveness of social welfare measures. Stay tuned.

Read our full response to the UN Rapporteur’s call of evidence here and our statement to the press regarding the visit here.

[1] As per Office for National Statistics, Living Costs and Food Survey, 10 January 2018 release.

[2] National Policy Institute, press release August 2016.

[3] Equality and Human Rights Commission (April 2017), Being Disabled in Britain: A Journey Less Equal.

[4] “Working age” in this context is defined by the Office for National Statistics as people between the age of 16 and 64.

[5] Office for National Statistics, Labour Market Status of Disabled People, 14 August 2018. The Department for Work and Pensions are taking this employment gap seriously and this has led to a number of strategies (such as the Work, Health and Disability green paper which led to the Improving Lives: The Future of Work, Health and Disability strategy and working groups (such as the Work and Health Unit) forming to close the gap.

[6] Office for National Statistics, Labour Market Statistics, September 2018.

[7] Equality and Human Rights Commission (2017), The Disability Pay Gap.

It’s time for something completely different when it comes to young workers’ mental health

Diane Lightfoot

By Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer, Business Disability Forum

The news is full of studies of young people, their mental health, and what they want from the world of work. As members of Generation Z (people born after around 1995 who have grown up with social media) join Millennials (1980-1995) in the workplace, a great many employers will be asking the same question: ‘What do young people want?’

This isn’t a question that is easily answered, but one thing is abundantly clear: mental health is a critically important issue for younger workers, both in the general sense (how well they feel) and in terms of specific mental health conditions.

In a study earlier this month[1] one in three teenagers in the UK were found to be experiencing mental ill-health – and many articles have noted the high rates of mental ill-health amongst older Millennials, too, which analysts believe will stay with this generation as it ages. This means that for the foreseeable future a large proportion of our workforce will either have or have had a mental health condition.

Young people have strong views on the roles of employers when it comes to their mental health, too. In our own study of mental health attitudes in 16-24 year olds we found that the vast majority – 91% of a sample of 1,000 people – felt it was the responsibility of an employer to support its employees’ mental health.

So, the question is not whether employers will have to act, but how.

Will employers have to find a new role?

One of the traditional ways that businesses attract employees is the perk, or benefit. These typically range from fun or social (free drinks) to those more geared to health and wellbeing (yoga classes or gym memberships, say) but generally fulfil the role of bonuses or add-ons rather than, being seen as lifelines for employees.

But there are signs that this might be changing.

A survey of employees’ attitudes to different workplace benefits by Perkbox[2] has seen Millennials and Generation Z alike choosing workplace benefits that are geared towards connection, learning new things, meaningfulness, and community – all things consistently linked to good mental health. Extracurricular clubs (such as arts and craft clubs and book clubs) and sports activities are now far outpacing ‘traditional’ perks like training opportunities, free drinks, and even sabbaticals.

To an extent, this harks back to the ways that large employers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries built entire communities for their employees, with social clubs and even their own churches.

Things have come a very long way since then. But the parallel is interesting. It may be that for employers to attract and retain the next generation of talent, they must take a more proactive approach to looking after the health—particularly the mental health—and wellbeing of their staff.

Clearly this means more than offering freebies and discounts – it involves offering workers a supportive space to socialise, develop their extracurricular skills and find fulfilment. This certainly chimes with my own view that the right kind of job can be far more than an occupation but a central part of our identity.

More than just a perk

Of course, to ensure the needs of staff are met,, such schemes must be backed up by both organisational culture and practical support to employees.

If, as our studies indicated, 91% of young people wanted to discuss mental health, but 63% felt unable to do so at work, it is clear that more needs to be done.

This means equipping managers with proper awareness of mental health and mental health conditions, and having robust policies and practical procedures in place to respond to individual needs. It also means making concerted efforts to challenge and break the stigma about mental health, so that employees feel able to ask for the support they need.

Changing the conversation about mental health in the workplace takes a whole-organisation approach; a top-to-bottom response to mental health by everyone from senior managers, to HR, to team leaders, to emotional support available for every member of the workforce.

For more information and resources on how to meet the mental health needs of employees, see Business Disability Forum’s 10-point strategy for stress and our Resources pages.

[1]‘One in three young people suffering from mental health troubles’, The Guardian, 18 October 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/18/one-in-three-young-people-suffering-mental-health-troubles-survey-finds (accessed 29 October 2018)

[2] Perkbox, ‘The Great Perk Search’: https://www.perkbox.com/uk/resources/library/interactive-the-great-perk-search (accessed 29 October 2018)

Developing a global approach to meeting the needs of disabled colleagues at Shell

Picture of cranes and commercial skyscraper

The Shell Building in London (far right)

By Sam Buckley, Business Disability Forum

When Business Disability Forum sought to create a global framework to enable multinational organisations to meet the needs of disabled employees and customers around the world, it called on leading organisations, with experience in the field, to join its Global Taskforce.

With her recent experience in helping global Shell develop its workplace adjustment programme, Georgia Silk, Senior Inclusion and Diversity Adviser at Shell, was asked Co-Chair the Taskforce.

To mark the launch of the Global Taskforce, we talked to Georgia to find out more about what Shell is doing to develop a global approach to supporting disabled colleagues – the kind of practice the Taskforce hopes to extend to many other organisations.

Developing a global approach

BDF - Business Disability Forum Conference 2018

Georgia Silk speaking at Business Disability Forum’s conference, ‘Disability in the Modern Workplace’ in April 2018

Shell is an innovation-driven global group of energy and petrochemical companies, with 92,000 employees across the world in more than 70 countries. Over the last two years, Shell has been rolling out its global workplace adjustment programme.

Prior to the creation of the programme, Shell carried out interviews with disabled employees to find out what they wanted and needed from a global accessibility programme.

Georgia Silk, Senior Inclusion and Diversity Adviser at Shell, said:

“During the interviews, I heard a story from one of our young employees in The Netherlands who had a rapidly deteriorating visual impairment. When I listened to her story about joining Shell and her initial experiences of trying to get the adjustments she needed, I was in all honesty a bit disappointed. In the end she got what she needed but it took far too long. I was left with a view that we could do better and should do better.

“I then became aware of a young graduate in Canada who had ADHD and was struggling. We have very stretching goals for our graduates on our programmes and he was struggling to meet the needs of that programme and his line manager felt he was failing. He came to see his HR person, they had a conversation, that HR person was able to direct him to an organisation externally that provided advice on ADHD. He was able to get some help, some strategies and has turned it completely around.

“Now, I was his HR person. I knew about that external organisation because I had a family member with ADHD. If I hadn’t known that, I think I would have drawn a blank on what we could do for that young man.

“These are two experiences that have informed my passion, for this subject and led me to want to make a difference”.

Shell’s global programme has been live since August 2017 and is now available to approximately 35,000 employees across 11 countries.

Removing unnecessary hurdles

A series of Business Disability Forum Global Taskforce flyers on a table

Georgia Silk said:

“We have a 3% demand on average which is close to what we forecast ie. 3% of our employee base where the service is live have requested an adjustment. Two thirds of those are Real Estate or facilities type adjustments, one third is IT and software.”

Silk highlights how Shell worked hard to remove any unnecessary hurdles form the programme, and in so doing, has made it more accessible and efficient.

“We have a self-serve catalogue of accessibility items online. It is trust based. That means we do not require you to prove that you have a disability or provide any justification, in fact we don’t require line manager approval. We learned from the best practices of other organisations that it was important to take line managers out of the loop because they often don’t know what they’re being asked to approve. These are in any case usually lower cost items, and we can speed up the process by removing additional approval hurdles.

“We also have an accessibility centre which we source internally using our HR services organisation. These are not disability experts but HR professionals who are there to guide people through the process.

“We have an infrastructure of an occupational health system we use for more complex cases and our Health team play an important part in helping us keep people in work and help them get back to work. In the past, some managers have sought to involve a medical opinion when it wasn’t really needed, so we have worked hard to ensure we don’t build in unnecessary medical involvement; that’s been very important to us, hence not requiring people to provide evidence in the case of small items.

“We have had to build some controls in for more expensive items, but wherever possible, we have removed additional approval hurdles.”

Shell has used its well-established case management tools to track workplace adjustments in its global locations and Silk highlights that many colleagues have welcomed the opportunity that the global process provides to offer improved Management Information.

Lessons learnt

Reflecting on learning from the process, Georgia Silk, said:

“I think listening to the voice of employees with disabilities has been key; employees with disabilities have helped us add new items to the catalogue, as well as promote the service

“We have also learnt that with a process like this it’s important to start with a manageable scope and then build from there, through continuous improvement and growth.

“Visible senior leadership support is also vital. It’s been essential to have senior leadership buy-in and support cross functionally because our project team has representatives from Real Estate, IT, HR and Occupational Health, and we could not deliver a ‘joined up’ process without this kind of cross-organisational collaboration.

“We started small and built on our ambition. We started with physical adjustments only and targeted our larger office locations. We are now expanding into non-physical adjustments, although our focus there is not about a process but about providing guidance to employees and managers.”

Silk’s final thoughts on the process and advice to other organisations seeking to do the same:

“Keep learning and keep asking for feedback. Track and improve metrics to know what you are achieving, and lastly maintain the resilience to keep going, keep building and knowing that you are doing the right thing.”

Going global: it’s time for businesses to think big on disability

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Members of the Global Taskforce meeting to discuss the next steps for the group

By Brendan Roach, Business Disability Forum

Forty-five per cent of the organisations that we support at Business Disability Forum, at a corporate level, 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:

Thinking big

Our members told us they needed a practical tool to support them to systematically improve their disability performance globally.

We responded by bringing together a Global Taskforce with members of our Partner Group, and working with them to develop that tool: The Global Business Disability Framework.

Our Global Taskforce comprises members of our Partner group, including Atos, Barclays, EY, GlaxoSmithKline, Shell (who also provide our co-chair, Georgia Silk), Accenture, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, HSBC, KPMG and the Royal Bank of Scotland).

Launched at the UK government’s Global Disability Summit in July 2018, the Global Framework enables global organisations to measure, and then systematically improve, their corporate approach to disability inclusion.

IMG_6804In developing the Global Framework, we’ve also been grateful for input from companies such as Lilly and Microsoft and from experts in the field such as Stefan Tromel from the International Labour Organisation’s Global Business and Disability Network, Kate Nash, CEO of PurpleSpace and Susan Scott-Parker, CEO of business disability international and founder and Honorary Vice President of Business Disability Forum.

How does it work?

The Global Business Disability Framework builds on the principles of Business Disability Forum’s Disability Standard management tool. The Disability Standard has been used by our members in the UK since 2005 and has been adapted for use in countries as varied as Australia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Global Framework uses a ‘whole organisation’ approach to disability inclusion. In our experience, this kind of approach is essential for an organisation to become truly disability-smart. Leading organisations understand that disability is just as relevant to customer service and procurement as it is to recruitment and HR.

With this in mind, the Framework enables colleagues with global responsibility to rate their organization’s performance across 10 key business areas, ranging from recruitment to digital technology.

These areas are measured against four levels of ‘maturity’, from Awareness (Level One) through Embedding (Two), Advancing (Three) and Leading (Four).

Under each level is a specific set of criteria which allows an organisation to make a relatively quick assessment of current performance and identify ways to improve.

Example diagram showing scoring, on a scale of 1 to 4, of 10 features of a business

The Framework will award an organisation an average score based how advanced different areas of the business are

We’re already working with some early adopters and looking forward to seeing how other organisations use the Framework. Based on their experiences, we will evolve the tool and develop more resources.

You can find more information about our Global Taskforce, and the Global Business Disability Framework, on our website.

 

CamdenAbility looks to new heights for second year and beyond

Colourful shop fronts in Camden, London

By Samuel Buckley, Business Disability Forum

CamdenAbility, a joint project improving employment opportunities for disabled people in Camden and now in its second year of delivery has an ambitious goal of creating a network of employers who have improved how they attract, recruit and retain disabled people in the area.

CamdenAbility is delivered by Business Disability Forum (BDF) with Cross River Partnership, and funded by Camden Council. It aims to improve disability confidence in businesses throughout the London Borough of Camden, and therefore to increase employment opportunities for Camden residents with disabilities, impairments or long term health conditions.

Building on success in 2017

During 2017, CamdenAbility created 24 employment or work experience opportunities. The project team also:

  • Provided coaching to 78 people to prepare them for work.
  • Secured the support of 23 employers, who joined the CamdenAbility network.
  • Ran 6 training and awareness workshops for employers.

In its second year CamdenAbility has enlarged its network to 30 employers, and is working towards specific deliverables such as;

  • Providing specialist support to 60 people to help them prepare to enter employment
  • Securing jobs for 20 people
  • Securing work experience, interview practice, and job shadowing for 30 people
  • Enhancing disability awareness amongst the 30 employers involved in the project to help them improve how they attract, recruit and retain people with disabilities

A unique approach

This employability model is unique in that there is comprehensive candidate support (provided by Cross River Partnership) and extensive employer support (provided by Business Disability Forum).  This approach enables candidates to be better prepared for entering employment and ensures that employers are able to remove the barriers that disabled people historically have faced in recruitment processes.

Next steps

Picture of Adrian Ward

Adrian Ward, Senior Disability Consultant at Business Disability Forum

Adrian Ward, Senior Disability Consultant at Business Disability Forum, is part of the CamdenAbility project team.

Adrian said:

“We have increased the scale of this project in order to increase the reach and impact of this work. This year we are working with more employers and more candidates with the ultimate aim of creating more employment opportunities.  We are always keen for more employers to join the project, particularly employers who are willing to offer employment opportunities to the candidates involved in CamdenAbility.

“Our ambition is to leave a legacy of a network of employers who have increased their disability awareness as a result of participating in the project and as such have increased the number of disabled people who successfully apply for roles within their organisation.

“Beyond the life of this project we are currently identifying funding opportunities to expand the project to focus on multiple London boroughs or on locations outside of London.  This is an exciting and challenging ambition for this project but we know we have developed a model which can be lifted and replicated elsewhere and are keen to do so.”

Find out more about the CamdenAbility project on our website.

Santander: Being honest about challenges – and overcoming them

By Sam Buckley, Business Disability Forum

An honest approach to learning from the experiences of disabled employees at Santander is reflected in a new case study that shares the stories of two recruits with Asperger’s Syndrome.

The case study, aimed at people thinking of applying for jobs at the bank, takes an different approach to similar documents by others in presenting a very honest account of the high points and low points in the journeys of two new starters.

Jon Butler, who line manages the two employees summed up the message of the case study: “I’m super proud of both of them, but there’s a lot we can learn from their experiences.”

Daniel

DanSantanderDaniel joined Santander after university, and despite initially facing challenges found that with the right support he flourished in his role in the bank’s contact centre.

Upon taking up management of Daniel and Isabel, Jon researched Asperger’s Syndrome to identify potential adjustments to put in place, and continuously checked with them on how he could support them both.

Daniel said: “I’m now much happier and more confident in my job than I was before. It’s amazing what having the right support can do. What’s more, I’ve recently started taking on extra roles. I now audit and coach my team for risk and I’m an active member of Santander’s Disability Support Forum, attending quarterly meetings in Milton Keynes.”

Isabel

IsabelSantanderSimilarly to her fellow new starter Daniel, Isabel initially faced barriers when starting work but was enabled by workplace adjustments. With these, and the support and understanding of her manager Jon, Isabel was able to thrive.

“Continued support at the start of a career and reasonable adjustments really make a difference,” Isabel said. “I’ve received many ‘Thank Yous’ and recognition awards and have become a digital advocate, presenting to other teams. Our Retail Business Manager recently presented me with an award for  positive customer feedback.”

Jon said: “It’s tough reading about the challenges Daniel and Isabel had to overcome at the start. When I first met Daniel and Isabel, what impressed me was their passion; the job was vital to them, an opportunity they couldn’t afford to lose. Daniel and Isabel pointed me to articles and videos to better understand Asperger’s and we focused on getting through probation by planning for success.

“We developed coping strategies together, including preparing for change, handling conflict and emotional customers. I also had a lot of support from Health, Safety & Wellbeing. We met with our Regional Health & Safety Consultant, who helped agree and set down some reasonable adjustments. Something as simple as 20% adjustment on call length has helped Daniel and Isabel develop their communication skills and had a real positive impact.

“Fast forward 18 months and both of them are delivering outstanding service.  Daniel supports our team to improve their risk performance and Isabel delivers digital advocacy training to new joiners.”

Daniel added: “It’s absolutely fantastic to be a Co-Chair of our disability support network, Enable! I’ve worked in disability support before now and it’s something I’m very passionate about.

“When I joined Santander as a customer service advisor three years ago as my first full time job, I never imagined that this is where it would lead. I didn’t even realise that a business like Santander would have something like this in place. It’s an absolutely incredible thing to be a part of though and it’s wonderful to be able to do what I love, to support other colleagues and to have a team of people who are dedicated to helping others.

“It really is inspirational and I can’t wait to see where the future takes us.”

To read the full case study, click here 

Changing the world for disabled people: the Technology Taskforce @ 10

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By Sam Buckley, Business Disability Forum

On a cold day at the end of January 2008, a small group of people met to discuss a great big idea – using the power of corporate technology leaders to improve the life chances of hundreds of millions of disabled people worldwide.

This was the beginning of Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce, which in 2018 works with businesses both domestic and multinational to ensure that technology empowers rather than limits disabled people.

When this group first met, things were a bit different – the iPhone was only a few months old, Google’s Android operating system hadn’t hit the market yet, and the explosion in popularity of tablet computers, smart TVs and e-books was still several years away.

Most importantly, a large amount of the software and gadgets we used day-to-day still weren’t  accessible. The Technology Taskforce set out to change that.

‘Fix the technology!’

“The demand for the taskforce came directly from our business members,” said Susan Scott-Parker, Founder and Honorary Vice-President of Business Disability Forum. “The idea emerged from my conversations with  John Varley, then global CEO of Barclays and our President,: every time he asked his disabled colleagues for advice on how to improve the bank’s disability performance they told him – simply, ‘fix the technology!’ In response he rang me and said we had to do something.”

The idea behind the Technology Taskforce was to bring together corporate technology leaders – people who had the power to ensure that technology could be enabling rather than present barriers.

Simon Minty, Business Disability Forum Associate

Simon Minty, Business Disability Forum Associate

Simon Minty, broadcaster and Director of Sminty Ltd, said: “We knew we were on to something. The original aim was with the combined purchasing power of those in the room, to make technology providers start making their software more accessible.”

Fast-forward to 2018, and features that improve access are increasingly included as standard on consumer products by companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon. Voice-activated software, screen readers and easy-read formats are becoming the norm for disabled and non-disabled people alike.

The Technology Taskforce is still going strong and has brought major technology suppliers aboard such Microsoft and SAP. The group has had a major influence on numerous businesses and organisations, including technology providers. Its tool for measuring how the accessibility related performance of any business technology is within a business, the Accessibility Maturity Model is being used on a global scale, by multinational organisations like Shell and Atos.

10 years of progress

Its Members past and present have left the Technology Taskforce empowered and equipped to drive major changes to the way technology is used in organisations large and small, transforming the way they approach disabled employees and customers for the better.

The Taskforce still counts organisations including Lloyds Banking Group, RBS, KPMG, Deloitte, BBC, Barclays, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Atos and various government departments such as HMRC, DWP and Environment Agency among its members.

Sean Smith, who worked at the HMRC until his retirement last year, hosted the first meeting.

Sean said: “I remember how exciting that first meeting was. I thought it was going to be a short-term project, but I ultimately remained a part of the Taskforce for the best part of ten years. Immediately, I saw that so many organisations were in the same position of not knowing how to make their computer systems useable for disabled people, and needing to influence the IT industry as a group.

“The Taskforce quickly became a place where those who wanted to make changes could share their experiences in an atmosphere of shared goodwill, motivation and, sometimes, sympathy, as pushing for accessible tech from inside complex organisations can be tough! We knew that no organisation could make the changes we wanted to make alone—leaders had to come together to push for them, and that’s exactly what the Taskforce enabled them to do.

“It’s not too much of an overstatement to say that we were coming together with the aim of sharing the experiences of disabled people and changing the world.”

Still growing and innovating

Long-time Taskforce Member Neil Eustice of KPMG became involved after overhearing colleagues in IT discuss accessibility challenges with commercially available software. Talking to disabled employees and solving problems with non-accessible technology, Neil realised that something more fundamental needed to change.

“Technology advocacy can be a lonely business, but in the Taskforce I found a group of people with the same aims and concerns. Our meetings were great place to share ideas,” Neil said. “For anyone new to the world of accessible technology, the meetings are incredibly useful, and the Taskforce was hugely important when it came to making KPMG more disability-smart.”

“It’s great to see that the Taskforce’s influence is still growing, as tech companies like Microsoft join the fold and the digital world continues to change. Ten years on, there’s still a real buzz every time the group meets.”

CEO Diane Lightfoot. Photography by Paul Demuth, Demuth Photography

Business Disability Forum CEO Diane Lightfoot

Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer at Business Disability Forum, said:

“We have seen a real sea-change take place in the accessible tech world. What was once the exception has become the norm, and accessibility is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it is a prerequisite.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of our work is seeing people from a diverse range of organisations come together to advocate for disabled people and accessibility. Our Members and Partners bring big ideas with them to our taskforces, and as the success and the staying power of the Taskforce show, these are big ideas with even bigger impacts.”

Graeme K Whippy OBE is an independent disability consultant and was Senior Manager, Group Disability Programme at Lloyds Banking Group when he joined the first meeting of the Taskforce.

Business Disability Associate Graeme Whippy

Business Disability Associate Graeme Whippy

Graeme said: “In 2008 we had two major goals in mind. First was to get IT access on the to-do list of technology leaders at major companies. Second was to use our collective voice to torpedo the argument we faced when asking suppliers for accessible technology: that no one else was asking for it, so why were we?

“Since then, we’ve seen software houses do a complete 180 in their approach to access. Ask a technology supplier for accessible technology today and you will never hear them say ‘no one else is asking’ or use that as a justification for failing to provide the accessible option.

“And a lot of that is down to the influence of the Taskforce on technology suppliers, many of whom, like Microsoft, are leading the way.”

Susan Scott-Parker

Susan Scott-Parker, Founder and Honorary Vice-President of Business Disability Forum

Susan Scott-Parker, reflecting on the tenth anniversary of the Technology Taskforce, said: “Had we known the scale of the challenge, I must admit we would not have launched with our naively optimistic message: ‘We have a 3-year timeframe!”. But this is all the more reason to be proud of the Taskforce’s ‘staying power’ and its pioneering accomplishments – and grateful to the many technology professionals who have combined their dedication, expertise and corporate purchasing power to improve their own organisational accessibility performance while collectively creating a more efficient ICT marketplace.

“I am confident that with the on-going focused leadership from senior technology executives across the UK, the Taskforce and BDF will continue to drive the practical business improvements which in turn enable fair and equitable treatment for customers, colleagues and potential colleagues with disabilities.”

Lucy Ruck speaking at Business Disability Forum's conference in 2017

Lucy Ruck speaking at Business Disability Forum’s conference in 2017

We’ll leave the final words to the Technology Taskforce Manager, Lucy Ruck: “It’s been a pleasure and a delight to work with such an enthusiastic group of individuals that have a real passion for improving the lives of their disabled customers and colleagues through inclusive technology. What is special about this group is that you have competitors in the room who are all working together for the greater good – and it actually works! I am really proud of the resources they have developed, especially the Accessibility Maturity Model, which is a world leading tool. We are always looking for new members to join the Technology Taskforce, so please get in touch and see how you can look to shape the next 10 years!”

A special thanks is due to the organisations who first came together to form the Taskforce: HMRC, Lloyds Banking Group, Kingfisher, DWP, KPMG, Royal Mail, Sainsbury’s, the Serious Organised Crime Agency [the precursor to the National Crime Agency], AbilityNet, Aspire, Bupa, Intercontinental Hotels Group, and Goldman Sachs.

Want to find out more about joining the Technology Taskforce and pushing for accessibility in tech? Contact Lucy Ruck at lucyr@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk to find out more.

Have your say: where does disability fit in with automation and the future of work?

Robotic arm with power lines in background

By Angela Matthews, Advice Service and Policy Manager

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee has launched an inquiry to understand the impact of automation and the Future of Work on UK workforces and customers.

The Inquiry also seeks to identify who (in terms of businesses and job roles) are most affected by automation and the type of support businesses are need to transition effectively. We are also keen to understand how automation affects the inclusion and opportunities for disabled workers and customers.

To help inform our response to this Inquiry, we would like to hear from employers, business leaders, HR professionals and strategists, business consultants, inclusion specialists, and disabled people.

We are keen to understand your thoughts on the following:

  • How far automation has already affected your business; and, if it has not yet, how far you expect it to (and how) in the future;
  • The impact this has had (or will have) on disabled people in or working with your workforce;
  • How far you think automation has or will lead to industrialisation;
  • The most (and least) affected sectors and role types;
  • Support available to see businesses through change;
  • Opportunities for businesses (and disabled people) moving forward.

How to respond

There are a number of ways you can help inform our response:

  • Complete our survey by clicking here (this link will take you to Survey Monkey).
  • Complete the survey in Word format
  • Arrange a telephone or Skype call or an IM conversation.

Please contact the Policy Team at policy@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk to arrange any of the above.

The deadline for contributions is 9am on Friday 6 July 2018.

Take a chance on me – disability employment at Workability 2018

Coastline of Sweden from the air

The coastline of Sweden from the air

 

By Diane Lightfoot

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to be in sunny Stockholm for the 2018 Workability International Conference (indeed I am writing this flying back over the Swedish coast– it is absolutely stunning. There was also a strong ABBA theme to the conference – hence the title of this blog!).

Every year, Workability International brings together companies, organizations, and governments from around the world to discuss and highlight the ‘actions, measures, and practices that are the most successful in creating inclusive labour markets where more people with disabilities are given the opportunities to contribute’.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Lead the Way’ and I was invited to speak about how Business Disability Forum works in partnership with business to develop tools to help measure and improve their performance when recruiting and retaining employees with disabilities. (A note around terminology here: whilst in the UK we refer to “disabled people” to reflect our belief that it is society which “disables” people rather than it being an intrinsic condition, the broader global – and United Nations – recognised definition is of “people with disabilities” and so I have used this term in this context.)

Providing practical support

The main stage and screen at the 2018 Workability Annual Conference

The main stage and screen at the 2018 Workability Annual Conference

As regular readers will know, at Business Disability Forum, we provide pragmatic support by sharing expertise, giving advice, providing training and consultancy, facilitating networking opportunities and developing practical tools.

As a business membership organisation, we work in partnership with companies and people with disabilities to develop tools that are practical, rooted in the reality of business and credible in the eyes of both business and people with disabilities.

To support this, way back in 2004, we developed the Disability Standard, a tool designed specifically to help organisations measure and improve their performance for employees and customers with disabilities

The Disability Standard (sponsored by our Partner Accenture) sits at the heart of our member offer and is now an online management framework which allows organisations to assess how disability-smart they are across the whole of the business from commitment to HR, procurement, premises and ICT. It reflects our central ethos: that getting things right for people with disabilities is not solely the domain of HR or CSR but needs a whole organisation approach. Essentially, we believe that disability is everyone’s business.

Adapting the Disability Standard in other countries

In our experience, this whole organisation approach to improving the recruitment and retention of employees with disabilities is a fundamental and universal concept.

We love to share our experiences and what we’ve learned over nearly 30 years with governments, organisations and business and disability networks from around the world. We are proud that the Disability Standard now provides the framework for the ‘Access and Inclusion Index’ offered by the Australian Network on Disability and the Ministry of Labor’s national ‘Mowaamah’ certification system in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Developing a tool to help global business

stockholm1Globally, an estimated one billion people have a disability (that’s 15% of the world’s population). Nearly half of our members have some sort of an international presence with many employing hundreds of thousands of people globally.

Many have a presence in developing countries where we know that disabled people are some of the most disadvantaged people in the world. So, the opportunity for global organisaitons to make a positive impact – through direct employment and by influencing supply chains – is huge and we are increasingly being asked by members for support in helping them to think through how they can get it right for employees and customers with disabilities wherever they are in the world.

We are already seeing some excellent practice from our members. For example:

But our Partner and Member organisations told us they wanted more! They asked if we could adapt our Disability Standard to provide them with a really practical framework and set of tools that they can use wherever in the world they operate. And of course, we said yes! So, with the support of our Partner Shell, earlier this year we established a Global Taskforce comprising members of our Partner Group including Atos, Barclays, EY and GSK that has come together to develop a tool that will help employees with global responsibility to measure and improve their organisation’s corporate approach to disability inclusion.

Some of the issues the group grappled with include:

  • How to develop a disability strategy that is robust enough to provide a global framework – and which also allows for implementation that is culturally and legally appropriate at a local level?
  • How to ensure that global functions, tools or standards – ranging from e-learning to office design guidelines – consider the needs of users with disabilities?
  • How to ensure that global mobility processes/tools include a focus on accessibility and adjustments to ensure that employees with disabilities can undertake overseas assignments, make permanent moves and undertake international business travel?
  • How to create innovative approaches to recruitment, retention and service provision in any developing countries where they have a presence?

It’s not been entirely straightforward; in particular, the need to maintain an approach to quality that is sufficiently robust and rigorous to be meaningful and credible to business and disabled people, combined with the drive for simplicity and ease of use has not been an easy circle to square! But we think – and we hope – that together we have created something that will have real practical application for businesses and – most importantly – transform the life chances of disabled people worldwide.

The tool is in the final stages of testing and will be launched in July 2018 around the Department for International Development (DfID) Global Summit which we are actively involved in shaping. We are also proud to be working in in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO) at the United Nations in Geneva and as part of the #Valuable campaign to get disability on the board agenda of 500 global companies.

Disability matters: it matters in the UK and it matters worldwide. We hope that this new tool will help business – and beyond – to make a real step change in employment for disabled people and – to quote  the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – ensure that no-one is left behind.

Diane Lightfoot

CEO

Business Disability Forum