Learning disability: shifting the dial on employment

Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum

Diane Lightfoot

Diane Lightfoot

Identity means very different things to different people and it can change many times in a lifetime.

Our Identity is shaped by our experiences and the world around us.

It’s also shaped by what we do every day; one of the main ways that most of us define ourselves is through our job and one of the first things we tend to ask when we meet someone new is “what do you do?” or even “where do you work?”.

For too many disabled people, that’s a really difficult question to answer. But for most people with a learning disability, it’s impossible. Though the figures for the employment of disabled people overall have crept up to 51%, those for the employment of people with a learning disability remain at a woeful 6% – as compared to over 80% employment for working age adults as a whole.

So, to mark this year’s Learning Disability Week, I wanted to shine a light on what’s needed to change this.

A confession: I have a particular interest here, having worked for a learning disability charity for 13 years before joining Business Disability Forum. During those 13 years, it struck me that work – good work – is, for many people with learning disabilities, the most genuine form of inclusion there is. It’s something many of us are lucky enough to be able to take for granted and so we probably don’t think of all the myriad benefits of work when we begin our commute each morning. It’s not just about paying the rent or mortgage (though few would argue that’s pretty important!) but also a social group, emotional support – a natural way of building the “circles of support” that are so often talked about for people with learning disabilities), self-esteem and yes, identity.

At Business Disability Forum, we work with organisations across all sectors to help them get better at recruiting retaining disabled employees and serving disabled customers. Our 300 members employ around 15% of the UK workforce and around 8 million people worldwide. But what we are ultimately here for – I believe – is to transform the life chances that disabled people have as employees and consumers – and includes people with a learning disability.

I’ve been at BDF for 2.5 years now and one of the things I am pleased to see is increased interest and focus on recruitment rather than just retention. Skills shortages in sectors such as construction mean that employers are recognising the need to reach the widest possible talent pool.

So how can you get better at employing people with learning disabilities?

When recruiting, think about what you really need for the job. We’ve all been there when someone in our team leaves and we think we must get the vacant post filled as soon as possible; yesterday, ideally. So it’s all too easy to dust down the old job description and person spec and even the old advert, give it a quick once over and do exactly what you did to recruit last time.

But what if you took a step back?

What if you paused for a moment to think about whether you really need those qualifications or three years’ experience or a driving licence or whether someone might be able to demonstrate to you that they can do the job another way? What if you thought about the outcomes you need from the job and whether they might be achieved differently? It’s also about challenging your frame of reference; the Maynard Review made recommendations to the entry level for apprenticeships to open them up to people with learning disabilities by waiving the requirement for Maths and English GCSE. That’s great news. But I’m willing to bet that the people who originally set the entry criteria weren’t trying to set them high to exclude people with a learning disability! They probably thought they were setting them at a really attainable level. So, its’ worth challenging yourself about what you really need.

Then, when you advertise, make sure you offer alternative formats including easy read (simple text supported by pictures). It’s also vital to make sure any sifting process – whether automated or human – doesn’t automatically screen out people with a less traditional CV or one that has gaps as this may well exclude people (not just with a learning disability) who for whatever reason haven’t had the opportunity to build their portfolio.

And once at assessment, it’s about testing the right skills. I don’t know many people who actively love interviews but for some people with a learning disability (or indeed who are neurodiverse) may really struggle with the traditional panel format. Offering a work trial – which is legally a reasonable adjustment – gives people to demonstrate the skills they will need to show in the workplace.

Once in the job, inclusive onboard such as buddying schemes of “week one mentors” for new employees with a learning disability can really help with orientation and helping someone get used to their new role and environment. And other approaches such as job carving (where you remove an aspect/s of a job that someone may find a barrier – for example dealing with money) or Training in Systematic Assumption (TSI) where a job is taught by breaking processes down into individual component tasks – can make all the difference in an employee with a learning disability thriving at work. Our Advice Service recently worked with a large employer to understand why people with learning disabilities were being recruited into the organisation but not successfully completing the probation period. We found that passing the probation period was dependent on every employee scoring well in a comprehensive health and safety training exercise. The health and safety training was generic and not tailored to job roles. When we tailored the health and safety assessment to the employee’s specific role, the employee passed his probation and remained successfully in post.

There are still challenges; people with learning disabilities are among those most impacted by the Access to Work cap. Whilst the cap has been raised, it still remains a barrier for people who require “human support” a work – and that might be the difference in being able to afford a job coach for an employee with a learning disability or not.

There are challenges too in raising aspirations, well before the workplace. Far too many young people with a learning disability are still growing up without the encouragement to – let along the expectation of – working. Job readiness needs to keep pace with the changing landscape of entry level jobs – the dwindling of supermarket checkout roles being an obvious example – and the changing requirements of employers. Equally, employers need to be open to doing things differently and to understand a work trial is not only a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act, but is also, for many jobs, a far better measure of whether someone can actually do a job as opposed to telling you about it.

This Learning Disability Week, let’s work together and shift the dial on those woeful statistics once and for all.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum

 

To mark Learning Disability Week, we are offering a 25% discount on two year intranet licences on a resources bundle to include our Learning Disabilities Briefing, Managing Difficult Conversations and Line Manager Guide on Non-visible Disabilities. Please contact our publications team on +44 (020) 7089 2430 or email publications@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk” to find out more and to order your bundle.

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

 

Identity: through the lens of disability, what does that mean to you?

Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

 

 

Following on from the 10 day film challenge Business Disability Forum set earlier in the year: “Identity through the lens of disability, what does that mean to you?” our Film Festival is taking place on Tuesday 18 June 2019 in London, hosted by KPMG, compered by Lucy Ruck, Business Disability Forum, Technology Taskforce Manager

By attending and watching these films, you’ll be gaining insight into today’s students and graduates who represent the future of the workforce and disabled talent.

Take a look as we show you a sneak peek of the finalists’ films you have to look forward to:

Our first film ‘IV’ looks at the role obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety can play in our lives. The team behind the film ‘JRZ’ were highly commended in our 2018 film festival.

JRZ

Our second film ‘No Guesses Found’ gives an insight into the lives of young people with dyslexia and how they navigate the world around them. The team who created the film ‘ELK Medium’ make their directing and production debut at our Film Festival this year. 


ELK Medium


Our third film ‘Same Difference’ is by ‘Wolf Pack’ and profiles the team’s two Deaf film makers and their similarities and differences. Wolf Pack were our winners in 2017 and runners up in 2018, and we’re really excited to see them in 2019!


Wolf Pack
So bring your colleagues and come along to enjoy the festivities over: canapés  drinks including wines, beers and refreshing juices, candy floss and popcorn.

All while watching these amazing films and networking.

This promises to be the best Film Festival yet!

This event is not to be missed! 

Book your place today!

Changing perceptions one project at a time

camden

Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

Costain-Skanska Joint Venture is working with CamdenAbility and Business Disability Forum to improve dialogue between employees with disabilities and managers

CamdenAbility is a collaborative project funded by Camden Council and co-delivered by Cross River Partnership and Business Disability Forum. The project works with businesses throughout the London borough of Camden with a view to improving how organisations attract, recruit and retain people with disabilities. The ultimate aim of the project is to identify employment opportunities for Camden residents with disabilities, impairments and long term conditions.

Costain-Skanska Joint Venture (CSJV) has been working with CamdenAbility for 18 months. CSJV is delivering the High Speed 2 enabling works in and around Euston station through to West Ruislip. It has teamed up with CamdenAbility, jointly headed up by Adrian Ward, Senior Disability Consultant in the Specialist Solutions team at Business Disability Forum and Cross River Partnership’s Specialist Workplace Coordinator Parma Sira, to help find ways to ensure employees were comfortable sharing personal information about their disabilities.

Alice Jennison, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at CSJV shares how working with Business Disability Forum increased participants sharing their information:

“Using the consultancy support available via the project we approached Adrian at Business Disability Forum for some help to increase the number of staff who provide details of their protected characteristics. At the time, 52% of staff had not communicated whether they did or did not have a disability. This made it really difficult for us to understand the needs of our staff, and also know what positive interventions and support should be put in place.

“Adrian offered insight into why staff might not feel comfortable to share their personal information, and produced a communications plan to relaunch our survey. He also provided advice on the best ways to discuss disability, and rephrase the question to be more positive.

“We changed the wording of the questions in line with the Equality Act but also to broaden the scope of what we mean by the term ‘disability’. The rate of preferring not to say went from 52% to 14% in less than a year. The result is that the information we hold about our staff is more accurate now – 9% have told us that they have a disability (it was 1% before the survey).

“Since being involved with the CamdenAbility project people’s perception of being disabled in our organisation has changed. It might have been the visible disabilities people thought about, but at 9%, nearly 1 in 10 people have disabilities in our organisation – and line managers now realise there are people who would benefit from conversations about this.

“This means that we can have a pinpointed dialogue with managers now – to talk about what these disabilities are, how to lead conversations and how we can support our staff.

“The impact of working with Business Disability Forum has been organisation wide – we recently gained Disability Confident Employer status to enable us to tailor support to existing staff, and ensure our recruitment is open to all.

“We look forward to Adrian and Business Disability Forum hosting more events such as the Construction Roundtable hosted in February. It’s vital we work as an industry together to attract the best and brightest talent. Health and safety is obviously an essential element in this – we would love to work further to understand how disabled employees can contribute to our projects as employees.”

To find out more about how CamdenAbility could work for you, go to: https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/our-services/consultancy-services/camdenability/

 

Understanding how accessibility affects us all

Fara Muneer, The Centre for Accessible Environments

The Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) is passionate about delivering inclusive environments and a critical part of CAE’s mission is to raise awareness through training, offering consultation to organisations to create the right environment which plays many roles. Firstly, that the right environment is inclusive and comfortable for staff and secondly, will attract and retain customers.

This goes hand in hand with staff training to embed the values of being an inclusive organisation.

The payoff for CAE is seeing the impact first hand of delegates having a wider influence on diversity and accessibility with their newly acquired knowledge and skills.

‘Understanding how accessibility affects us all’ was how one of the delegates summed up her training, which was critical to her role within a leading gallery where she was responsible for visitor experience.  Jo who is a Chartered Ergonomist, recently had this to say about a course she attended: “A brilliant and informative course; including teaching and practical elements so that we could apply what we’d learnt…. the trainers, are extremely knowledgeable and provided lots of real life examples. I am already utilising the knowledge I gained.”

CAE Centre for Accessible Environments logo

Three scenes of training provided by CAE: Left - people looking at a diagram, top right, a man talking, bottom right, a man wearing glasses

Various scenes of training with CAE

CAE deliver both bespoke courses for organisations and in addition offer open courses, last year CAE trained over 400 delegates –  a win for CAE, as these delegates now have a higher level of access knowledge and understanding of the practicalities of access improvements in light of the Equality Act 2010.

One of CAE’s clients is the Government’s housing accelerator who work across regional offices throughout England. As their teams had a variety of roles including staff from office roles to more specialist housing teams CAE delivered a mix of training from half, one and two-day training courses for them on disability awareness to more specialist training.

As their training partners, CAE’s biggest outcome was not only supporting their strategic plan to put equality and diversity at the heart of their work but also the knowledge that CAE’s training will impact the housing needs of more diverse communities.

Although CAE gets a variety of requests for training, courses cover:

To see upcoming dates and to book for any of CAE’s upcoming courses please click here.

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