Our annual conference and the hidden barrier preventing organisations from becoming disability-smart

By George Selvanera

At Business Disability Forum (BDF) we have the pleasure of working with many businesses and public sector employers and service providers that are increasingly more innovative and creative in enabling their colleagues, candidates and customers who have needs related to disability, health conditions, caring responsibilities and age contribute at all levels and make their businesses more productive, inclusive and sustainable.

Increasingly, there is recognition that their own ambitions to manage legal and reputational risks and to deliver on corporate priorities to be more inclusive and accessible for staff and for customers depend on whether suppliers are delivering products and services that are wholly accessible. That is about suppliers to some extent, but is much more about how business interacts with that supplier too.

This is why disability-smart approaches to working with suppliers and partners is the focus of our annual conference this year, on 11 April at the Royal College of Nursing.

Business Disability Forum Conference

Our latest piece of research, ‘Disability-smart approaches to suppliers and partners’ revealed the extent to which businesses use outside suppliers for functions as diverse as recruitment, HR, facilities, training and ICT but also revealed how it is extremely rare that organisations procure goods and services in ways that will achieve disability-smart outcomes[1].

For example, in more than half of cases, access and inclusion outcomes are not built into service specifications, procurement/category management departments lack the know-how to manage supplier relationships to secure good disability outcomes and disabled colleagues are not involved in feeding back that the supplier is delivering good outcomes. In just one in four cases is there review through contract and performance management processes about the progress of suppliers and partners in delivering on access and inclusion requirements.

These findings run counter to what works in securing disability-smart outcomes and leave an organisation aspiring to do better at recruiting, retaining and doing business with people with disabilities, who are ageing or have other adjustment needs, limited in their ability to do so.

Our conference will have a strongly practical focus; equipping delegates with the tools and the language for engaging business and procurement colleagues to secure more disability-smart outcomes in work with suppliers. There will be specific sessions on technology, recruitment and approaches for engaging disabled colleagues in the design, selection and review of contracts.

Sessions will be led by experts from across different businesses and include representatives from diverse organisations such as Barclays Bank, Microlink and Evenbreak.

We will also be launching a definitive guide for business about how to secure disability-smart outcomes in how we engage suppliers and partners, prepared in collaboration with the generous assistance and insight of BDF Partners American Express and BT, two businesses keen to extend the evidence base about what works and striving to do better for their staff and customers with disabilities and other adjustment needs.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Disability reported that central government spent a massive £246 billion on goods and services in the last year. With the Government intending to secure greater disability outcomes from their own procurement processes in coming years, the future is now. We all have more to do and more to learn about how we work with suppliers to deliver on ambitions to become progressively more accessible and inclusive.

So one of the things I am really looking forward to at the conference is the exchange of ideas about what works and the sharing of best practice.

You can find out more about the event on the conference pages of our website, where you are also able to book a place.

[1] Selvanera G., Disability Smart Approaches to Engaging Suppliers and Partners: Research report Key aids and barriers to effectively engaging suppliers and partners, October 2016 see; http://app.pelorous.com/media_manager/public/86/Disability%20smart%20approaches%20to%20engaging%20suppliers%20and%20partners.pdf

Event round-up: Assistive technology webinar

By Sam Buckley

What next for assistive technology in the workplace?

That was the question put to the panel for the Technology Taskforce’s Assistive Technology webinar, co-hosted with the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) on 12 January 2017.Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Representatives from Atos, Barclays, Microlink and TextHelp joined 83 delegates to discuss how assistive technology (AT) can work well and how the delivery of it might change with innovations and developments.

One of the major topics for discussion was the range of challenges facing AT at present.

Neil Milliken of Atos identified the gap between AT and the office environment, pointing to incompatibility between AT and the kinds of software used by organisations, such as network computing and compact workstations. Paul Smyth of Barclays added that conventional IT tends to outpace AT as it develops, leading to further compatibility issues with modern software.

Dr. Nasser Siabi OBE of Microlink highlighted the role of workplace culture in integrating AT solutions into the business, such as the need to change attitudes among IT professionals towards integrating new hardware and software.

Lastly, Mark McCusker of Texthelp talked about the issues that are faced by the publishers of the AT software. He highlighted that 60% of issues with their software are faced at the activation and installation stage of the process. Only 9% of reported issues actually relate to the operating of the software.

The speakers all pointed to making the most of trends in technology and office working as a key way to overcome the challenges associated with AT.

They looked both to the increasing mobility and portability that went with more flexible working and also to increasing customisability and personalisation.

Neil Milliken said customisability was key to changing the image of AT from that of a specialist solution to something that was easy-to-use and universally applicable.

This could be backed up with the creation of staff support networks and by making training on AT available to all employees. This was a view echoed by Paul Smyth, who said this encouraged the whole organisation to approach AT together, as opposed to a few select staff.

Paul added that the arrival of more portable office devices allowed for a merging of AT with conventional IT, as seen in products such as smartphones and tablets, and made using AT easier for remote workers.

Mark McCusker said that the AT industry needed to seize this opportunity to move from traditional ideas of one program being installed on one machine towards AT being automatically available across multiple platforms. Mark identified a major goal as ensuring that users had the same experience on all platforms and establishing a standard policy on updates, security and installation.

The webinar concluded with BATA and BDF pledging to work together to promote closer working between corporate organisations and AT vendors and publishers, and participants identifying a need to create a best practice framework to guide organisations in buying AT from vendors.

If you are a BDF Member you can find the full audio of the webinar, along with copies of the presentations used by the speakers, on the Member Hub.

The honest truth about red, amber and green

By Hari Sundaresantraffic lights

In our latest guest blog, new BDF Board Member Hari Sundaresan talks about his experience of revealing his disability to his colleagues and helping to maintain an open culture around disability at BT.

I started out as a graduate scientist at Adastral and have enjoyed some very interesting jobs. But for years I hid the fact I had a specific vision-related condition. It hasn’t held me back but I was often worried that it would make a difference if people found out, and not in a good way.

Then, in a team meeting a few years ago, I had no choice but to share the thing I had always felt embarrassed about. Picture the scene. My team are showing me a slide as part of a project status update…

‘Hari, you don’t seem very worried about the status of these projects?’

‘Why would I be? They are mostly green aren’t they?’

‘No! They are mostly red!’

‘Ah…then there is something I need to tell you.’

It was out. I had to admit to being colour blind for the first time in my career. People knowing isn’t a big deal these days; but it used to be a big deal for me. Now I tell everyone who I am working with, to write the words ‘Red’, Amber’ and ‘Green’ and not just rely on colours to tell me the status of their project. It works fine.

I guess this was the day I was my “whole” self at work and by being so my colleagues and I both adjusted so that we get the job done. It made me feel so much better about the whole business of having a visual condition.

This is one of the reasons I became BT’s Disability Champion.

To me this means I can personally influence BT’s journey to becoming a company who is really confident with disability:

  • I want everyone to get that difference is just part of life and we are so much better for it
  • I want us all to  feel we can be our whole selves at work and that we are much more likely to succeed if we are
  • I want us all to get the adjustments we need to do our jobs well and that most of the time it’s going to be something pretty  quick and simple
  • I want to carry on talking about disability at BT, and I want everyone to hear it, so please join in and help me share the conversation.

It’s a journey I’m now keen to influence on an even larger scale as a board member of BDF. It feels like there’s a lot more work to be done and I’m looking forward to a busy and exciting 2017!

Does ‘Blue Monday’ increase mental health and wellbeing awareness?

By AJ Olaofe


Let me ask you a question. How do you feel today?

Do you feel any different from any other Monday? Has a bad weekend or the winter weather affected your mood?

I ask because the third Monday of January, today, is coined Blue Monday: ‘the most depressing day of the year’. And sure enough, this time of year often provokes thought around mental health and wellbeing.

However, as our Senior Disability Consultant Christopher Watkins has pointed out in a previous post, Blue Monday has no real connection with disability, In fact, it’s just the day on which is it easiest to sell you a summer holiday.

Created by Porter Novelli on behalf of Sky Travel about ten years ago, the idea of ‘Blue Monday’ claims to be based on a formula  including metrics including ‘travel time’, ‘delays’, ‘time spent packing’, and a number of other factors without defined units of measurement . By 2009 the formula had been reviewed to consider slightly more reasonable factors like ‘weather’, ‘debt’ and ‘time since failing new year’s resolutions’, again without any defined units of measurements but reassuringly (or miraculously) coming up with exactly the same day.

However, with recent research (from October 2016) indicating that 77 per cent of employees have experienced a mental health problem—and 62 per cent believing this was because of work[1], it is clear that poor wellbeing is not confined to ‘Blue Monday.’

A more difficult question is how to promote, or improve, wellbeing in the workplace. Indeed workplace wellbeing was subject of public debate between Christopher Watkins and fellow Senior Disability Consultant Angela Matthews at a recent event.

In many ways the dilemmas around workplace wellbeing promotional schemes mirror those of Blue Monday: whether it is valuable in promoting inclusion, or counterproductive because it promotes overly general ideas of what is meant by ‘well’ or ‘unwell’.

The solution for wellbeing schemes was found to be ensuring that they took individual employee needs into account, providing adjustments as employers would with a job – a tailored solution rather than a general one.

Similarly the best way to approach Blue Monday as an organisation might be to use the general subject of wellness and happiness to initiate and then widen the conversation about mental health, wellbeing and disability.

Although Blue Monday has no real link to disability, it can be used to start the conversation about it.

Needless to say  it needs to go beyond ‘the most depressing day of the year’. Businesses should keep mental health and disability as part of their conversations about well being all year round. This is why we encourage our Member and Partner organisations to keep in touch and make use of our Advice service and consultancy, your relationship with us can make a huge difference to the well being of your staff.

If  you are looking for guidance around mental health in the workplace take a look at our line manager guide Mental health at work.

Related news


Thirty-seven per cent more mental health referrals in January – http://bit.ly/2jPoWZl 

Disputed ‘Blue Monday’ (16 January) date actually coincides with sudden rise in mental health referrals, research suggests (Health Insurance)

Workplace design can combat winter weather’s effects on employee wellbeing – http://bit.ly/2ij8EXD

Features such as natural lighting, quiet areas and communal spaces could boost workers’ wellbeing during winter months (Workplace Insight)

44 per cent of workers say winter has negative impact on their mental health – http://bit.ly/2ijaHeo

Similarly, 30 per cent say winter affects their productivity (Business Matters)


[1] Business in the Community, ‘Mental Health at Work Report 2016’, p.3 (http://wellbeing.bitc.org.uk/system/files/research/bitcmental_health_at_work_exec_summary.pdf, retrieved 19 December 2016)

Is there really a business case for website accessibility?

By Rick Williams


Following the publication of the Click-Away Pound Report http://www.clickawaypound.com I’ve been reflecting on why website accessibility and usability for disabled people is still an issue after all these years. It is a puzzle to me that 71% of disabled users click-away from sites with access barriers and consequently displace £11.75 B to accessible sites. Why do businesses let that happen? It definitely isn’t good business on any level.

This situation exists despite:

  • The Equality Act and its predecessor – the Disability Discrimination Act
  • International standards
  • Government guidelines
  • A British Standard
  • Expert guidance and discussions
  • Campaigns

The traditional business case

It seems to me there are three key aspects to the broader business case:

  • Legal
  • PR
  • Commercial

These three issues are, of course, inter-related but are worth considering individually.

In reality the legal risks of having an inaccessible website are low in the UK. To make a case a customer would need to demonstrate a breach of the Equality Act which affected them personally and this would need to be done in a County or High court which would be expensive and time consuming. No cases in this field have been pursued to their conclusion; the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has initiated several cases against businesses with inaccessible sites but the cases were settled out of court, with the organisations involved agreeing to address the issues. The lack of cases coming to court probably explains why the law has had little impact in this area since its introduction (in the form of the Disability Discrimination Act) in 1995, although challenges are always a possibility. Interestingly, in the USA the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 allows for class actions and the imposition of much higher compensation payments. Even so, the US approach has not delivered a fully accessible web presence.

There are potential PR risks if website accessibility is ignored and this has implications, albeit limited, for loss of reputation. Any business strategy based on customer-focus and inclusivity is quickly undermined by the lack of an inclusive website. Such stories are unlikely to generate significant coverage in mainstream media and result in PR damage unless a legal challenge is mounted, but they do attract attention on social media and generate ’mood music’‘ of negativity about the business’s understanding of the issues which can be damaging to the brand.

Even commercial judgements such as lost or displaced revenue has not driven business to ensure accessible websites; if it had there wouldn’t be this issue. This surely can only mean businesses don’t understand its size and implications.

Clearly this business case has failed to gain traction. What is the reality that business is failing to grasp?

The business issues

Considering the trends identified in the Survey and applying them to the national data is illuminating.

  • The most recent ONS estimate of the UK population is 65.11 million in mid-2015 of whom 87.9% (46.47 million) have internet access.
  • CAPGemini projected overall UK online spending to be £126 billion by the beginning of 2016 equating to an average spend per head of the UK population with internet access of £2710.
  • In 2016, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated there were 8.6 million internet users with a disability in the UK
  • This Survey found that 71% of internet users with a disability have access needs; this translates to 6.1 million people
  • Taking an average spend per head of £2710, the online spending power of 6.1 million disabled people with access needs in 2016 is £16.55 billion.
  • The Survey found that 71% of the total 6.1 million disabled internet users with access needs (4.3 million people) simply click-away when confronted with a problematic website.
  • These figures equate to a click-away figure of £11.75 billion lost in 2016 from those sites which are not accessible.

These calculations are extrapolated from the Survey’s findings so care must be taken when considering them. Nevertheless, these figures are so large that even allowing for a significant margin of interpretation they are too large to be ignored.

This assessment is supported by findings from our wider work in this field which indicates that over 70% of websites present significant accessibility and usability barriers to disabled users. This means that over two-thirds of businesses are significantly undermining their own potential online customer base. This spend is not lost but simply moves elsewhere as disabled users with access needs turn to a website which is more user friendly. Two-thirds of online retailers are passing customers and sales to their competitors.


To answer the question ‘Is there really a business case’ I believe the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’, both nationally and at the level of the individual business.  However, business needs to get a better understanding of the bottom line implications and adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach to website accessibility rather than treating it as a ‘nice to do’ or ‘bolt-on’.

A brief look at the numbers in the Click-Away Pound report should be enough to persuade organisations that they are potentially ignoring and excluding a large number of potential customers. Also businesses need to bear in mind that if a disabled shopper clicks away from their site to one of their competitors, they show little inclination to return.

Take a look at the Click-Away Pound report and get an insight into the business issues and how inaccessible websites impact on your business.


Disability Confident and what it means for businesses

By George Selvanera

2016 has been a busy news year indeed but one thing businesses likely noted this summer was the relaunch of the Government’s Disability Confident scheme.

BDF welcomes the Government raising awareness about the benefits for employers from recruiting and retaining disabled people. We also strongly support many MPs hosting events within their electorates to draw attention to the benefits of recruiting and retaining disabled people.

While it is not our place to endorse the Disability Confident initiative, we help our Members and Partners where they want it with confirming that they have met the criteria at tier three of the initiative and provide information about how they can participate in the scheme whenever they ask for it.

At BDF, we know that changing employer commitment to prioritising disability leadership and then planning and making changes to policies and practices and getting better at disability employment is not straightforward. It requires a whole organisation approach. It requires cross functional working, strong leadership and must always be grounded in the lived experience of disabled candidates and employees themselves.

For example, ensuring that the needs of candidates and employees with dyslexia are meaningfully addressed requires ensuring any online application processes are fully accessible and potentially adjusting any assessments depending on the needs of the individual candidate; and once the person starts work possibly sourcing and making available specialist software or at least enabling some IT personalisation which could involve colleagues working in IT, HR, Occupational Health, Learning and Development, Procurement and Communications. The line manager and staff manager likely need support too. For candidates and employees that have visual impairments, different approaches are required and other colleagues such as those involved in Facilities Management might be involved too. For candidates and employees that have mobility impairments, different approaches are required again. And so on and on.

That’s why BDF developed with its Partners and Members in 2004, the Disability Standard 1.0 and were pleased to launch our fourth iteration of the Disability Standard in 2015 reflecting the evolution in best practice. The Disability Standard is a best practice management tool that helps employers plan and measure their disability improvements across 10 functional areas of any organisation. While a SME for example might not have 10 functional areas with 10 distinct leads- it might all fall on 1 or 2 people- the whole-organisation principles apply in the same way.

Our experience is that organisations that use the Disability Standard over time get substantially better at how they interact with their disabled colleagues, candidates and customers and can demonstrate that they employ more, retain more and develop more their disabled colleagues.

The Disability Confident scheme is helpful in drawing light on the benefits for employers from recruiting and retaining disabled people; and wherever that acts to encourage employers to do more with their disabled colleagues and to provide more opportunities for disabled job seekers and young people that is always a good thing.

We do think it would be helpful to make the tier two status of a Disability Confident Employer only available to employers that are experienced at employing disabled people. It seems risky to the scheme to have employers self-assess and then publicise that they’re confident at recruiting and retaining disabled people when they don’t have any actual experience, whether in the past or currently, of doing so. We think as well that it will be helpful to make sure only organisations with appropriate expertise are validating organisations as Disability Confident Leaders to also give confidence to disabled people that these are organisations that are doing amongst the best- not perfect- but are genuinely very good and getting better in their recruitment, retention and development of disabled people.

It’s not yet clear what metrics Disability Confident will use to measure success and its own contribution to the recruitment and retention of the 1 million plus extra disabled people the Government aims to have in paid employment as part of halving the disability employment gap. So we think its important also we must not have excessive expectations of what Disability Confident on its own deliver.

There’s other Government support available to employers to make it easier to recruit and retain more disabled people as well as direct support to disabled people and indirect support through programmes such as Work Choice, third sector provision and so on too. They each have a role to play. The Government’s Green Paper gives us all a chance to have a say on this whole package- what’s working, what needs improvement and what’s missing- and we certainly hope that as many disabled people, friends and families, the third sector, public sector bodies and businesses share their views. It’s certainly our plan to do so in February 2017.

World Mental Health Day – employers take note…

By Samuel Buckley

It’s World Mental Health Day today (10 October), and this time it feels as relevant as ever
mental-health-buddies-feature-468x299—and also like the issue needs more than one day a year to address.

In the last few weeks alone, studies have revealed that mental health issues are becoming more common among young people, that three-quarters of UK workers have experienced a mental health problem and that suicide kills more workers than falls in the construction industry.

We’re also seeing a major disconnect between how employers and employees view mental health in the workplace: 97 per cent of managers eel ‘accessible’ when it comes to discussing mental health, but only 49 per cent of employees feel able to raise these concerns, according to a study by Business In The Community.

World Mental Health Day is a great opportunity for employers to start the conversation around mental health, but this is a conversation that has to continue beyond just one day. Employers need to take a sustained approach.

Business Disability Forum has done a lot of work with organisations in the UK and abroad to find practical solutions to this issue, with approaches based on reasonable adjustments, developing managers’ soft skills, employee assistance programmes and wellbeing initiatives.

Best practice involves approaching mental health issues with a few key points in mind:

  • An employee with a mental health issue may be considered disabled. Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where they know or could reasonably be expected to know about an employee’s disability, including a mental health condition, and to protect them from discrimination. Relevant workplace adjustments could include changes to working hours, flexible working, or changes in workload, as well as changes to the physical environment like lighting, position in the office, or measures to reduce triggers like noise or temperature.
  • As with other non-visible disabilities, there is no obligation for employees to disclose a mental health condition to an employer and it’s important to respect the privacy of anyone who does choose to share this information. 
  • It is absolutely not down to the employer or manager to try and diagnose a mental health issue in a member of staff, but the employer is responsible for identifying when an employee might require a reasonable adjustment – even if the employee has not specifically requested one. 
  • As with any non-visible disability, a mental health condition might manifest in a number of ways, including changes in behaviour, attendance, appearance, punctuality or performance.

There are real implications when it comes to tackling mental health conditions in the workplace. Figures from the Office of National Statistics indicated that 15 million work-days were lost due to mental ill-health in 2013, costing the UK economy £8.4 billion.

But the cost benefits of addressing mental health at work are also clear. Research by the London School of Economics and Political Science found that workplace mental health promotion programmes save almost £10 for every £1 invested.

Which brings us back to the study by BITC. While most managers admitted putting business interests before employee wellbeing, there is a clear business case that healthy employees will ultimately lead to a healthy business.

So mental health needs a focus that goes way beyond awareness-raising for World Mental Health Day: it should be a priority for businesses every day of the year.

If you want to find out more about the help and advice about mental health, please see our Line manager guide ‘Mental Health at work’ or visit our events calendar where you can find information on our upcoming events around reasonable adjustments, wellbeing initiatives and best practice.