Is 2020 the year of accessibility?

By Lucy Ruck, Taskforce Manager at Business Disability Forum

A man holds a tablet and 2020 in 3D appears. There are patterns across the photo

It would be great if it was, and in so many ways, it really should be. There are more resources, groups and information available than ever before. The business case (and I struggle with that, because why should we need a business case to employ and provided services to people with disabilities and long term health conditions? I’ve never been asked for a business case to employ men) is stronger than ever, with more and more research on how organisations are losing out by not making their products and services available to everyone.

In my role as Taskforce Manager for Business Disability Forum, I find myself speaking to a new contact most weeks about the work that we do. In nearly six years of this, I have yet to find someone who didn’t agree that we should be doing more. So why is this proving such a challenge?

I think that people often want me to deliver ‘magic accessibility pixies’ to them, who will sweep in, waving their wands over all your inaccessible systems and as if by magic – they’re all sorted! I do love magic pixies, but they just don’t exist. It’s like most things in life, if you want something done, you need to work hard at it, have a focus and you will achieve your goals.

Where do you get started with trying to address your organisation’s accessibility issues and how do you know what the issues are? Funnily enough, Business Disability Forum has an amazing tool, called the Accessibility Maturity Model (AMM) and it’s free for anyone to use. The AMM is a self-assessment tool that helps you to look at the tech you have in place and assess how you think about inclusion. It will help you to prioritise what you need to do next and generally give you a focus.

In my experience, I have found that many people who work in digital accessibility, it can be quite an isolating role. More often than not, it’s added to an existing role, so they don’t have dedicated time and resources to really make an impact. But things are changing. I used to only know two or three organisations that had dedicated accessibility colleagues, and I can now think of about 10 different organisations that have a lead full-time post on digital accessibility.

Networking can make a huge difference and really help to move organisations forward and help maintain that positive momentum. We have a Technology Showcase event coming up on Tuesday 3 March, generously hosted by PwC, but there are also some amazing events run on a monthly basis by London Accessibility and Nottingham Accessibility.

Make it one of your new year’s resolutions to just think about accessibility more: How will our product or service work better if we think about inclusion?; How can we embed this within our tech departments, and more broadly across our organisations?

So, is 2020 the year of accessibility? Maybe. If we keep spreading the word and keep on with the hard work it really could be. We are certainly on the cusp of something great.

What does the Queen’s Speech promise for disabled people?

Yesterday (19 December 2019), the Queen addressed Parliament to deliver her 2019 speech. Angela Matthews, our Head of Policy, looks at the disability and business-related elements of what she promises her Government will deliver

Houses of Parliament

Leaving the EU and trade agreements

Leaving the European Union (EU) on 31 January is a priority. After this date, global trade agreements will commence. Business Disability Forum has worked hard to provide evidence for why the Government must expand its international trade agreement procedures to ensure the impact on accessibility and disability inclusion is not forgotten or disregarded during such decisions. The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has recommended such to Parliament (Business Disability Forum made this recommendation during the Committee’s call for written evidence on the issue earlier this year). Our policy team will be monitoring how far this recommendation becomes a reality embedded into the heart of the Government trade agreement decision-making processes. The Queen promised in her speech that the “integrity and prosperity of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance to my Government”. Developing more equality-conscious procedures in our global economic decision-making is a great, hugely impactful way for the Government to live up to this.

The NHS

The Queen also promises that the Government will “deliver on the people’s priorities”. The topic that follows is, of course, the NHS. The NHS is crucial to supporting and maintaining our everyday general health; but for very many employees, is it the system that supports their condition so that that can stay in work. As the Improving lives strategy brings the health and work settings ever closer together, never has it been clearer that for many, many employees, the NHS is a huge part of their lives that they rely on (for example ongoing treatment and rehabilitation which allows them to be well as they stay in and develop at work). For this reason alone (and many others), there will be a ‘sigh of relief’ that hospital charges will be removed “for those in greatest need”. Who those in “greatest need” are, we are yet to see. Many carers and people receiving treatment often need to be parked at hospitals for a day at a time as visits and treatment cycles and appointments can be lengthy. The financial impact of just parking in the place someone needs to be for their or someone else’s disability or condition can be immense.

Working life

“Measures will be brought forward to encourage flexible working” will be welcomed by many. Our policy and advice teams still see that one of the top three adjustments employees with disabilities and long-term conditions say helps them stay employed is their employer’s flexible working culture. For this reason (and others), we have seen many more of our membership organisations revise their flexible working policy for all staff, and for flexible working to be introduced into workplace adjustment policies. Alongside this, the Queen also reminds us that there will be new measures to allow greater leave entitlement to unpaid carers, who are the somewhat ‘silent backbone’ supporting the social care system at present. Without supportive carer policies, we hear of employees with caring responsibilities often care for a relative, partner or neighbour, which can have an impact on their own physical and mental energy levels, and while coming into work and trying to be productive. Measures to support the millions of unpaid carers in our economy are not just welcome, but crucial.

Education

We are promised that “every child has access to high quality education”. The promise of increased skills development and better education opportunities was a feature of many pre-election manifestos. We cannot emphasise enough that “high quality” must necessarily include accessible and inclusive (a topic we asked for action on in our recent manifesto), which many learning formats, programmes and qualification structures are currently not. And this must include people with disabilities at all ages. We know that not everyone is ready for (or wants to be) learning and taking part in non-mandatory education at the same age and time as everyone else (sometimes for disability-related reasons) and an inclusive society needs to ensure that learning and development opportunities are available to people when they choose.

A new Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission

The Queen announced that a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission” will be established which we heard would “undertake a review of every aspect of the post-Brexit constitutional settlement”. We wait to hear the specific terms of reference for this Commission and trust that the Commission does not just “promote human rights” but enhances and enforces them.

For more policy news go to businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/policy

Case study: Sainsbury’s accessibility audit with CAE

Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s largest retailers, sought the help of Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE), via the recommendation from Business Disability Forum, to transform its headquarters in central London into an accessible hub for its 3,000 staff and visitors.

CAE compiled an access audit of the company headquarters’ 8 floors and 35,838 square metres and provided advice on how to make the building more inclusive for all disabled people.

Tim Fallowfield, Company Secretary and Board Sponsor for Disabilities, Carers and Age in front of Sainsbury's groceries

Tim Fallowfield, Company Secretary and Board Sponsor for Disabilities, Carers and Age

The retailer is part of Valuable 500, a movement which urges large corporations to place disability inclusion on their agenda. The audit was part of Sainsbury’s plan to be the most inclusive retailer, supported by Tim Fallowfield, Company Secretary and Board Sponsor for Disabilities, Carers and Age (pictured right). The audit has had a positive impact on the organisation, sparking a focus on disability inclusion across their 30 regional offices across the UK.

With a building in the heart of central London, CAE’s first focus was to highlight priority actions that Sainsbury’s could carry out straight away. Some of these priorities included quick wins such as better signage or glass manifestations – which were low cost but had a big impact on accessibility for staff. CAE also provided medium and longer term recommendations which can inform future works for Sainsbury’s. Following the audit, Sainsbury’s has carried out over 100 changes, which have been well received by staff and leadership.

Sainsbury's Holborn HQ

Sainsbury’s Holborn

Sarah Beisly, Sainsbury’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager said, “The audit that CAE undertook for us had a huge impact on our business. We could not have asked for a more robust and easy to use report”.

Fara Muneer, Head of Business Development at CAE, says: “it’s fantastic to see the impact of our work and to be a part of Sainsbury’s plan to support a more inclusive workforce”.

Find out more about CAE at cae.org.uk

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

 

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.

Conference round up: Who really leads the way?

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Advice

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

Martyn Sibley, one of the panellists at the conference

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

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

Do we need more legislation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making way for change ‘on the ground’

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

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

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

The right leaders

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

Diane Lightfoot holds the Welcoming disabled customers guide

Diane Lightfoot holds the Welcoming disabled customers guide

Moving forward

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

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

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

 

Our Welcoming disabled customers guide is available to view here

The great big workplace adjustments survey: now open!

By Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Advice

Reasonable adjustments. Workplace Adjustments. Workplace support. Supporting you at work. Working in a different way. Being you.

All are terms commonly used by organisations to describe how they remove barriers for employees at work. The language is important. The process behind the language is even more important. But getting experience of both right is crucial.

It’s crucial for a number of reasons. At legal compliance level, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where they know or could reasonably be expected to know that an employee has a disability or long-term condition. At good practice level, employers want to ensure all employees can work in a different way whether or not the employee says they have a disability or condition. At leading practice level, workplace campaigns and communications focus on how enabling employees to work in different ways is integral to workplace diversity and allowing people to simply ‘be themselves’.

Male colleagues discussing using a tablet

Here at Business Disability Forum, our advisers advise people managers and departmental leaders every day on adjustments policies and related employee caseloads. Many of our consultants are commissioned to work with businesses on improving their adjustments processes; and almost all of our policy work comes back to how Government, employers, and public life in general removes barriers for individuals. Get a service provider’s or employer’s workplace adjustments processes robustly designed and defined in a way that suits who the business are, how they work, and what they need, and that organisation is well on its way to delivering an inclusive pan-diversity employee experience that meets the needs of every single employee, whatever they are going through in their lives, and at whatever stage in their career.

Yet, anyone keeping an eye on HR press or employment case law can see the adjustments processes employers have and continue to invest in are continuing to fail them and cost them greatly – both financially and reputationally.

And so we want to find out what works, what doesn’t, what managers love, and what employees loathe. This is why we have released The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey which will grasp a picture of how both employees and managers across the UK feel about adjustments, how they are discussed in the workplace, how effective they are, and how far everyone who needs adjustments actually have them in place.

Whether you are an employee, a manager, or someone else managing people and processes in your organisation, we are asking you to share your experiences of requesting and getting adjustments, or arranging and providing them for the people you manage.

You can complete the survey here.

Please share it with your colleagues, managers, and employee networks. The survey closes on Monday 8 April 2019 at 8am. Please do get in touch if you would like to complete the survey in a different way (email: policy@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk).

We’re looking forward to hearing what adjustments in an ever changing workforce are helping and hindering you, your managers, and your leaders to do and to be.