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.”

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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.

Disability-Smart Awards: Why it matters.

By Ebunola Adenipekun

Business Disability Forum believes inclusive and accessible customer service should be standard practice and that every workplace should be a great place to work. The Disability-Smart Awards aims to showcase and celebrate the most innovative and inclusive practice among employers and service providers. 

Mark Lomas, Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, HS2 (below), who was one of the judges from the Awards last year, and will be rejoining the judging panel this year, said: 

“Being a judge on the Disability-Smart Awards panel is a great way to learn. Some of the submissions were absolutely brilliant – and I can be really difficult to impress! I really enjoyed it! And one of the things is to understand some of the innovative work that goes on and the impact that it makes.

“It’s encouraging to see so many organisations try and get better at becoming disability-smart. It’s great to see the breadth, the innovation, creativity and impact for customers, employees – and the public in general. It shows the impact you make when you do something a bit different.

Mark Lomas

Mark Lomas

“What companies can learn from these submissions is the impact it makes on different levels: for individuals, teams and across organisations as a whole.

“Why is it important to be a disability-smart organisation? Who wouldn’t welcome more creativity? A different way of thinking? To innovate? Yet, no-one means to go into a boardroom and exclude 20% of the population that could do that, so the work that people are doing here helps inclusion happen.

“I hope you’re inspired to submit an award!” 

Entries for all categories are open until Thursday 20 September 2018, so there’s plenty of time to get a submission together for one of our seven award categories:

1. Senior disability champion of the year
2. Inclusive service provider of the year 
3. Positive cultural change of the year
4. Workplace adjustment innovation of the year
5. Influential business of the year
6. Technology initiative of the year

7. Disabled People’s Choice Award for the most inclusive service provider, employer or experience’ 

Disabled People's Choice Award logo - purple and white

Disabled People’s Choice Award

We want to hear from you! Have you received great customer service? Don’t forget to tell us what organisation deserves an award in your opinion! Vote today!

Winners will be announced at the Disability-Smart Awards Ceremony in November 2018 (date and venue tbc).

Judges for all of these entries include leading experts in the area of disability, representatives from Business Disability Forum’s Member and Partner organisations and disabled opinion leaders.

Send us your entry today!

Business Disability Forum’s big day out – film festival winners

By Ebunola Adenipekun

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After months of planning, the day of our Technology Taskforce film festival finally arrived and it was truly an amazing event! (Even if we do say so ourselves!)

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Generously hosted by KPMG at their Canary Wharf offices and sponsored by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the event saw the outcome of the previously set 72 hour film challenge to university students who were asked: “Business, technology, disability: how does technology showcase disabled talent?”. The challenge called on students from across the country to create a film that embodied the brief. Prizes were donated by Barclays, Microlink, Microsoft, Santander – and KPMG who gave a top of the range laptop!

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As well as showcasing great film, we also wanted the event to provoke thoughts about the next generation of disabled people and as they prepare to enter the world of work with a fresh set of ideas, perspectives and expectations, are we as employers ready to harness this new pool of talent, or will existing barriers mean that we miss the opportunity?

Our winners!

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In third place was ‘The Wheelchair Man’, by Trine Hagan, Gavin Roberts and Joey Thompson from the University of Creative Arts. It told the story of student Joey who has  adjusted to life with a disability while at university both by getting used to assistive technology and with the support of others through online spaces such as YouTube. They won 2 Amazon Echo dots and an Amazon Firestick TV.

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The runner up was ‘Why I Make My Life So Hard’ by Oliver Lam-Watson of Kingston University, which came from a question the filmmaker asked himself about carrying heavy and often clunky filming gear around in his determination to be an influential filmmaker. He won Wembley tickets, Amazon Echo dot, as well as a Motorola Moto Smart watch.

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And *drumroll please*…

….first place was given to Wolf pack a talented team of two Wolverhampton University students, William Horsefield and Samuel Ash whose film ‘Big Day’ examined how assistive technology could help someone move into the world of work, through interviews and beyond. The film also explored the creation of an app in which sign language could be converted to text on a phone. An exciting prospect!

Wolf pack, won 1st place receiving an  Amazon Echo, Lenovo X260 Laptop, XBOX One S 1TB and Minecraft games and an Apple TV.

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Jeff A. King, Assistant Vice President, European IT, Enterprise Rent-A-Car said: “We’ve teamed up with the Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce for a unique event. It’s a Film Festival that provides a look at the world through the eyes of young disabled students preparing to go for their first jobs. It goes without saying that workplaces need to understand each new generation of graduates. After all they are the people who will ultimately shape the organisation and ensure it meets the future with fresh ideas and remains relevant. More immediately, this is about getting the best out of every employee in the organisation and utilising the most diverse possible pool of talent.”

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As well as the three talented winners, there were also short films from our hosts KPMG who screened ‘No More Awkwardness’ which highlighted how within their organisation the conversation of disability is normalised.

Our sponsors Enterprise Rent-A-Car screened their film ‘The Blind Hike’ which was a tale of a father and son who use their rented cars to explore the world.


We also screened our own film ‘Inside Nutmeg House’ – taking a look at why we do what we do through a day in the life of a Disability Consultant and a Relationship Manager.

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This film festival had a great turn out from our membership, so a big thank you to all who came along to support and we very much look forward to seeing you next year!

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Why every employer should see the films at the Technology Taskforce Film Festival

bdf-film-festival-event-carousel

By Jeff A. King, Assistant Vice President, European IT, Enterprise Rent-A-Car

We’ve teamed up with the Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce for a unique event. It’s a Film Festival that provides a look at the world through the eyes of young disabled students preparing to go for their first jobs.

It goes without saying that workplaces need to understand each new generation of graduates. After all they are the people who will ultimately shape the organisation and ensure it meets the future with fresh ideas and remains relevant. More immediately, this is about getting the best out of every employee in the organisation and utilising the most diverse possible pool of talent.

Therefore it is a given that workplaces need to understand disabled employees and candidates, for the same reason. It’s the right thing to do and means your business is fair and open, but, more importantly, it also means that every employee has the chance to succeed and achieve their full potential in an environment where they are valued and respected.

Judging films for this year’s Film Festival has been particularly interesting because this new generation of disabled talent has grown up or come of age with hard-fought legislation such as the DDA and Equality Act already in place.

This means they will bring a formidable range of new ideas and approaches to the workplace, but also that they will expect and want new things from their employer. This shouldn’t be a source of concern for recruiters – it should be treated as a real opportunity to develop the way we work and problem-solve.

So it’s just down to us as organisations to rise to the challenge.

Some of the most inspiring aspects of the Film Festival entries were the ways they showed how understanding and adjustments, whether this was by entire organisations or just by individuals working together, can break down any barrier.

We specifically wanted to see the entrants weave in the theme of technology and another great thing to see was how technology has enabled not only disabled people, but entire workforces to operate in a more accessible way.

Seeing the work of these talented young filmmakers, I am reminded of how successful this approach was in one of our interns, who shared her story on our website.

Mollie recently started with us as a Management Trainee Intern at our Midlands group and her experience shows how simple adjustments to the work environment can enable a talented candidate to shine. She immediately felt able to share the fact that she had dyslexia when she came to work for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and was also secure in the knowledge that she would receive any necessary adjustments in a timely manner.

This meant that a talented new trainee was able to take on every aspect of her new job to the best of her ability, and that there were no barriers when it came to hiring new talent.

758500bf-8d25-49ab-ae05-1ef6f601618bSuccesses like this are among the many reasons why I would like to encourage as many businesses as possible to see these films. Hearing what can help break down barriers for disabled people – be that technology, collaboration or adjustments – in their own words, is something all businesses should do.

We’ll be screening our own film at the Film Festival, ‘Blind Hike’, which I feel sums up what we are hoping to achieve in terms of breaking down barriers: it’s about no experience or achievement being off limits and realising the potential that everyone has.

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!