Why senior sponsorship/ leadership is crucial to improving an organisation’s disability performance

By Joanna Wootten


Why does leadership matter in regards to disability? Put simply, if employees or work streams aren’t told to think about disability, or prioritise disabled employees or customers, it’s unlikely to happen consistently or systematically. Of course, there will always be individuals doing their best ‘under the radar’. It is also important to note that many people are nervous about getting it wrong, or feel unequipped to address the issue of disability correctly. Organisations should support employees in getting it right – this means ensuring the appropriate systems are in place as well as having the right attitude.

Joanna Wootten giving a presentation

The Disability Standard – Business Disability Forum’s management tool to help businesses measure and improve their performance on disability, reinforces this idea of having strong leadership at the top. Amongst the ten criteria of the Standard – which include ICT, Workplace Adjustments and Recruitment, senior sponsorship remains fundamental. Such support creates both cultural and financial permission, while also empowering employees to tackle sensitive issues with confidence.

If, however, you are struggling to get your colleagues to ‘buy-in’ to your idea, it can be effective to begin with a single issue. This should help to catch people’s attention and imagination. I have witnessed some amazing achievements when companies have offered their support to a particular charity or organisation. People can get very enthused supporting a charity which has a knock on effect on their employee engagement, as well as increasing their understanding and support for diversity initiatives.

While it can be difficult to instigate the first step to becoming disability-smart, it is very encouraging to see an increasing number of organisations that are doing exceptional work within this area and using the Disability Standard to monitor their progress.

We have all seen the Barclays advertisements showing people with visual impairments using talking ATMs. Also, from a personal viewpoint, as a deaf customer, I really value Barclays’ commitment to accessibility as I have used both their online chat function, and accessed their services via a video interpreting service.

It’s apparent that there is leadership from the top as I have seen various senior people including their Chairman, CEO and CEO of Personal & Corporate Banking all talking about the importance of disability, stating it is not just a CSR issue, but fundamental to their business model.

I asked Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays, what the company had done to make disability ‘business as usual.’ He pinpointed an event called ‘Living in our customers’ world’ as being pivotal. During this event, attendees – including senior business leaders, were able to test Barclays’ disability simulation kits in order to feel the physical effects of different disabilities. As a result, attendees left the room with a personal insight into the challenges that disabled customers face, and were motivated to ‘use their influence and resources to deliver strategic and operational change.’

Kathryn Townsend, who leads Barclays’ Strategic Transformation – Accessibility & Inclusion, said:

“Barclays has really invested in this by investing in full time resources (mine and Paul Smyth’s teams) whose sole focus is accessibility. We are also given freedom and support to identify the ‘next big thing’ we should adopt, or the key internal issues we need to fix. Without a doubt, our Chief Executive not only believes, but really understands and champions that this is core to how we do business – not an add on.”

I recently spoke with Graeme Whippy, Senior Disability Manager at Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) who said how useful it had been having Mark Fisher, former Director of Operations, championing disability at the company. Graeme discussed how senior sponsorship had helped enable him and his colleagues to talk to people across the business and get them to take disability seriously. As a result, LBG significantly improved their performance across all 10 areas of the Disability Standard. This was particularly true regarding the company’s Workplace Adjustments policy which was completely transformed in 2010 into a centrally funded, award-winning service.

Senior sponsorship has also helped to ensure longevity of commitment at LBG, proven by the implementation of Key Performance Indicators in place, and regular reports to David Oldfield, the current Director of Operations.

Sometimes, however, something has to go wrong before leadership will take disability seriously. This was exemplified at the Civil Service after the organisation’s People Survey demonstrated very low engagement levels among disabled staff, partly because the systems were not in place to support them effectively.

A Civil Service Task Group on Disability found an employee who had been put on 18 months gardening leave because they were waiting for a £15-£30 mouse to be approved, tested and placed on their computer. Having discovered such issues, a Permanent Secretaries’ Reference Group on Disability was created. Now, the Department for Work and Pensions and BDF member leads the way in relation to workplace adjustments, and has shared its best practice with other government departments.

I asked Jenny Groves at Nationwide about the topic of Executive sponsorship. Jenny said:

“In business, the most effective way to achieve success, in whatever you set out to do, is to get your people behind your goals. Ambition is infectious and when you see leaders excited about, and dedicated to, such an important subject, it inspires everyone else. Improving disability performance is about much more than tangible, physical changes. It’s also about changing culture and the way we think, both as individuals and as a company. Whether it’s a business, a school or a community, an organisation’s culture is driven from the behaviours and actions displayed by those at the very top. We know we have the right people in place to increase Nationwide’s accessibility and become a disability-smart, disability-confident business with the support of our senior leaders and Business Disability Forum.”

Discussing the importance of leadership and why it is needed to achieve real change, Stephanie Smith, Director of Operations for Allianz Retail observes:

“Disability awareness and understanding has increased exponentially in recent years, but providing for disabled customers is still seen by many organisations as optional. However, with an aging population and the advent of social media, organisations that are off the pace are increasingly becoming exposed. Having the right services and products for all customers, has always been important of course, but now the impact of getting it wrong is becoming more tangible. So why is it hard for some organisations to focus on what is so obviously the right thing to do? A mind-set and language change is critical, and can only be led from the top. The diversity agenda needs life breathed into it, it needs to be omnipresent in everything you do in your business, from the top to the bottom. And you need to prioritise and invest – not massively, but enough to ensure that in a world where budgets are cut and investments curbed, diversity isn’t the thing always squeezed off the agenda.”

Ultimately, one must allocate resources in a way that will work for the business. For example, I work closely with Sainsbury’s, and they have a board member with responsibility for disability. He chairs two working groups that report to him on a regular basis: one focusing on customers, and the other focusing on employees.

If you aren’t sure how to begin improving your company’s performance on disability, using the Disability Standard and the help available at Business Disability Forum is a very useful starting point.

But it’s important to remember that it’s not just about beautiful systems and ticking the boxes, it’s about creating and/or maintaining the right environment so that people want to work for your company, or use your services. After all, as Winston Churchill said: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”


For more information on using the Disability Standard, visit: https://www.disabilitystandard.com/about/

For more information on Barclays Accessibility Statement, visit: http://www.barclays.co.uk/Accessibility/Barclaysaccessibilitystatement/P1242641724754

Click the link to view the Lloyds Banking Group Workplace Adjustments case study: https://www.disabilitystandard.com/media_manager/public/86/Resources/BDF%20Lloyds%20BG%20Workplace%20adjustments%20case%20study.pdf

For more information on Nationwide, visit: http://www.nationwide.co.uk/

For more information on Allianz, visit: https://www.allianz.com/en/careers/allianz_as_an_employer/diversity.html

Event round up: Technology Taskforce Megaquiz

By Dean Haynes

A raft of BDF Members, Partners and associates descended onto Canary Wharf once again on Tuesday 2 December to attend the annual Technology Taskforce MegaQuiz. Kindly hosted by Taskforce members Barclays, the evening followed the format of many well-known quiz shows, including a blast from the past in the form of Blockbusters!

People sitting at tables ready for the MegaQuiz to beginNow in its third year, the Technology Taskforce holds the annual MegaQuiz as an opportunity for ICT practitioners and others to put their disability knowledge to the test, with this year’s quiz led by CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell. Eleven teams from across BDF membership pitted their wits against one another for the glory of being named Technology Taskforce MegaQuiz champions of 2014.

Lucy Ruck, Technology Taskforce Manager at Business Disability Forum, said:

“The annual MegaQuiz is an opportunity for ICT professionals to come together in a fun environment and test their own knowledge of how disability affects business against their own peers, clients, competitors and suppliers – all while having an enjoyable evening out with colleagues”.

“The MegaQuiz is also a fantastic opportunity for Technology Taskforce members to network with other like-minded individuals and learn more about how ICT plays a vital role in making our workplaces and services more accessible to disabled people”.

The first round centred on an old classic, the Blockbusters Gold Run, with Cerrie leading the teams across the board before finally asking for “a P please, Bob”. Round two was named “8 out of 10 Guide Dogs”, where teams were asked to pick the right answers from a range of stats. The missing words round came next, where disability-related headlines taken from the news had vital words removed. A host of famous faces on the picture board made up round four, where contestants had to not only put a name to the face, but also name their disability. The last round gave all the teams the chance to almost double their scores on the Never Mind The Buzzcocks’ “Next Lines” round, with points available for the artist, the next line and the artist’s impairment. As you’d expect, there were plenty of people humming their way through the songs to get the right answer!

Just before the quiz came to a close, there was a tense tiebreaker for third place between “The Scousers” from Standard Chartered and “The Quantitative Easings” from Barclays, with The Scousers darting in at the last minute to claim the third-place hamper of goodies. The Microlink-led team of “The Chiefs” were our runners-up, and this year’s MegaQuiz champions were the team from Barclays and AbilityNet.

The final scoreboard from the event

Once again, the whole evening was a resounding success, with plenty of engagement, providing the opportunity to network and meet new people, enjoy some early Christmas cheer whilst having some fun and learning more about disability.

A gallery of professional photos will be available on our Facebook page early next week. For more information on the Technology Taskforce, visit www.technologytaskforce.org

Technical SwapShop goes up in the world!

By Dean Haynes

Generously hosted by Technology Taskforce member BT at the iconic BT Tower in Central London, our Technical SwapShop was held on 4 November and attended by nearly 100 delegates.

With speakers and exhibitors from both Taskforce members and assistive technology companies, attendees got the chance to get personal perspectives on the use of Assistive Technology (AT), as well as find out about the range of products available, before having lunch at the top of the tower!

The view of London from the top of BT TowerAbove: The view of London from the top of BT Tower

Proceedings got underway with delegates given the chance to learn about different AT products from over a dozen exhibitors, including ReciteMe, Matchware, Hassell Inclusion, Ai Media, Nuance and iansyst.

Things then moved into BT’s auditorium where our chair for the day, BDF associate Rick Williams, introduced representatives from our hosts BT. Bertrand Mazieres gave us a brief introduction to BT, before Dan Ballin explained the importance of accessibility to BT as an organisation.

Next, EY Associate Partner John Levell spoke about his firm’s dyslexia network, why it was set up and how it adds value to their organisation. He also took time to describe his own personal experiences in the workplace coping with dyslexia, which struck a chord with many in the audience.

Alastair Campbell of Texthelp was then given the chance to demonstrate Texthelp’s Read&Write software, which has been designed to offer support to individuals who may experience literacy difficulties due to dyslexia, low literacy skills or English as a second language through the use of a computer.

Audio Notetaker was the focus from our next speaker, Adam Pearce of Sonocent. Audio Notetaker allows employees and clients to combine text, audio and slides into one cohesive package to foster barrier-free communication in the workplace.

Adam Pearce of Sonocent delivering presentation on Audio Notetaker

Above: Adam Pearce of Sonocent delivers presentation and demonstration of Audio Notetaker

Microlink’s Tim Scannell, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Account Manager, talked about how his disability affects him and demonstrated assistive technology that can assist individuals like himself that are profoundly deaf.

Following Tim, Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays, then took to the stage to talk about how his own visual impairment affects his working life, what accommodations he has in place and what can be done to help as individuals and organisations.

Last on the formal agenda was Steve Bennett from Dolphin, who provided us with a demonstration of their SuperNova software that assists those with visual impairments.

After a brief interlude from BDF’s Chief of Staff Paul Day, Kiki MacDonald from Euan’s Guide closed out the day’s presentations.

Euan’s Guide, which has been dubbed “TripAdvisor for the disabled”, was devised by Edinburgh-born Euan MacDonald, who has Motor Neurone Disease, the website and accompanying apps aggregate reviews of public venues across the UK for their accessibility.

Delegates browse exhibitor stalls

Above: Delegates browse the various exhibitor stores

With all presentations done, delegates and exhibitors all made their way up to the top of the BT Tower to network over lunch and enjoy the views across London!

You can catch up with the day’s proceedings and see photos from the day by following the #TTSwapShop hashtag on Twitter.

Twitter: @TechTaskforce

Event round up: Technology Taskforce quiz

Technology Taskforce quiz winners

On the evening of Monday 2 December the Business Disability Forum held their annual Technology Taskforce Quiz kindly hosted by Barclays at their headquarters in Canary Wharf.

There was an excellent turnout of 16 teams comprising a wide variety of our Partners and their guests. Those present included Barclays, American Express, Atos, EY, Remploy, Lorien, Micro Focus, Microlink PC, Opencast Software, Royal Mail, Cognizant and Polaris Financial Technology.

Proceedings got off to a start with a welcome from Andrew Witney, Chief Information Officer for Barclays and Paul Day, Chief of Staff at Business Disability Forum, who highlighted the important work of the taskforce including the recent development of technology research and advisory company Gartner introducing accessibility as part of their “Magic Quadrant” model. Andrew and Paul recognised that the quiz was a fun way to progress a serious issue.

The quizmaster for the evening was leading disability consultant and champion for equal opportunity and diversity Phil Friend OBE. Phil presided over the two 45-minute sessions with characteristic wit and humour whilst making the questions thought-provoking and informative at the same time. The pub-quiz style format included questions that tested people’s knowledge and appreciation of important disability-related topics such as employment, accessibility, being adequately served as a disabled customer, assistive technology, disabled people playing leading roles in business and the community and headlines from prominent disability news stories of 2013. There was a healthy portion of vital statistics drawn from the most up to date research.

The multiple choice questions were surprising to some and well-known by others. They included: the average cost of a reasonable adjustment being only £75 thus dismissing the perception that such adjustments are inhibitively expensive, that 83% of people with disabilities have taken their custom elsewhere due to poor website accessibility emphasising the importance of businesses getting their online presence right, that there are around 11 million people in the UK with some form of disability and within this group there is a spending power of up to 80 billion pounds –giving the message that there’s a true business as well as a moral and reputational benefit to being a disability-smart organisation!

No pub quiz worth its salt would be without a music round and the final questions of round two involved Phil reading out the first line of the lyrics of some past hit songs and the task was to write down the second line of the song along with the artist. Not easy without hearing the music but this still continued the disability awareness theme as each artist in the answer was revealed to have succeeded despite having some form of disability such as Cindy Lauper who is dyslexic, Michael Bolton who is deaf in one ear and Ray Charles who of course was blind.

First, second and third places went to Microlink, EY and a mixed team of colleagues from BiTC, Oracle and others. Dr Nasser Siabi, CEO of Microlink, magnanimously donated his first prize hamper to the team who came second.

The evening was a great success and there was much engagement from all tables, providing the opportunity to network and meet new people, enjoy good food and drink whilst having some fun and learning more about disability in general. Well-deserved thanks and congratulations to Barclays for hosting, Phil Friend for such entertaining content, the events team at Business Disability Forum for their hard work in organising and all those who came along and took part.