Event round-up: Technology Taskforce Film Festival

By Dean Haynes

Monday December 7 saw the fourth annual Technology Taskforce event take place, generously hosted by KPMG at their Canary Wharf offices. This time, forgoing our tried and tested quiz show format, we decided to hold a film festival with a difference, and not forgetting the popcorn! The delegates were each issued with wireless two-channel headsets, which would allow them to hear the films’ original soundtrack, or with added audio description.

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The space at KPMG was transformed into a silent cinema, where attendees had the chance to see a range of films on disability-related perspectives. From short films by disabled filmmakers about their experiences, to thought-provoking videos produced by members of the Taskforce, the evening aimed to challenge assumptions and attitudes, and open eyes to the reality of living with a disability.

The evening got underway with an introduction from Taskforce manager Lucy Ruck, before she handed over to Walter Scott, the Assistant Head of Communications at the Ministry of Defence, who introduced the first film of the evening “My War With Words”. This profiled a number of military staff and their experiences working with a stammer, a non-visible disability that rarely gets the coverage it warrants.

Our next film came from American filmmaker Jenna Kanell, who gave us a video intro to her film “Bumblebees”, about her disabled brother Vance, who compares himself to a bumblebee in that according to the laws of physics it shouldn’t be able to fly. Leena Haque from the BBC was next on stage, describing her own neurodiversity and introducing her film “A Day In The Life”, which used a video game-like point-of-view to show how someone with neurodiversity tackles their day-to-day work life.

Next, our most intriguing film of the evening came from Gallaudet University in Washington DC, with a statement from Dr. Dirksen Bauman. The film revolves around the students and staff at the university, which caters for the deaf and hearing-impaired and itself is totally silent, which did cause some confusion for some, but made full use of the audio description channel!

The fifth and sixth films came from disability charity Scope, covering the fight for disabled rights with the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995, and how it has impacted the lives of disabled people and the continuing struggle for equality some 20 years on (including a star turn from our very own Lucy Ruck).

Our final film of the night came from Hilary Lister, a quadriplegic record-breaking yachtswoman. Using a system of straws and “sip-puff” switches, Hilary has sailed single-handed across the English Channel, circumnavigated Great Britain and sailed the 1,500km across the Arabian Sea.


 

You can catch up with the evening’s proceedings by following BDF on Twitter (@disabilitysmart), and feel free to view a selection of the films here:

Jenna Kanell’s “Bumblebees” – http://sproutflix.org/all-films/bumblebees

Gallaudet: The Film – http://disabilitymovies.com/2010/gallaudet-the-film

 

“Trust me, I’m a doctor” – what do your line managers do when they receive a fit note?

By Christopher Watkins


File it away and hope it sorts itself out? Panic and phone HR? Or, exactly what it tells them to do?

Fit notes, or ‘Statements of Fitness for Work’ (for those with too much time on their hands) are a potentially invaluable tool in supporting people with disabilities or long-term physical or mental health conditions, but only if they are used appropriately by the managers that receive them. None of the reactions mentioned above are particularly useful to the employer but are all too common in some organisations, particularly in environments where line managers often have responsibility for large teams with high turnover.

Sometimes they’re just ignored – or, if a colleague’s absence is related to a disability or long-term condition, managers can be nervous to get involved and sickness absence can be left unmanaged to continue indefinitely, often on full pay. This is costly for the employer and of no benefit to the employee, whose employment prospects can be damaged as they lose the opportunity to pursue their career with some simple workplace adjustments.

Two people having a conversation at a desk

Sometimes managers just panic and phone HR. This is probably the least legally risky approach, but can put unnecessary pressure on often overworked HR service centres handling relatively straightforward queries.

However, it is perhaps most unhelpful for line managers to simply take everything written on the fit note as ‘gospel’, following the advice without further consideration, sometimes to the detriment of both the employee and employer.

In the most concerning cases, if an employee is being repeatedly signed off sick by their GP for stress, the line manager’s reaction can be to refuse to let them work. If the employee’s stress is related to factors outside of work, however, being prevented from working can exasperate the situation, leading to unnecessary sickness absence despite the employee feeling they were able (and continually asking to) work. This can be a highly stressful – and expensive – situation for all involved, and highlights the potential damage that can be caused by a last-minute tick-box and barely legible scrawl from an over-worked GP on her last appointment before lunch (and yes, believe it or not, over 80% of fit notes are still handwritten in 2015, five years after they were introduced as the efficient digital alternative to their predecessor[1]).

In such situations, the problem is not that the GP is wrong; indeed, there may be sensible health and wellbeing reasons behind the employee being unable to work. The danger lies where line managers take the advice on the fit note – advice written to the employee – as binding rules that they needed to follow, rather than useful medical guidance to discuss with the employee. A conversation with the employee, the GP and possibly a second opinion from an Occupational Health advisor can improve understanding of the reasons behind the absence, helping the employee back to work as quickly and supportively as possible, and saving the business considerable expense and legal risk in the process.

Deeper still, perhaps the issue is that we can’t know how often this is happening as the problem itself is that these issues aren’t escalated or recorded until things start to go seriously wrong. One can imagine many more cases where an employee with a long-term health condition or disability isn’t able to receive the support they need because (at least for the 20% of fit notes produced digitally), ‘computer says no’.

There’s been some fascinating research in recent months by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the University of Nottingham into this area with some helpful recommendations; the key message to me being that GPs complain that employers don’t act on their advice while employers complain the GPs don’t give them any useful information[2].

It may not be a solution, but surely a starting point here is to get GPs and employers talking to each other. Particularly with the advent of the government’s Fit for Work service, this is likely to only grow as an issue for employers as the quantity – and hopefully quality – of medical advice landing on managers’ desks increases. Like the introduction of fit notes in 2010, this is a potentially very useful and cost-effective tool if managers are properly briefed on how to use this information. If not, conflicting policies and advice from different sources may quickly prove counter-productive.

What measures have you taken to prepare your policies and inform your line managers?

For more information on managing sickness absence and disability visit: http://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/advice-and-publications/publications/line-manager-guide-attendance-management/

You can talk to Christopher at christopherw@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk or Tweet him at @chrispydubbs


[1] Nottingham University research ‘Getting the best from the fitnote’ (2015), pp. 19 (http://www.iosh.co.uk/~/media/Documents/Books%20and%20resources/Published%20research/Getting%20the%20best%20from%20the%20fit%20note.pdf?la=en) accessed 18 August 2015

[2] http://www.iosh.co.uk/fitnote

The Technical Swapshop – showcasing the very best in assistive technology

By Dean Haynes

Generously hosted by Barclays at their Canary Wharf HQ, Business Disability Forum’s (BDF) annual Technical Swapshop got underway recently promoting an exceptional array of assistive technology solutions.

Barclays Presentation taking place at Technical Swapshop

Chaired by BDF Associate Rick Williams, attendees were offered the opportunity to hear personal perspectives on the use of assistive technology (AT) and find out about the range of products and services available.

Derek White, Chief Design Officer at Barclays, introduced the event by discussing how AT provides endless benefits for disabled people and non-disabled people also. Using the example of Barclays’ Talking ATM machines, Derek asked if any members of the audience had used this audio function when using a cash point. As several members raised their hand, Derek then asked if anyone in the audience had ever experienced difficulties when using an ATM machine in bright sunlight. As everyone in the room raised their hand, Derek was able to illustrate how AT works to the advantage of everyone.

Moving onto the presentations, Jamie Knight, Senior Accessibility Specialist at the BBC (and his constant plushie companion; Lion) began with a discussion about autism in the workplace. Jamie – who himself has autism, gave his personal insights of coping with autism and also the benefits of using AT.

To reduce sensory distractions in the office, Jamie uses specialised ear defenders. Unlike listening to music through standard headphones, ear defenders allow the wearer to hear a person who is talking directly to them whilst also blocking out unwanted background noise.

Jamie also suggested that having a good level of understanding and flexibility is vital to ensuring an autism friendly workplace. For him, this means often working from home and only having to travel to the office when necessary, ensuring he is not continuously interrupted when working on a project and also having the support available to find an effective work/life balance.

Jamie Knight + Lion give presentation at Technical Swapshop

Next to present was Katherine Innes, Business Development Executive at AI-Media who spoke about live event captioning and Simple Text. As AI Media were providing live captions throughout the Swapshop itself, Katherine was in prime position to talk about the range of advantages the service provides.

Simple Text is a live captioning tool specifically designed to help individuals with autism and Asperger syndrome. Simple Text removes metaphors and figurative language and breaks down complex instructions into simple steps.

To illustrate how Simple Text works, Katherine read aloud a piece of text that used a range of complex metaphors and colloquialisms. However, just seconds later when the live captions appeared on screen, the text had been broken down into clear and direct sentences.

AI Media at the Technical Swapshop

The Swapshop then took a break to spend some time visiting the exhibition stands of AT suppliers, including Microlink that had bought along some alternative AT solutions that might support those with autism.

Following on, the audience was joined by Gareth Ford-Williams, Head of Accessibility, User Experience & Design at the BBC. Gareth – who himself has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) gave a presentation on the ways in which organisations can create a working environment that reduces difficulties and distractions for employees with ADHD.

Describing his condition as a “continuous sensory overload,” Gareth recommended the use of wireless noise cancelling headphones to remove audio distraction in the workplace. Gareth also suggested that companies should allow their employees to work flexibly, for example working from home, or working remotely. In terms of visual distraction, Gareth suggested that using neutral colours and patterns in the office space, as opposed to bright colours and highly distractive designs also helps to reduce sensory distractions for employees with ADHD.

Lawrence Keltie, Sales Executive at MatchWare presented the company’s mind mapping software MindView. MindView is a tool that can assist people with autism, Asperger Syndrome and dyslexia to effectively organise their workload through the use of diagrams and visual representations.

MindView helps to breakdown complex information into manageable tasks, which, in turn, helps to highlight the most effective way in which tasks can be ordered and approached. For employees with dyslexia, this is particularly beneficial as the disability can cause difficulties in terms of information sequencing.

Matchware present Mindview at the Swapshop

The audience was then joined by Rebecca Morgan, Senior Accessibility Analyst at the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC). Rebecca spoke about her personal experience of being a wheelchair user and how it has affected the way in which people perceive her. She talked about how she was able to gain her Degree and how she now uses AT in her job working for DAC. She now provides accessibility user testing using Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. She has been able to turn her disability into a real advantage and is able to utilise the AT tools that she uses to help others.

Next up, and presenting one of the most popular products on the AT market, Jonathan Whitmore from Nuance took to the stage to present Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Dragon software removes the need for traditional typing and allows users to operate their computer using just their voice. Using a wireless headset, Jonathan exemplified the software’s sophisticated abilities, operating the computer with just his voice. Not only did he show how much quicker dictation is, compared to even the fastest typists, he also demonstrated how you can open up different software packages and navigate around the computer packages with ease.

Nuance presentation at Technical Taskforce

For individuals with physical disabilities including shorter arms, dexterity impairments, visual impairments, and/or mobility impairments, Dragon technology offers vital assistance and helps to ensure digital inclusion and accessibility.

Cam Nicholl, Director of Sales and Service Development from the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) also spoke about building in empathy with developers. The developers within our organisation are the key to embedding accessibility technically. If we can ‘win them over’ and explain to them what a difference it makes to individuals with impairments, then they will build accessibility into their design, as they would do with security requirements. Cam showed us a video of Ziad and the difference that AT has made to him personally http://www.digitalaccessibilitycentre.org/index.php/videos/42-screen-magnification-demo.

Visitors at Technical Swapshop

Finalising the presentations, Kathryn Townsend, Strategic Transformation Leader at Barclays spoke about the excellent work Barclays have been doing regarding disabled customers.

Discussing the use of Beacon Technology – whereby disabled customers can inform the bank of their requirements through an app on their phone, Kathryn also discussed the recent launch of Barclays in-branch SignVideo service.

Barclays’ deaf customers can now enter their local branch and communicate directly with a SignVideo BSL interpreter via an iPad video call. The interpreter then relays the conversation to the Barclays advisor and vice versa to the customer.

This initiative has revolutionised the way Barclays’ deaf BSL customers can carry out their banking and fully supports Barclays aim to be the most accessible and inclusive bank.

The Technical Swapshop will be back in February next year to showcase the latest advances in AT. We look forward to seeing you there!

Life as a disabled entrepreneur – specialist disability consultant Rick Williams discusses what it takes to start a successful business

By Rick Williams

In 2014, 500,000 disabled people set up their own businesses. Forming part of a positive trend, this figure represents a further increase from the previous year. In order to support this growing number, Business Disability Forum recently asked me to reflect upon my own experiences as a disabled entrepreneur and discuss what it takes to set up a successful business. Image of Rick Williams In February of 2001 I set up my own business after 30 years as a career civil servant. I was bored and decided to see what I could do for myself in business terms. 14 years later, my company Freeney Williams Ltd is now one of the largest specialist disability consultancies in the UK and Europe. The point from where I started, to where I am now, was an interesting journey. It demanded hard work, effort and emotion, not-to-mention the sheer amount of hours. Despite this, I wouldn’t swap it or have gone back to being a ‘slave to the wage.’

My business idea was simple:

‘Go out and tell organisations how they should improve the way they employ, serve and do business with disabled people.’

‘What a good idea’! I thought. ‘Well was it?’ I talked to a number of people about this to see whether they thought it would work. In particular, I remember talking to Susan Scott-Parker who was CEO of the Employers’ Forum on Disability, which became the Business Disability Forum in 2012. Susan said, and I quote:

‘So you want to set up a business which means you need to talk to people who won’t want to talk to you about this subject, tell them things they don’t want to hear about, what they need to do differently and you expect them to pay you?’

Susan went on to say:

‘I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t sound like a great business model.’

Actually, Susan went on to be very influential and supportive over the years and I’m not sure I could have achieved as much as I have without her advice, guidance and expertise – all of which she gave willingly.

Based on my experiences, the advice I would offer to disabled individuals who are considering a similar path would be to start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is my idea?
  • What is it I’m selling?
  • Will anyone pay for it?
  • How do I tell them about it and get them to buy it?
  • What is the competition like and what makes me unique?
  • How much money is it likely to make and is it enough?
  • Who can help me?
  • Will I enjoy it?

On top of that, of course, there are other questions around the practicalities associated with the effects of any disability. Providing advice on this subject is difficult as there are a wide variety of options available to assist disabled people in coping with the effects of their disability. It is, however, of major importance to utilise the advice and resources that are available to you. Despite what is often said, I found the Access to Work scheme very helpful, although I did have to ‘push’ a bit. Ultimately, I received the help I asked for which, in turn, helped me to understand what more I needed to make my business work. It is also very beneficial to speak with other individuals who have similar disabilities – it is amazing how much generosity and support is available.

When I started my business, I found that the key element was getting the basic idea sorted, and this then became my first priority. I remember it took me several months and a lot of pain to write my first business plan. My business mentor more-or-less threw out my first effort and made me start again, suggesting I be more realistic – something I have now done to others! After several attempts, my mentor eventually approved my plan, which ultimately proved very useful in helping me clarify what I needed to do and how I was going to do it. Without a good business plan, no one will take you seriously when starting up.

So, here are my tips:

  • Get a business adviser who knows what they are talking about and who you get on with
  • Consider finding a disabled mentor to help you through the issues about your own disability and the adjustments which might help you
  • Develop a realistic business plan but be prepared to be flexible
  • While developing your plan, talk to people to ask their advice, ask them if they think it would work and if they would pay for your services
  • Stick at it and do the things you don’t like doing as well as those you do
  • Remember, it is pointless having a great product no one wants to buy, or even worse, they don’t know about!

And finally, enjoy yourself!

Rick Williams CFCIPD

Managing Director Freeney Williams Ltd


For more information on Freeney Williams, visit: http://www.freeneywilliams.com

To follow Freeney Williams on Twitter, visit: https://twitter.com/freeneywilliams

Email: enquiries@freeneywilliams.com

Telephone: 01273 327715
Mobile: 07788 448428

A taboo too far? Supporting colleagues expressing suicidal feelings in the workplace

By Christopher Watkins


The words ‘stigma’ and ‘taboo’ are fast becoming something of a cliché in the world of mental health and employment, yet few could argue that there are some issues that managers and HR professionals feel uncomfortable dealing with. It is hard to think of a more difficult situation than a colleague expressing suicidal feelings in the workplace.

Last month saw the Office for National Statistics release data on the number of deaths recorded as suicide in 2013[1], showing suicide rates continuing to track upward since the recession in 2007. The groups at most risk (and seeing the greatest increase) are men between the age of 30 and 59; the group most likely to be in full-time employment. Suicide remains the most common cause of death for men under 35.

These figures are only the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that only 1 in 10 attempts are fatal, and the majority of people experiencing suicidal feelings do not go on to attempt to take their own life. Collecting accurate statistics on this is next to impossible, but it is realistic to assume that in an organisation of 500 employees at least one will be experiencing suicidal feelings at any one time.

Colleagues having serious discussion

With recent ‘stigma busting’ campaigns working to encourage employees to be open about their mental health, it is reasonable to expect the number of employees expressing suicidal feelings to their manager or HR to increase. Our Business Disability Forum Advice Service has noticed this increase. While no manager or HR professional wants to find themselves having this conversation, the increasing openness of employees about these feelings presents an opportunity for intervention, support and ultimately prevention.

If you work in HR, this is an issue you are likely to come across at some point in your career – and it pays to be prepared. Navigating the initial conversation may be an intimidating experience. You are likely to feel out of your depth, but try to understand that the other person is probably feeling exactly the same way, particularly if this is something they are not used to speaking about. Don’t panic, judge or make assumptions; take the person seriously and accept that while you may not be able to help in the immediate term, you are very unlikely to make things worse.

Establishing boundaries and responsibilities at this early stage is absolutely essential. This is not something you can keep to yourself and it is not your place to become the person’s counsellor. When an employee tells you personal information about their mental health and has asked you to respect their confidentiality, it is safest to do so; but, you should still speak to HR (or BDF’s Advice Service) about the situation without identifying the individual. It may be appropriate to breach the employee’s confidentiality if they are at risk or their health is affecting their employment, and whoever you speak to should be able to advise you on this.

If they are not already receiving support from elsewhere, refer the employee to appropriate help. Depending on the circumstances, this could be to their GP, local mental health services, your EAP or Samaritans. If you feel that someone is at immediate risk of harming themselves, you should always contact the emergency services by dialling 999.

Finally, remember that suicidal feelings are rarely a ‘one-off’; this is an on-going situation that you may be supporting the colleague through for some time. These feelings may also be indicative of mental ill-health, so after the initial meeting and any urgent action required, you should sit down with the employee to explore the ways in which you are able to offer support. They may also need reasonable adjustments to their role, such as flexible working, more regular 1:1 meetings with their line manager, or a Tailored Adjustment Agreement

Christopher leads our Mental health: Handling serious situations masterclass, which equips HR and diversity professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to handle unusual and complex situations, including colleagues who are exhibiting suicidal feelings or unusual behaviour.

BDF members can also contact Christopher for advice on cases they are dealing with on christopherw@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk or 020-7089-2482


[1] http://ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-health4/suicides-in-the-united-kingdom/2013-registrations/suicides-in-the-united-kingdom–2013-registrations.html

[2] https://www.disabilitystandard.com/resource-category/resource/tailored-adjustment-agreement/

Susan Scott-Parker talks accessible recruitment at 2015 Global Recruiter Summit

By Emily Jackson


On 11 February, delegates from across the business world descended on central London for the annual Global Recruiter UK Summit. Taking place at the brilliant 30 Euston Square venue, the conference featured guest speakers from across the recruitment industry, including representative bodies, members of government and recruitment specialists themselves.

Susan Scott-Parker talks accessible recruitment at Global Recruiter two thousand and fifteen

Chaired by Chairman of APSCo and Recruitment Sector Investor, Miles Hunt, this year’s conference focussed on the topic of evolutionary recruitment and the adaptations recruitment companies must make to access the widest possible talent pool and ultimately stay ahead of the curve.

Joining a wide range of experts and industry leaders speaking at this event, Business Disability Forum (BDF) Founder and CEO, Susan Scott-Parker gave an engaging and eye-opening presentation to delegates entitled ‘Revolutionary Recruitment’. Speaking directly to the wide range of recruitment industry representatives present, Susan’s presentation established the ways in which recruitment companies will best meet their client’s ultimate goal of accessing and attracting the widest talent pool by changing how they operate.

By becoming increasingly disability confident and incorporating accessibility into each and every stage of the recruitment process, organisations will place themselves in the best possible position to attract, recruit and retain employees from the broadest possible talent pool. This process begins at the very beginning, from making online applications accessible to disabled people, to the ways in which potential candidates are contacted, all the way through to the interview process, offering the position and finally, taking on new employees.

Speaking in her engaging signature style, Susan began the presentation by asking to stand, those in the audience who could. Once standing, Susan began to read aloud a list of disabilities and asking audience members to sit down if they themselves or someone they knew had any of the disabilities noted. Before reaching the halfway point of the list, all audience members had already returned to their seats. This simple task immediately illustrated the fact that disability is not a peripheral or minor issue, but something that affects the large majority of us in a variety of different ways.

The presentation focussed on the central leitmotif which states:

“If recruiters and recruitment companies make it easier for their employers to ensure that their procedures are accessible to people with disabilities, then everybody wins a balloon”.

In keeping with BDF’s aim of working towards the mutual benefit of disabled people and business, Susan outlined a number of ways in which recruitment companies can begin to build and implement accessibility into their organisation

Firstly, ensuring candidates with a visual impairment can easily read the company’s online database and publications. This is particularly important when making adjustments for an aging workforce such as that in Britain. Furthermore, ensuring that your company website is fully accessible to the 10% of the workforce who have dyslexia so that they can use your company’s online application service successfully as opposed to taking their business elsewhere. In terms of communication, ensuring that applicants are provided with a number of different ways in which to contact the employer so that candidates with a hearing impairment for example can easily apply for the role. And finally, ensuring that your premises and your client’s premises is physically accessible to people with a disability. This could be as simple as installing a ramp where there are stairs or installing automatic doors to aid wheelchair users.

Having presented and illustrated a number of ways in which recruitment companies can incorporate accessibility into their business models, Susan went on to describe how BDF works and what it can do for its members and partners. Susan described the essence of BDF as a company which:

“…enables all human beings – in all our complexity, in all our oddness, in all our non-standardness to contribute to business success.”

To close, Susan ended with a discussion on the importance of changing attitudes. Whilst making your business accessible to people with a disability is vital if you are to succeed in reaching the widest possible skilled workforce, you should not need a business case to treat people properly and fairly.

It might be a cold 33 degrees celsius, but BDF’s latest work in Saudi Arabia is warming indeed

By George Selvanera


Business Disability Forum (BDF) Senior Disability Consultant Brendan Roach and myself have descended, again, on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as part of a programme we are contributing to about improving KSA’s business disability confidence.

Jeddah Light (Jeddah Port Control Tower) is an active lighthouse in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. With a height of approximately 113 metres (371 ft) it has a credible claim to be the world's tallest lighthouse

Led by the Ministry of Labor, the KSA business disability confidence programme explicitly links to efforts to increase the participation of Saudi nationals in the workforce, dominated as it is by expatriate workers. This is an urgent priority for KSA given the public sector can no longer absorb the 200,000 young people that leave university every year; with many millions more young people expected to join the labour force in the coming years. Arab News reported in October 2013 that KSA has 9.2 million expatriate workers making it the fourth most popular destination for expatriate workers worldwide with sector after sector dominated by expatriates.

Saudisation requires companies to employ a minimum quota of local workers: 7% in building, 24% in retail, 50% in insurance and 90% in banking, for example. Companies who fail to comply, risk penalties such as bans on recruiting foreign workers, while good performers are rewarded with financial and administrative support, designed to compensate for the extra cost of employing Saudis, who earn twice as much as their foreign counterparts.

To support the ‘Saudisation’ programme, a system of ‘4 to 1’ is in place which counts every 1 disabled Saudi person in employment as 4 non-disabled Saudi persons in employment. The Government recognises that many companies have created a cadre of phantom employees: disabled people who are paid to stay at home while counting towards the quota. With approximately 400,000 people accessing the Saudi equivalent of jobseekers allowance reporting they have impairments, the current system to encourage employment of disabled people is not working.

We have had the pleasure of working with a senior advisor to the Minister for Labor and a budding version of BDF – Qaderoon which is about 10 months old – who, working under the direction of the Minister for Labor, recognise that such a system is neither sustainable or appropriate. Like us, they recognise, that business needs access to the best talent and that the best companies need to be competent in how they interact with disabled people as employees, candidates and customers.

As I am sure you can appreciate, the context of work could not be more different. We have been privy to some terrible stories about the work and life situation of disabled people. I am struck by how a deaf worker at a large conglomerate attended work every day, even while sick and during annual leave, because he thought that he would not get paid when absent. He could not afford to not get paid. As no one had ever communicated with their deaf colleague, the situation persisted for several years.

I am also struck, however, by the willingness of the small group of leading KSA companies that we have interacted with having an openness to a different path. As in the UK and elsewhere, the motivations for participation in the programme to encourage disability confidence are diverse. Some view improving outcomes for disabled people through the prism of corporate social responsibility, some see the business benefits of access to the best possible talent, others see a chance to be part of a vanguard leading a different approach and others, simply enough, just want to do the right thing by all people, including disabled people.

What we have been delighted to find is that irrespective of the motivation, several of the businesses we have interacted with have recognised that disability confidence requires a whole organisation approach. Just as the leading lights of disability-smart organisations in the UK apply the Disability Standard to measure and focus improvement in their disability performance across the whole business, there is the start of an openness in Saudi Arabian companies to do similar.

Brendan and I have been helping design and test a KSA Disability Confidence Index for driving improvements in business disability confidence across the last 10 months. We have worked closely with 7 companies particularly in testing the Index and it’s been brilliant to learn that since visits we undertook in June 2014, for example:

  • An air conditioning company that had committed to engaging disabled customers in product design has developed a remote control for Braille users. They also are undertaking improvements to the facilities accessibility of at least three of their sites.
  • A pharma distribution company has increased the employment of disabled employees by nearly 50% to 73 and plans to increase by a further 100% to 150 by the end of this calendar year. There continues to be a 100% retention rate for these employees.
  • The CEO of a conglomerate with multiple brands has been meeting informally with disabled staff to signal commitment and to better understand the needs and priorities of staff.

Our current trip to KSA involves delivery of a 5-day induction training for auditors (two of which represent companies whose UK equivalents are BDF Partners). These auditors will have a role in assessing evidence that companies submit using the KSA Disability Confidence Index.

We have been really pleased at the way in which many of the auditors have actively participated in the learning and offered their own personal experiences of dyslexia, living with a cousin that is hard of hearing, living with a grandmother with Alzheimers, having work colleagues with disabilities etc. and how this has influenced their understanding about what is most fundamental to driving change in outcomes for disabled people – the power of personal contact and personal experience.

They also have seen how an accessible recruitment process relies on the know-how to offer and make appropriate adjustments, IT departments improving the accessibility of online application systems, accessible premises that permit candidates with mobility impairments being able to attend interviews and subsequent work, capable line managers that know where they can access support and guidance to confidently interact with their disabled colleague etc. They have understood that a whole organisation approach to understanding disability is essential.

These auditors have also made clear to us that they see the transformation in business practice and disability confidence as requiring many years. This realism is heartening. Just as their understanding about the power of personal contact with disabled people operating at all levels – in business, at home, as leaders, as customers, as family members – is essential to the transformation.

Between Brendan and I, we have had 10 trips to the Kingdom and worked across Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam. At 33 degrees, this may well be the coldest weather we have experienced on our trips here, but it certainly is one of the most warming.

It’s just great to find that we are contributing to the beginnings of a different way for KSA business in how they interact with disabled people and where we are beginning to see the initial buds of positive change for business and disabled people. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but it is beginning.