A journey through time… our technology showcase

By Dean Haynes, Business Disability Forum

and Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

On 28 February, delegates descended on Technology Taskforce member PwC’s London office for the latest edition of our annual Technology Showcase, entitled “Disability, identity and technology: A journey through time”.

Sarah Churchman, PwC’s Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer started proceedings with a welcome. As PwC hosted on the day Sarah emphasised why she was happy to host the event: “At the end of the day, at PwC, we want to create an environment in which everyone feels they belong, where they feel empowered to be the best they can be.”

Sarah Churchman, PwC’s Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer

Sarah Churchman, PwC’s Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer

Our very own Lucy Ruck led the day and introduced Paul Smyth of Barclays who took to the stage. While many know Paul and the work he leads on at Barclays as their Head of Digital Access, few know about his personal journey, and how he has been “disabled by technology [and] enabled by technology”.

Paul Smyth of Barclays

Paul Smyth of Barclays

Going from using outdated and cumbersome tech like desk-sized magnifiers and tape recorders(!), Paul worked his way through a business degree and joined Barclays and has recently been named as one of the Government’s newest disability champions. Embracing his difference and disability has shaped his skillset and work ethic, where increasingly inaccessible technology forced him to “be the change he want[ed] to see in the world” and make things better for the next person like him.

Sharing his story he stated: “…My eight‑year‑old self, I could remember like it was yesterday, hearing from the eye doctor that you will lose most if not all of your sight very soon. I remember my eight‑year‑old self, what scared me, it wasn’t the prospect of going blind, it was the prospect of being different. I think maybe my eight‑year‑old self even then understood there are barriers constructed in the world around us and there are barriers that also exist in the mind of others that shape what we can and can’t do, what we can and can’t above, about capability and possibility.”

Elisabeth Ward of Scope then took the opportunity to tell us her story as a congenital amputee, defining herself through other’s perception of “normal”, when technical support only became available when she got to university and her impairment was finally recognised.

Elisabeth Ward from Scope

Elisabeth Ward of Scope

As a child, Elisabeth carried around a booklet explaining why she was different, but she was also determined not to be left behind – and at secondary school the level of understanding was not high: “For example, in PE I struggled to control a hockey stick, and the other students treated me as though this was my fault. I would regularly strain my hand and wrist and the teacher just expected me to get on with it. There was no support to help me find solutions. I never felt like it was okay to say, actually, this isn’t working, I am not like everyone else, and I need it to change.” Overcoming the need to fit into what people expected of her at university and taking advantage of available support let her confidence flourish, which continued as she entered the workplace.

A former boss who likely thought they were doing the right thing unconsciously held Elisabeth back, but assistance from Access to Work changed things dramatically, opening a world of assistive tech like a rollerball mouse and half-keyboard. Working at Scope has encouraged Elisabeth to inspire change from all levels of society and challenge stigmas so that we can all keep learning to provide accessible solutions for everyone. She said: “ I can now stand up in a room full of strangers and openly and proudly say, hey look, I am disabled, I’m missing a hand and this makes me different. Even when I go outside, I no longer have to compartmentalise that part of me. It feels like a whole new world, one where I’m not the problem; it’s society that needs to change.”

James Hallam, Controls Assurance at PwC, making an entrance on his electric-assisted handcycle at the event

James Hallam, Controls Assurance at PwC, making an entrance on his electric-assisted handcycle

Our third and final speaker was James Hallam, Controls Assurance at PwC, who made quite the entrance on his electric-assisted handcycle and told those in attendance about his Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) handcycle, that has given James the power to use his legs again.

After a cycling accident back in 1996, James’ positivity led him to not ask people for help; travelling across London and using the tube in a wheelchair soon put paid to that! James added that while it’s about you and your approach to the world, but it’s also about how the world approaches you. What was initially diagnosed as a muscle strain but turned out to be a nearly life-threatening broken leg led to James paying more attention to his lower body, and finally starting to use a FES handcycle that enabled him to make his leg muscles work after over twenty years. James then spoke about his own depression, which was assumed had stemmed from his injury, but in fact was caused by something far more innocuous. In the same way that asking for help with a physical disability needs to have the stigma taken away from it, the same needs to be said for people’s mental wellbeing. He stated: “..you can get quite stigmatised or defined by your chair, or your sight or whatever you can’t do, and people don’t necessarily see what you can do. I think that’s a real shame.”

Lucy Ruck

Lucy Ruck

Following a panel discussion with our speakers and host Lucy, making use of the interactive platform Slido, delegates were able to engage with the following tech exhibitors:

Texthelp – helping everyone read, write and communicate with clarity.

PWC Disability, Ability and Wellbeing Network.

Posturite – ergonomic suppliers and service providers.

MyClearText – on-site and remote speech-to-text reporting.

Microsoft – empower every organisation to achieve more.

Microlink – leaders in the field of assistive technology.

Iansyst – assistive technology specialists.

Bennett workplace – workplace & ergonomic solutions.

One of the audience stated: “[We heard] really great stories from the speakers, they demonstrated the success assistive technology has had on their lives. They served as great role models for how with support, grit and the right tools, disability dissolves and ability thrives.”

To find out more about our events, visit here

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

a-man-laying-in-bed-on-a-laptop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Monday’s dirty secret (and why it doesn’t matter)

By Christopher Watkins


Today is the third Monday of January; so-called Blue Monday, apparently ‘the most depressing’ day of the year. It’s around this time of year that I get a glut of companies phoning me up to ask if I could speak at their mental health awareness event, run a workshop, or advise on the health & wellbeing activities they are planning to ‘celebrate’ the big day. And it makes a great deal of sense to do so: performance dips and sickness absence peaks are a well-recognised phenomenon in January, and such wellbeing exercises can minimise the effects of these on overall business performance. An eye-catching ‘day’ to attach an agenda to can also be a useful tool to raise larger issues across large organisations and promote cultural change.

I must confess, however, that I have mixed feelings towards the ubiquitous mass of awareness days at the best of times. My cynical side is frequently frustrated by the idea that by simply ‘raising awareness’ of an issue we somehow make a meaningful difference to society or individuals’ lives. And then there’s so many of them! Did you know that next month is not only National Heart Month[1] and Raynaud’s Awareness Month[2], but Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Month as well[3]? Within the first week of February alone, we have World Cancer Day (4 Feb)[4], National Doodle Day (for Epilepsy, 5 Feb)[5] and ‘Wear it Beat it’ (for the British Heart Foundation, 6 Feb)[6], before a week of Tinnitus awareness starting on 8 Feb[7]?

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

‘Blue Monday’ might just wind me up more than the rest put together, not only because it is an issue close to my heart, but because it hides a dirty secret; one which, I fear, those working in the area are embarrassed to admit lest it promote cynicism towards the wider agenda. I have taken to asking organisations planning their Blue Monday events what they understand the meaning of the day to be, and have heard responses describing it as anything from the day on which people are most likely to be off sick with depression, the annual peak for deaths by suicide, the day in which people are most likely to self-report as being depressed…

Unfortunately, the reality is that Blue Monday has about as much to do with credible research into the seasonal prevalence of mental ill-health as the 1983 New Order masterpiece by the same name. The third Monday in January is, in fact, the day on which is it easiest to sell you a summer holiday.

Or, more specifically, it is a widely discredited invention peddled by PR company Porter Novelli on behalf of Sky Travel about ten years ago. It claims to be based on an entirely nonsensical formula based on metrics including ‘travel time’, ‘delays’, ‘time spent packing’, and a number of other factors without defined units of measurement[8]. To be fair, by a 2009 press release the formula seems to have been reviewed to consider slightly more reasonable factors like ‘weather’, ‘debt’ and ‘time since failing new year’s resolutions’, again without any defined units of measurements but reassuringly (or miraculously) coming up with exactly the same day[9].

I’m not, to be clear, passing judgement on any of the causes or issues behind these awareness events and don’t for one minute want to suggest that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s easy to see, however, how well-meaning businesses and diversity teams can get bogged down in a relentless calendar of ‘awareness raising’, to the extent that they might lose sight of what’s really important: the benefits to business, individuals and society as a whole delivered by diverse workforces and inclusive practices. My message is simply to take a step back and consider the purpose of any event or wellbeing exercise you are taking part in today, and specifically the value these activities add for the time, effort and money invested.

So, have I been turning down these Blue Monday speaking engagements on principle, then? Of course not. After all, almost every awareness day is essentially ‘made up’, and it would be foolish to dismiss them on this basis. If you are currently investing in mental health in your organisation, it makes great sense to attach your activities to a (rightly or wrongly) recognised ‘awareness day’. It’s also perfectly sensible to invest in mental wellbeing at this time of year because you have identified that performance or sickness absence issues peak in the winter months. But for the sake of not just pedantry but transparency and credibility, please let’s stop calling Blue Monday ‘the most depressing day of the year’ and rather see it for what it is: a potentially useful tool to promote meaningful cultural change and reap the benefits of a healthy and inclusive workplace and society, with no need for a fabricated ‘meaning’ beyond that. Let’s have the courage to be led by tangible and empirically-founded diversity and inclusion priorities based on business and cultural need, not the unrelenting calendar of awareness events!

[1] http://www.bhf.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[2] http://www.raynauds.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[3] http://www.ammf.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[4] http://www.worldcancercampaign.org/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[5] http://doodle-day.epilepsy.org.uk/

[6] https://wearitbeatit.bhf.org.uk/

[7] http://www.tinnitus.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/science/2006/dec/16/badscience.uknews

[9] https://web.archive.org/web/20100221213456/http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/media/news-releases/news-releases-2009/13-january-2009


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

Stat of the day: Depression in the workplace

By Angela Matthews

It’s all about mental health today – a bit of depression and some more stress.

Depression

Some of you may be aware of the Target Depression in the Workplace group. For those – like me – who didn’t know about this, the group includes Royal Mail, Barclays and BT and is a European task force looking at tackling depression in the workplace.

Some of the stats I’ve seen regarding this task force include:

  • Symptoms of disrupted concentration, indecisiveness, or forgetfulness were present up to 94 per cent of the time during each episode of depression;
  • 1 in 10 employees in Europe are at risk of taking time off for reasons related to depression. This will equate to a loss of some 1 billion working days in time and more than £34.6 million in cost.

The companies involved in this task force are reported to employ a combined population of 600,000 across Europe. In June, the Office for National Statistics released a figure that said 19 per cent of adults experience depression. If we apply the 19 per cent to the 600,000, there are potentially 114,000 employees in these combined workforces who could be experiencing depression.

Stress

In addition to the two other stress surveys we have recently looked at in ‘Stat of the day’, Bupa have also conducted one of their own. Some slightly different topics emerge from Bupa’s – for example, they report that men are more likely to deal with their stress with alcohol and women are more likely to try breathing exercises or some form of mindfulness. A few stats from the survey include:

  • 44 per cent of the British population experience stress.
  • 27 per cent regularly feel “close to breaking point”.
  • 61 per cent only seek help when they feel they can no longer cope.

That last figure is a bit concerning.

As this is the third recent ‘Stat of the day’ about stress, tomorrow’s will make a desperate attempt to break free from mental health topics. I try and use stats that relate to something that is ‘current’ in our work or in society generally; so perhaps ‘Stat of the day’s recent concentration on mental health speaks for itself regarding its general current interest in the press and among our Members/Partners. But I promise (I think), something different tomorrow.

Stat of the day: More stress

By Angela Matthews

Continuing with Friday’s ‘stat of the day’ theme of stress, AXA have also released some survey results (reported here). AXA surveyed 500 Small/Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and found that, although 48 per cent of employees feel stressed at work at least 2-3 times per week, 63 per cent of those organisations do not provide training for their managers on how to recognise the signs of stress, anxiety or depression among staff. Additionally, 73 per cent of those organisations do not have programmes in place to encourage positive mental health in the workplace.

Reasons for stress included:

  • Money – 34 per cent;
  • Work – 31 per cent;
  • Family – 18 per cent.

It could be argued that these reasons largely reflect the social and economic circumstances that the UK is currently experiencing, but it is interesting to reflect on Friday’s reasons and statistics where 76 per cent of respondents also said that their stress was due to work and money. This is perhaps not a massively dissimilar figure to the combined 65 per cent that accounts for work and money above (although considering that AXA have looked at SMEs, and only 500).

I also think it is interesting that the American figures from Friday came from a clinical study conducted within the realm of psychiatry, whereas this UK study comes from a position of mental health being a workplace issue that highlights a gap in training and employer support.

Stat of the day: Stress

By Angela Matthews

Research by the American Psychological Association released in July this year looked at the causes and symptoms of stress. You can see a breakdown of some of the statistics below:

Pie chart showing levels of stress

Note that a whopping 76 per cent of respondents said their stress was due to work and money. Additionally, 48 per cent say that their sleep is affected. All of the above elements represented in the chart could potentially have consequences in the workplace – physical symptoms, psychological symptoms, sleeplessness (this could have an impact on concentration, alertness, or performance, for example), and work/money issues. This is confirmed by the 48 per cent of respondents who said that stress has an impact on both their personal and professional lives.

The study also gives the most commonly reported ‘symptoms’ of stress. These could be indicators or changes in behaviour for managers to look out for in their employees:

Physical symptoms:

  • Fatigue (the most common, affecting over 50 per cent);
  • Headache;
  • Upset stomach;
  • Muscle tensions;
  • Change in appetite;
  • Teeth grinding;
  • Feeling dizzy.

Psychological symptoms:

  • Irritability or anger;
  • Feeling nervous;
  • Lack of energy;
  • Feeling tearful.

Bringing the topic to the UK, an article in the Metro this morning showed that workers spend around a year to a year-and-a half of their careers off sick. The main culprits? Stress and depression. And – the thing that made me gasp most – a third of full-time employees report that there is no sickness policy in place to protect them.

You can read the article here.

Stat of the day: Migraine Awareness Week 2013

By Angela Matthews

Saturday 7th September marked the end of Migraine Awareness Week. Migraines affect over 8 million people in the UK, which makes it more common a condition than diabetes, epilepsy, and asthma combined (Source: The Migraine Trust, 2013). The World Health Organisation describes migraine as “one of the most disabling lifetime conditions”. 34.3 per cent of people who experience migraines are discriminated against or have difficulties at work. Women are more likely to have migraines than men, and those who have migraines are also more likely to experience depression. With these overlaps between migraine, gender, and mental health – plus the fact that 25 million work and school days are lost to migraines each year – it would be ideal for more employers to be considering how they can do more to address this non-visible condition that too often receives relatively limited attention.