Disability-Smart stories: 2020 technology showcase

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

“In the context of disability, technology offers some great opportunities but also some real challenges that we need to look out for. We’ve all got a role to play in creating an inclusive working environment,” was the reminder to the audience from Sarah Churchman OBE, Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer at PwC, at our annual Technology Showcase, this year called Disability-Smart stories and hosted by PwC.

CEO Diane Lightfoot and Lucy Ruck, Business Disability Forum’s Taskforce Manager welcomed the audiences and the three speakers who would take to the stage to tell their disability-smart stories.

Pictured from left to right are Diane Lightfoot, Michael Vermeersch, Robert Nolan, Tracey Lenthall and Lucy Ruck

From left to right: Diane Lightfoot, Michael Vermeersch, Robert Nolan, Tracey Lenthall and Lucy Ruck

First was Tracey Lenthall, HR Director, PwC, who shared her story of living with dyslexia. She explained that dyslexia sits under the neurodiversity umbrella, those include dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism and other neurodiverse conditions – and dyslexia means difficulty with words. She offered the insight that: “the difficulty of words is actually a symptom, not a cause… dyslexics have abilities that are out of balance, so we have difficulties in processing and remembering sounds, and difficulties in putting details in order. This is often balanced by strengths, which is 3D imaging, we see the world from a visual perspective, verbal skills and long-term memory.” She also alerted the audience that dyslexia affects 1 in 10 people and there is a strong impact on everyday life and in your education. It has a very, very strong link to ADHD. 40% of dyslexics have got ADHD. 60% of people who have ADHD are dyslexic.

She added on how technology has helped her: “So how does it manifest itself in me? Constructions of sentences, I find incredibly difficult. What is in my head, I have this amazing creative head, but actually what comes out on to pen and paper, and on to the laptop, is completely – it just does not represent it at all. I love Google for many, many reasons, so what Google is brilliant at now is the whole blue line thing and it just tells you if your sentences aren’t quite right, so you can go back and have a look at that, and recreate those.

“understanding how you can change what was a real negative into an absolute positive… and just being part of the workforce, I think is really important.”

Michael Vermeersch, Digital Inclusion Lead, Microsoft followed soon after and talked about how his disability in the context of the day was autism and dyspraxia. He told the audience of early events in his life how he was “probably was the first pupil in my school also at the age of six to have read from A to Z in an encyclopedia because that’s the amount of times they would put me away because I was disruptive, which was fantastic, because there’s a lot of knowledge in an A to Z encyclopedia”. This contrasted to his times at university experience: “Moving into university, university was easy, I liked learning, that was really easy for me, I just needed to look at a page and I absorbed it, university life, being social there was really easy because the only thing they do is drink and make lots of noise, which I could really imitate… people felt like I was a good person to hang around with, and they gave me all kinds of jobs to do, like being chairman for this and chairman for that, which I did really well, because of my attention to detail, and I liked to have things run really perfectly. A bit like my work now really, apart from the drinking, and that bit.”

He told the audience he was diagnosed in 2016, and stated why: “I felt like I needed to have that diagnosis because the world got more and more hectic and I kind of needed to make some kind of stance and saying, whoa, let’s just stop there, and tell you how you can remove the barriers for me.”

In 2017, Michael was encouraged to present his work more and in 2019 I got the highest award at Microsoft – the platinum award.

Of the role of technology played in his life, Michael added: “Artificial intelligence I think is the great saviour and is going to become more and more the great saviour.” He was evangelical in his love for Office 365, workplace analytics “where it will tell me, you’re having too many meetings, maybe you want to have some focus time, do you want me to schedule that for you? And it will schedule that for me, if I give it permission. Or look, those are the people you mostly work with, those are your stakeholders, your collaborators. Or actually you worked a lot with that person in the past, you have been disconnected for a while”. He also believes it needs to be designed with people with disabilities, to have that insight in there, adding “we don’t want other people to assume what the barriers are for us”.

bdf

Robert Nolan, Chair, Deafblind UK was the third speaker and told the audience he was born deaf, adding “in the early 60s, it’s a tough thing to be told your child is deaf but that’s what my parents had to deal with”. He felt fortunate though the frequencies he could hear best were around speech. He recalls: “My first bit of technology was the NHS box hearing aid which I wore on my chest with a knitted thing my mum made and it meant I was always different, anyone with young children knows no kid wants to be different.”

He added: “The other thing about hearing aids, they don’t correct your hearing. Spectacles correct your vision, but hearing aids don’t. They amplify, so if you hear mess, that’s all you will amplify, background and foreground, it doesn’t distinguish.”

After his time at university, Robert had hoped to become a teacher after being inspired by his geography teacher. After being informed he could not teach secondary students (in the 1970s), he decided to go hitchhiking, for over a year, however his mother and girlfriend, who later became his wife, realised that his sight had got worse. He eventually decided to go into IT.

Robert is very motivated working with Deafblind UK and Deafblind Scotland, organisations he’s worked with for nearly 25 years. He talked about the role technology plays in finding matches for people who need to communicate who have lost sight and hearing. He shared the story of Clarke and his communicator Christine. “Clarke is like me, has usher’s syndrome. Unlike me, he lost his sight in his late 20s. Like me, he used to go to football matches and support his team with his friends. He now has no sight at all. And guess what? He still goes to football matches with his friends but now he takes Christine with him, the guide communicator. Deafblind UK provide the best-managed guide communicator service in Europe, in Scotland, where they provide 50,000 hours of support a year which is phenomenal, so Christine has no interest in football whatsoever, but she knows more about it than most people in this room now probably. She puts her left hand on Clarke’s wrist and tactile sign language, because he’s also deaf, remember, tactile sign language on his hand. His hand is the football pitch. He knows the players, and he can feel the excitement, and when people start banging on the terraces he can feel it. What I love is the fact that Deafblind UK is enabling Clarke to carry on enjoying his football even though he can’t see it, isn’t that great?”

We ended the event with a panel discussion of all our speakers, where members of the audience were able to pose their questions via the website Slido or in the room. We had a wide range of questions, once of which was what was the one piece of technology that had made the biggest difference, for Michael it was PowerPoint Designer as he could ask artificial intelligence to make the content “look pretty”, Robert’s first “fantastic bit of technology” was the gramophone record and the mobile phone because “being able to follow text and have conversations with your loved ones is marvellous” and Tracey the search engine and Word or Google that highlights spelling and grammar issues.

A big thank you to everyone who attended.

Exhibitors who were at the day were:

AtWork, a strategy-focused resource that blends workplace tasks with assistive technology

Audacious, making mobile calls clearer

Bennett Workplace, workplace and ergonomic solutions

Claro Software, assistive technology software for people with print and reading difficulties

Crawford Technology, who provide innovative solutions to optimise and manage enterprise documents

Lenovo, smarter technology for all

Microlink – assistive technology

Microsoft – empowering every organisation to achieve more

MyClearText, who provide on-site and remote speech-to-text reporting

PwC disability awareness network

Texthelp helping everyone read, write and communicate with clarity

 

Keep up to date with our events here

Is 2020 the year of accessibility?

By Lucy Ruck, Taskforce Manager at Business Disability Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why should you attend our Career Development Course? Part 2.

Business Disability Forum in association with the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh is delighted to be able to offer new career development courses specifically designed for disabled people. The programme will be delivered by highly experienced personal development coach and Business Disability Forum Ambassador, Phil Friend and his non-disabled colleague Dave Rees, a trained expert in neuro linguistic programming.

Robert Oldham, Continuous improvement manager at Royal Bank of Scotland (pictured right) did the course and said:

Robert Oldham

Robert Oldham

“During the course I learnt that I am disabled [Multiple sclerosis (MS)]. Before then in staff surveys I would tick the no box when asked if I had a disability. After the course I ticked yes. Technically I meet the legal definition but more importantly, I acknowledged that the world as it stands isn’t geared to be inclusive; not through ill-intention but through lack of understanding. People think about and design for the majority. The course gave me the confidence to talk about myself and my health condition.

“In large businesses you get to go on many courses. Usually it’s a nice day out but it doesn’t change anything. With this development programme, you get a nice lunch but there are real action takeaways and practical tools that will help you. You learn that you’ve got an impairment and you can’t do anything about that. You can, however, do something about being in an office not getting the support you need and not getting ahead in your career. You really can do something about that. I had to write a one page summary about me which said “this is me and I have MS and this is what I need from you”. I sent it to my manager with a guide about MS from the MS society and said “ask me anything you want”. My manager responded really positively. She said that no one had ever done that before. She found it informative and said that she now realised that fatigue is one of my biggest challenges. On a bad day it’s better for me to go home early to get some rest as it meant I was more productive when I returned rather than just being present at work and unproductive.

“This one page summary is kind of like an alternative CV – without cub or scout badges you’ve earned. It says “this who I am; this is the health condition I have; this is how it affects me and this is what I need from you to be the most effective individual I can be”. When I first started it was the length of War and Peace but getting a friendly pair of eyes to review it helps you to refine it. Often you can think something is really important only for someone else to tell you that it really isn’t that important. My previous manager was my friendly pair of eyes and she gave me some great feedback.

“In 2011, just after the height of the financial crisis Lloyds (then Lloyds TSB) was restructuring and I left the organisation. It took a while to find a new job and I was very aware that setting up as a contractor wouldn’t work for me as it didn’t offer the same protection as a large organisation. I joined RBS in November 2012. I confess that I joined without telling them I had MS. On my first day I had coffee with my manager and told him. I wanted to show how committed and capable I was so didn’t share my one page summary with him but I did give him the MS Society guide. He turned out to be a terrible manager who didn’t understand MS at all and I had challenging time but I’ve stayed with RBS in a variety of roles.

“Now I’m part of health advisory team in RBS. We provide adjustments for people across the bank. When RBS said it wanted to introduce a career development programme for disabled it re-jogged my memory about the course. When you get comfy you get out of good habits. I was one of guest speakers on this course – explaining what RBS had done in the disability space. I was also one of founding members of ENABLE, the staff disability network.”

People who have been on the course at RBS describe it as ’empowering’ and ‘rewarding’ and said that it has given them confidence and broken down barriers. The course enables you to meet people who have a lot of commonality in terms of challenges even if they aren’t just like you. We’re all disabled.  The key thing for me is that it helps you find your identity again and gives back confidence that you might not even know you’ve lost. After the course I was able to reground and re-focus.

The Career Development course helps you to learn that things are still possible. It gives you tools and strategies to manage your disability that allows you to be as effective as anyone else. In the last few years my fatigue levels have gotten worse and I don’t have energy for home and work life and so I have to consciously choose where I expend my energy and I’ve chosen prioritise home life. I have three children who keep me busy. Conscious decision making is one best things I’ve learnt.  One of biggest challenges is that no one can tell you what your disability will mean for you in years to come. I have a degenerative neurological condition so it will get worse. I’ve lived my life not paying too much attention to that because no one knows what’s going to happen next week or next month or year. I’ve learned to ignore it in a productive way.

Find out more about the Career Development Programme here