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.

A step too far?- A comment on the recent Court of Appeal decision handed down in the matter of Paulley v First Group plc.

By Bela Gor


So the Court of Appeal has decided that bus companies are not required to expect that passengers move out of a wheelchair space on a bus to enable a wheelchair user to travel. The Court decided that it was “a step too far” to compel other passengers to vacate a wheelchair user’s space on a bus. One Judge said that he would “hope and expect” that drivers would do more than simply ask passengers to move but that the law did not require them to do so.

Man in wheelchair getting into a bus

The Court of Appeal’s decision seems inconsistent with the duty to make reasonable adjustments enshrined in law. Mr Paulley has the right under the Equality Act to travel on a bus and the duty to make reasonable adjustments enables that right. Is this not akin to the right that Rosa Parks should have had, as a black woman to sit at the front of the bus? To say that Mr Paulley’s ability to travel on a bus is dependent on the courtesy, unselfishness and moral niceness of other passengers is the same, surely, as saying that Rosa Parks could have sat at the front of the bus if nice white folk didn’t mind – no need for a right protected by law. The woman with the buggy didn’t have a legal right to occupy that space. She just chose to do so and chose not to move when asked and the driver and First Bus Co chose not to compel her to move.

If bus companies don’t have to have a policy to allow wheelchair users to travel then many disabled people won’t be able to guarantee that they can get to work on time or to meetings, hospital appointments or as in this case, a family lunch.

If the final decision of the Court is that the choice of non-disabled people supersedes the rights of disabled people protected by the Equality Act then where does this leave disabled people in this country? Expect to see more on this case.


Join Bela for a discussion on recent key developments in employment and disability at our Legal Workshop on 14 January. Click here to book online or call 020 7403 3020.

Event round up: Accessible London, can it work?

On a cold December evening, we were delighted to be joined by a panel of industry experts and Business Disability Forum (BDF) Members and Partners for a lively debate on the realities, challenges and opportunities offered by an accessible London. The event was kindly hosted by our Partner HSBC in Canary Wharf.

The debate opened by BDF Associate and panel chair, Geoff Adams-Spink, asking our six panellists with expertise in transport, tourism, employment and housing to rate London’s current level of accessibility out of ten. With an average score of seven across the panel, we were intrigued to hear the panellists’ reasons for their ratings.

Panel of industry experts sitting on long table

Transport – some good intentions but slow progress 

In response to the question: “Is the Mayor’s aim of ensuring 53 per cent of all tube stations are step-free by 2024 enough?”, Christiane Link, Trustee at Transport for All and Director of Ortegalink Ltd, was very clear that the target should be 100% Tube accessibility. Christiane acknowledged that while Transport for London (TfL) has made great improvements to the accessibility of London’s buses, the fact the only 25% of London’s Tube stations are step-free at present shows the need for a roadmap for an accessible Tube system.

In response James Grant, Senior Communications Officer at Transport for London (TfL) outlined TfL’s phased approach to accessibility. This includes an additional 28 step-free Tube stations as well as the launch of the fully accessible Crossrail in 2019, demonstrating that where there is a roadmap, financial backing and creativity it is possible to deliver a fully accessible transport solution.

Step-free access versus other accessibility requirements 

Mark Berrisford-Smith, Head of Economics at HSBC shared his experience as a visually impaired commuter who regularly uses the (sometimes overzealous) voice announcements and tactile markers in many stations across the capital.

The panel queried why these relatively straightforward but effective solutions were not rolled out consistently across all stations including smaller outer London stations. James Grant explained that TfL’s strategic approach to improvements focussed on central stations like Victoria and Bond Street which improved journey opportunities for larger numbers of people. The panel acknowledged that while this would benefit disabled tourists, local disabled people who needed to travel into the capital from outer London and further afield were still disadvantaged.

As a final point in the discussion on accessible transport, the panel stressed that one of the biggest public transport challenges for disabled people was still the attitude of staff and the general public towards disability. This issue is being addressed by organisations like TfL who have been working with Transport for All to deliver disability awareness training to their bus and Tube drivers.

A row of Victorian-style houses

Above: Older buildings buildings such as these Victorian style homes pose problems for people with disabilities that wish to adapt a home to suit their needs, giving rise to a preference for new builds. Credit: Nigel Chadwick, Wikimedia Commons.

Is London’s housing stock accessible for people living with a disability or long term health conditions?

As Helen Carter, Interim Director at Centre for Accessible Environments and Neil Smith, Principal Advisor on Access at Greater London Authority outlined a number of challenges in terms of planning and development, it became clear that there were good opportunities for improving the accessibility of new builds in the capital.

By combining the concept of ‘lifetime housing’ to accommodate the changing health and access needs and educating architects and planners, real improvements could and were being made in accessible housing. Disabled peoples’ organisations outside London increasingly look towards the capital for best practice examples in terms of accessible new builds. However there are still significant challenges in terms of adapting older properties both financially and practically.

Working in London

We recently blogged on Access to Work (AtW), an outstanding labour market intervention. This evening we heard more praise from employees and employers who use the scheme and real concerns about its future. In keeping with the theme of the evening, BDF Associate Joanna Wootten reminded the audience that AtW can be used to fund transport to and from work where accessible transport isn’t available. It was suggested that improving the accessibility of London’s transport system could ultimately reduce the requirement for AtW to help fund transport, freeing up funding to support other aspects of employment.

In general it was felt that since the implementation of equality legislation there had been a significant improvement in the accessibility of corporate buildings in the capital and indeed of understanding how disability discrimination law applies to employers. Those employers who are committed to making their business accessible to disabled staff are also benefitting from unique market insights from disabled employees and therefore to market insights and disabled customers. However we also heard a number of examples highlighting the disability discrimination that still exists on the high street.

View of the Tate Modern from the Thames

Above: The Tate Modern, named the most accessible tourist attraction in the UK by Vitalise. Credit: MasterOfHisOwnDomain, Wikimedia Commons.

How welcoming is London to disabled visitors?

As we approached the end of the evening, the final part of our debate proved to be the most uplifting in terms of hearing how London really can claim to excel in accessibility as a tourist destination. Helen Carter mentioned a recent accessible tourism award won by BDF Member Tate and shared some creative solutions to adapting older historic buildings from Kew Palace and the Royal Opera House. It was felt that one of the main reasons for success in this area was down to consistently consulting with disabled people to develop services in a meaningful and useful way.

Richard Knowles, Head of Visitor Services at The Royal Collection spoke about their holistic and person centred approach to accessible tourism. This included listening to feedback from disabled visitors and working with BDF and access consultants to think creatively about the needs of all visitors including those with disabilities. During the evening, we had heard about accessible solutions for people with mobility and sensory impairments. Richard spoke about how the Royal Collection used technology to offer online tours of exhibitions and venues to help people with conditions like Autism to plan their visit and address any concerns associated with visiting an unfamiliar environment.

Technology was also increasingly being used to provide accessible information about journey planning and TfL are now using a more personal meet and greet service on key transport gateways into London.

So, could London become an exemplar city on accessibility?

If we are all agreed that the London tourist industry can rightly claim to be leading European best practice in accessible tourism, then why has London not been a serious contender for awards like Access City?

While many visitor attractions capitalised on opportunities offered by the 2012 Olympics and many of our large corporates understand the value of investing in the access requirements of a diverse workforce, our transport infrastructure, high streets and public attitudes towards disability still need improvement. We think that the evening’s event offered both encouragement and new opportunities for us to continue to work with our Members and Partners to help bring about further improvements to accessibility in London.


Interested in attending our next After hours event? Email events@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk with your details to be placed on our Events mailing list.

Why small businesses should forget the myth that hiring disabled people is ‘too hard’

This Saturday 6 December is Small Business Saturday in the UK. The aim of the day is to encourage consumers to support small businesses in their communities, and highlight the success of those that are getting things right for their customers.

Operating a small business can be tough – running on tight margins, competing with large businesses and dealing with high staff turnover are just a few of the many concerns on the minds of small business owners.

Image of a small business owner smiling on showroom floor

Recruiting for roles in a small business can be particularly hard when juggling these multiple priorities with day-to-day operations; it’s often tempting to settle for the person recommended by a friend or your neighbour’s relative who’s looking for work, just to temporarily fill the void.

If your business takes a similar approach to recruitment, you could be missing an opportunity to tap into the huge market of disabled talent here in the UK. There are 5.2 disabled people of working age in the UK, 53.7% of whom are not currently employed[i]. That’s a sizeable talent pool of 2.8 million people that might have the ideal attitude, skills and experience for your role.

In the past, the financial implications of making a hiring decision has prompted many small business operators to hesitate offering jobs to disabled people, regardless of whether or not they were the best person for the job[ii]. With 42% of disabled people looking for work naming employer attitudes as a barrier to successfully gaining employment[iii], initiatives such as the Department of Work and Pension’s (DWP) ‘Disability Confident’ campaign are looking to change assumptions about hiring disabled people.

Launched by the Prime Minister in July 2013, Disability Confident aims to dispel the myths about the complexities of employing disabled people, and increase awareness of the support available to employers of disabled people.

Part of this campaign involves bringing employers, including small business owners, together to discuss the support on offer from government and organisations like Business Disability Forum to improve employment outcomes for disabled people.

Image of an employee in a wheelchair holding a pot of flowers in a garden centre

The most significant support for small business employers comes in the form of ‘Access to Work’ (AtW): a labour-market intervention that provides grants to employers which can be used to pay for practical support for staff that have a disability, health or mental health condition. The types of support covered by AtW grants include the purchase of special equipment, a support worker to help disabled staff members in the workplace, and fares to work for staff who cannot use public transport.

Businesses with up to 50 employees do not have to contribute towards the cost of Access to Work grants, making it a viable and attractive option for small businesses thinking of employing a disabled person.

Recent changes to AtW have made the scheme even more appealing to small business; the ‘standard list’ of items AtW would not fund, which included vital equipment such as software and chairs, was withdrawn in 2013.

Once your business has made the decision to hire a disabled person, you may find that guidance and support is still needed to enable that person to be successful in their role, whether it be in the form of disability training for other staff or guidance for the new employee’s line manager.

Business Disability Forum offers a wide range of publications, tools and training to employers of disabled people. Our line manager guides can provide staff in your small business with practical advice on the best way to work with, manage and support disabled staff members.

In early 2015, we will also be launching a new suite of e-learning products suitable for small and medium sized businesses. E-learning is an ideal solution for SMEs, as it can be more cost and time effective than sending staff to face-to-face training. It’s a resource that can be used to train new staff, as refresher training for existing staff, or even to train your suppliers.

To enquire about our products and services for small business, contact us via email to enquiries@businessdisabilityforum.co.uk or call 020 7089 2452.

[i] Department of Work and Pensions, ‘Disability facts and figures’, 16 January 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/disability-facts-and-figures/disability-facts-and-figures#employment

[ii] BBC News, ‘Moves to help more disabled people into the workplace’, 18 July 2013: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23355252

[iii] Department of Work and Pensions, ‘National drive to boost disability employment: first ever Disability Confident roadshow tours Britain’, 21 November 2013: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/national-drive-to-boost-disability-employment-first-ever-disability-confident-roadshow-tours-britain

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

Just how accessible is accessible?

Profile image of Geoff Adams-SpinkBy Geoff Adams-Spink

Cities are amazing, chaotic, organic entities that very often defy attempts to impose structure and organisation upon them. A city as old as London – dating back, as it does, two millennia – is more complex, more chaotic and more amazing than most – that is why it is one of the world’s great cities.

From time to time, planners, strategists, administrators have to make an attempt to impose some sort of order – whether it is classification by postcode, organisation into boroughs, imposing aesthetic criteria or laying down the infrastructure that allows people to move from one part to another.

Such attempts are often partly thwarted by the city’s inherent ability to resist: just try navigating the dank back alleys of Venice using the map application on your smartphone, and you will soon get lost.

Architects and town planners’ attempts to impose any sort of aesthetic conformity on London were – to a large extent – thwarted by the Luftwaffe.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that cities have to be poked, prodded, cajoled and enticed in order to meet the requirements of accessibility legislation and aspiration.

A platform at Oxford Circus tube station.

Particularly recalcitrant is our ageing Tube: it suffers the disadvantage of having once been at the cutting edge of public transport technology. Tunnelling deep under the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was an engineering feat, of which the UK could be justifiably proud. Some of the avant-garde architecture of the more outlying, suburban stations is in stark contrast to the street upon street of ‘cookie-cutter’ houses that surround them.

Leaving the civil engineering challenges of the Tube to one side for a moment, it is, though, still possible to conceive of London as something of an exemplar in terms of the accessibility of its public transport: which other major world city can boast a fleet of licensed taxis that is 100% accessible? Try visiting Paris or New York as a wheelchair user and you will soon see how the black cab has opened up the city to Londoners and visitors alike.

Thanks to the forward thinking of the often controversial Ken Livingstone, London also has a totally accessible bus fleet. Of course, in the early days, there were problems with ramps that didn’t work, drivers that couldn’t be bothered to use them and companies that couldn’t care less. The much-beloved RouteMaster was taken off the streets – much to the consternation of newspaper columnists and other assorted reactionaries.

A black cab and a bus at traffic lights on Regents Street in London

Now, thankfully, bus companies are fined if a vehicle leaves the garage without a working ramp. Drivers have undergone disability equality training and the only remaining obstacle to wheelchair users is the competition for space between wheelchairs and owners of large prams The owners of these prams often stubbornly refuse to vacate the spaces allocated to wheelchair users.

From a vision impairment perspective, life on the buses has also become more bearable: those with residual vision can often see the large number displayed on the front of the bus, while on-board announcements tell passengers the name of the next stop. There are apps that tell you – in real time – how soon the next bus will come along as well as its destination.

Returning to our old friend, the Tube, around 25% of the 270 stations are now accessible. Several stations now have portable ramps and staff are far more disability aware than they ever were.

There are, though, some glaring omissions: in the West End, for example, only Green Park station has been made accessible. Some stations have accessible platforms in one direction only. And, of course, ‘cost’ is the oft-cited objection to overcoming the engineering challenges of the deep underground stations.

In 2004, I visited two European cities to compare and contrast accessibility, ahead of the final implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act. Barcelona had, 12 years previously, hosted the Olympics. The vibrant disability lobby in Catalonia had pushed the regional government beyond its original ambition of making the city accessible just between Olympic venues: they insisted that a fully accessible city be made possible by 2006.

It was this social and political pressure that brought about such a sweeping change. Brussels, by contrast, is a city that hosts an annual conference to mark International and European Day of Persons with Disabilities. Disabled people from all over the European Union converge on the city in December of every year – and find it wanting.

I took my TV crew on a typical day out with Nora Bednarski, then of the European Disability Forum. We visited – among other places – her local post office, which had a massive step at its entrance – so high that she was unable to manoeuvre her wheelchair in order to get inside. Next, we went to her local cinema multiplex – there were steps everywhere.

“To be honest,” the manager told me, “we find that most disabled people aren’t interested in coming to the cinema.”

The usual arguments were trotted out about antiquity being incompatible with accessibility. That was the reason why Brussels’s magnificent town hall was not the place to get married if you had difficulty negotiating steps. Even the EU building that houses the Commission Department that deals with disabled people had an inaccessible entrance.

Part of the order of ceremonies at the annual EDPD conference is the bestowing of awards for cities that have made outstanding attempts to improve their accessibility. Unsurprisingly, Brussels is never among the contenders.

A shot of a wheelchair from a low angle with a train in the background.

More surprisingly, nor is London. From a disabled person’s perspective, the city has an awful lot to shout about – and an awful lot that could be done better: London’s black cab drivers for example could be a little less reluctant to deploy their ramps for wheelchair users and be more accommodating of assistance dog users. Customer service, more generally, could be more disability-focussed.

Perhaps what would really concentrate minds would be to pinpoint a date in the future – borrowing the example of the disability lobby in Catalonia – by which the entire city would be fully accessible to growing numbers of Londoners and visitors with reduced mobility. We all know about the ageing population – so achieving full accessibility is something of a no-brainer.

Given the complexity of the challenges, that date may well have to be a decade or two into the future. Nonetheless, it would concentrate the minds of the city’s politicians, civil engineers, architects and transport strategists.

Of course, there is more to accessibility than simply making the means of conveyance fully accessible: however, simply making this or that public space, shopping centre, workplace, housing development or whatever ‘accessible’ is meaningless unless people can get around without encountering barriers.

Cities are wonderful places – they often frustrate and delight in equal measure. More than most other cities in the world, London’s delights and frustrations deserve to be opened up to the widest possible number of people.


Join Geoff and other experts on accessibility as we discuss the Mayor of London’s future plans for making the nation’s capital more accessible. The after hours event, Accessible London: can it work?, will be held on 15 December and is free for all Business Disability Forum members to attend. 

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