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Going from using outdated and cumbersome tech like desk-sized magnifiers and tape recorders(!), Paul worked his way through a business degree and joined Barclays and has recently been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.”

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“Sous le ciel de Paris” – working together towards a Disability-Smart world

By Delphine Leveneur, Business Disability forum

[Article first published on LinkedIn]

group photo of all European and Canadian attendees posing with organisers from the French Ministry of Justice

European and Canadian attendees posing in a group photo with organisers from the French Ministry of Justice

Like in the famous song, last week saw me strolling ‘sous le ciel de Paris’ (under Paris’ sky) to speak at a European conference on disability at work.

This event, organised and hosted by the French Ministry of Justice (Ministère de la Justice), was an opportunity for experts from Canada, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and the UK to exchange with guests and staff from the French ministry of Justice on good practices in Europe and beyond.

Photo of Nicole Belloubet, French Ministry of Justice

Nicole Belloubet, French Ministry of Justice, opened the conference on Thursday

The French Justice Minister, Nicole Belloubet, opened the conference by reminding the audience that disability is a priority for the [French] government”. She outlined that the French ministry of Justice continues its work to improve inclusion of disabled staff, taking concrete actions such as increasing links with universities to facilitate the transition from higher education to employment. She also mentioned workplace adjustment process, manager and staff training as well as digital accessibility as areas that are being looked at for improvement.

Over the course of two days, we heard about new and innovative steps taken in France around inclusion of disabled people in the workplace. I will write a separate article focusing on the changes to French legislation and French initiatives in the upcoming weeks.

Photo of Sir Philip Rutnam speaking. Also on the photo: Malin Ekman Alden (Sweden), Robin Baltes (Germany) and N. Saussure (France)

Sir Philip Rutnam, UK Civil Service Disability Champion speaks. Also on the photo: Malin Ekman Alden (Sweden), Robin Baltes (Germany) and N. Saussure (France)

Sir Philip Rutnam, UK Civil Service Disability Champion shared great insight on the work done in the UK, particularly around the Fast Stream program, a graduate leadership development programme and around and around the UK government Disability Confident scheme, which “supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to your workplace”.

Photo of Peter Mozet (Germany)

Peter Mozet (Germany) shares the work accomplished by the German federal government around disability inclusion

Amongst all the good practices shared, we also heard about the quota system in Germany and how there, disabled staff in the public sector elect a representative who can (amongst many other things) attend disabled candidates’ interviews to ensure the process is fair. I very much liked this democratic process!

The conference’s special guest Yazmine Laroche, Deputy Minister, Public Service Accessibility, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, shared exciting news from Canada. Their C-81 Accessibility Act is currently being reviewed by the Canadian Senate. This new piece of legislation, follows a consultation open to all Canadians and looks at areas including :

  • built environments;
  • employment;
  • information and communication technologies;
  • procurement of goods and services;
  • delivering programs and services;
  • and transportation.

Canada being a federal country, this Act would only apply to organisations under federal responsibility.

I’ve always believed that there is no border when talking about disability (or any other diversity and inclusion topic for that matter). There is much to learn when looking beyond our own country. If proof was needed, not surprisingly, the themes that were mentioned during the conferences mentioned are similar to the ones we hear about in the UK, amongst which were:

  • the need for senior leaders to champion the topic;
  • issues around career progression and representation of disabled people in senior leadership;
  • training of line managers;
  • thinking about disability inclusion at the beginning of any discussion to avoid retrofitting.
  • access to employment – including transition from education.
Photo of Yazmine Laroche and Delphine Leveneur on stage. A French Sign Language interpreter is working on the side

Yazmine Laroche shares insight from Canada

In her closing remarks, Yazmine Laroche reminded attendees that although countries will adopt different approaches to disability inclusion, in every part of society including employment, reflecting our own ways and our culture, people with disabilities need to be included every step of the way.

And that for me is the most important message that was shared with all attendees during these two days. Disability is not just a topic that should be discussed on occasion then forgotten for another year. It has to be included in every aspect of a business if we truly want to build an inclusive workplace and society.