Why the next Government must support business on disability inclusion

With a General Election just around the corner and Brexit still undecided, we are living in uncertain and uncharted times. There are many stories clambering for space in an overly busy news agenda. There is also the risk that important issues such as disability inclusion, will be used as political footballs; kicked around and quickly forgotten once a new government is in power.

It is for this reason that Business Disability Forum has decided to mark international day of persons with disability with the launch of our own manifesto. The document calls on all political parties to better support businesses to deliver on disability inclusion.

Our Member and Partner organisations are committed to delivering more inclusive workplaces and customer experiences. But their work needs to be supported by informed, joined up Government policy, which enhances, not inhibits the lives of disabled people.

Yesterday, we saw the publication of ONS statistics which highlighted the pay gap experienced by disabled people. Pay inequality is a complex issue which cannot be explained through statistics alone. How much a person is paid is closely linked to how society perceives a person’s value and the contribution they make.

We want to ensure that the next Government works with businesses to address not only the pay gap issue, but all other barriers that disabled people experience is accessing employment and society more widely.

Based on the experiences of Members and Partners and the disabled people who work for them, we are therefore calling on the future Government to take the following seven actions:

  • To introduce targeted opportunities, including paid apprenticeships, for people with learning disabilities; recognising the challenges presented by a flattening of job infrastructure.
  • To carry out a robust equality analysis of environmental and human rights policies.
  • To seek the development of a new cross-Government approach to disability; bringing whole-Government consideration to all policy development.
  • To prevent any further watering down of the Equality Act and increasing the enforcement powers and authority of the EHRC, or a similar body. Rights must be enforced, not just protected.
  • To reform Access to Work and to remove the £59,200 cap.
  • To ensure all education and learning opportunities are inclusive and accessible.
  • To introduce a wholesale shift from mandatory ‘one size fits all businesses’ government-led initiatives to an outcome focus approach.

We will monitor progress on these issues and will hold the future Government to account through our consultation responses and policy work.

We are calling on every business to consider how their organisation can contribute to making these asks a reality for the lives of disabled people.

Man working on a computer at a desk

Man working on a computer at a desk

Conference round up: Who really leads the way?

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Advice

Martyn Sibley, one of the panellists at the conference looks on

Martyn Sibley, one of the panellists at the conference

We have been thrilled to get such great feedback on last week’s conference titled ‘Disability leading the way’. Throughout the day, we heard from: business leaders on what they have implemented to ensure disability stays on the agenda at every level of the business; senior diversity leads on the role in mobilising and advancing change in workforces; and disabled people on the change they wanted to see and be for the future of disabled people’s rights.

Some fascinating directions were debated. Below, I give my thoughts on three key topics that came up from the perspective of my role as Head of Policy: legislation, campaigning and leadership.

Do we need more legislation?

I recently asked this question at a roundtable where the delegates were business leaders and heads of disability and employment third sector organisations. One of the business leaders shook his head enthusiastically and said, “No way”. At our conference, I was taken with Hector Minto’s (Senior Technology Evangelist, Microsoft) words during the penultimate panel of the day (“Leading the way: our Disability-Smart Award winners”). He spoke about using the law to help businesses understand what they need to do. As an example, the law on accessible websites is clear and gives a description of what an accessible website needs to be. Practice can then be built upon this, for example, Microsoft’s in-built accessibility checker on Office 365.

(From left to right): Change in our time? Leaders of today panel: Asif Sadiq, Mike Clarke, Caroline Casey, Victoria Cleland and Brian Heyworth. Caroline Casey is talking.

(From left to right): Change in our time? Leaders of today panel: Asif Sadiq, Mike Clarke, Caroline Casey, Victoria Cleland and Brian Heyworth.

In addition, in November 2018, we responded to the Government Digital Service’s consultation on the UK’s implementation of European Union’s regulations on the accessibility of public sector websites. While collecting evidence for this, we heard from more than one hundred disabled people who said digital barriers remain huge and, as a result, they wanted more legislation and monitoring of inclusive websites.

Ultimately, as much as we hear about ‘legislation fatigue’, the law has changed things for disabled people and has provided methods for recourse for when these rights are denied (figures this week show a rise in employment tribunal disability discrimination claims).

But who made such law happen? Who were the leaders?

Making way for change ‘on the ground’

A common theme throughout the day was that “anyone can be leaders”. While this can be true, those leading change are often different from those implementing change. As an example, disability rights legislation (or any rights-based legislation) did not come from the State all of a sudden upon deciding that disabled people should have more rights. There were years and years of campaigning ‘on the ground’ to make disabled people’s experiences visible.

In America during 1977, after almost a month of street protests, hundreds of disabled people took over state buildings to put pressure on the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to move forward legislation that would secure rights and access for disabled people further. After years of campaigning, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. Similarly in the UK, the Disability Discrimination Act did not happen overnight. It took years and years of disabled people speaking their stories outside Government buildings, blocking the streets, chaining themselves to public transport.

Wendy Irwin (Head of Equality and Diversity, Royal College of Nursing), also on the panel, used a key word: “agency”. It needs people at ‘grassroots’ level, exercising agency, to make way for change – and then others need to take over and make that change happen. Change needs both the campaigners and the strategists; the campaigners make space for the strategists to effect change. This is why inclusive leaders at senior level are so crucial.

The right leaders

Exercising agency is only one element of creating change. To make change happen, a body (a Government or business) must have the right leaders in place to both hear the issues and activate change. This takes us to the last panel of the day (“Leaders of Today”), where Brain Heyworth (Global Head of Client Strategy, HSBC) said, “If the leaders are not working [i.e. making things better for disabled people], change the leaders”. We then heard from Mike Clarke (National Diversity Manager, Environment Agency) that equality and inclusion is on the agenda at every senior level meeting at Environment Agency and, if a senior leader comes to a meeting having done nothing to further inclusion since the group last met, they are asked to leave the meeting. This was good news coming just after Diane Lightfoot (CEO, Business Disability Forum) and I had discussed that our latest research, The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2019, had found that 51 per cent of senior leaders said supporting disabled staff at work is not on their board agenda.

Diane Lightfoot holds the Welcoming disabled customers guide

Diane Lightfoot holds the Welcoming disabled customers guide

Moving forward

Everyone can be leaders, but leaders come with different roles. We need people to make barriers visible, and we need people to remove those barriers. When Simon Minty (Sminty Ltd and Business Disability Forum Ambassador) asked the panel of young people (“The Next Generation, Change Makers and Innovators”) what they wanted to see happen next, Abi Brown (disability rights activist and writer) said equal access to buildings, and Molly Watt (Accessibility and Usability Consultant and author) said better access as consumers and for businesses to recognise their role in influencing the future of disability rights.

It is then perhaps no accident that the organisations with the most effective disability inclusion strategies and whose data shows increasing levels of disabled employee engagement and development are the organisations where the disabled staff network and senior leaders have strong communication and are highly collaborative. We are seeing more disabled employee network leads at the meetings with senior leaders at the organisations we work with. At the same time, as above, disabled people throughout the day said they still can’t get into a high percentage of the shops or café buildings in their area.

Good things are happening, but there is no shortage of more to be done. Does your organisation have the right leaders, at every level, making way for and implementing the changes that are needed?

 

Our Welcoming disabled customers guide is available to view here

The great big workplace adjustments survey: now open!

By Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Advice

Reasonable adjustments. Workplace Adjustments. Workplace support. Supporting you at work. Working in a different way. Being you.

All are terms commonly used by organisations to describe how they remove barriers for employees at work. The language is important. The process behind the language is even more important. But getting experience of both right is crucial.

It’s crucial for a number of reasons. At legal compliance level, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where they know or could reasonably be expected to know that an employee has a disability or long-term condition. At good practice level, employers want to ensure all employees can work in a different way whether or not the employee says they have a disability or condition. At leading practice level, workplace campaigns and communications focus on how enabling employees to work in different ways is integral to workplace diversity and allowing people to simply ‘be themselves’.

Male colleagues discussing using a tablet

Here at Business Disability Forum, our advisers advise people managers and departmental leaders every day on adjustments policies and related employee caseloads. Many of our consultants are commissioned to work with businesses on improving their adjustments processes; and almost all of our policy work comes back to how Government, employers, and public life in general removes barriers for individuals. Get a service provider’s or employer’s workplace adjustments processes robustly designed and defined in a way that suits who the business are, how they work, and what they need, and that organisation is well on its way to delivering an inclusive pan-diversity employee experience that meets the needs of every single employee, whatever they are going through in their lives, and at whatever stage in their career.

Yet, anyone keeping an eye on HR press or employment case law can see the adjustments processes employers have and continue to invest in are continuing to fail them and cost them greatly – both financially and reputationally.

And so we want to find out what works, what doesn’t, what managers love, and what employees loathe. This is why we have released The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey which will grasp a picture of how both employees and managers across the UK feel about adjustments, how they are discussed in the workplace, how effective they are, and how far everyone who needs adjustments actually have them in place.

Whether you are an employee, a manager, or someone else managing people and processes in your organisation, we are asking you to share your experiences of requesting and getting adjustments, or arranging and providing them for the people you manage.

You can complete the survey here.

Please share it with your colleagues, managers, and employee networks. The survey closes on Monday 8 April 2019 at 8am. Please do get in touch if you would like to complete the survey in a different way (email: policy@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk).

We’re looking forward to hearing what adjustments in an ever changing workforce are helping and hindering you, your managers, and your leaders to do and to be.

Welcome to 2019!

By Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum

Happy New Year! I hope this finds you well and rested from the festive break.

I wanted to kick off the year with a round-up of what we’ve been up to – with your support – in the past year, and to let you know what’s coming up in 2019.

A photo of Diane Lightfoot in front of a window

Diane Lightfoot

2018 was a year of some great events: we began with our President’s Group Reception in February, hosted by our Member the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in their wonderful Locarno Suite, and supported by our brand new Partner, Sopra Steria Recruitment. Hot on its heels came our Annual Conference ‘Disability in the Modern Workplace’, supported by our Partner HSBC where we debated everything from career development to the future of work and the role of technology within it, swiftly followed by our Film Festival, supported by our Founder Leader Barclays and once again hosted by our Partner KPMG where we saw some amazing films on our theme of Going Places.

A picture of a director's chair

Our annual Film Festival, hosted by KPMG and sponsored by Barclays

Even hotter on its heels (literally; it was the hottest day of the year though that is hard to imagine on a cold grey January day!) came our summer Partner Reception, hosted by our Partner RBS, and themed around our “Identity” campaign. Our guests really enjoyed the breath-taking indoor garden and the opportunity to explore the theme of identity with our resident silhouette artist!

An indoor tree with people around it at the Partner Group Reception
Partner Group Reception

Then, in the autumn weeks, we returned to the fabulous Locarno Suite at the FCO for our Disability Smart Awards, supported by our Founder Leader, Barclays, and co-hosted by Paralympian and celebrity MasterChef finalist Stef Reid. I am also delighted to announce that Barclays will also be sponsoring the 2019 Awards so watch this space for more information on the Awards to enter this year and the opening date for entries.

Locarno Suite, an audience faces Paulette Cohen from Barclays

Disability Smart Awards 2018 at Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We finished the year by returning to RBS – this time in Scotland – in December for our Annual Scottish Conference, on the theme of Identity. Our packed programme included the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn MSP, Deaf comedian Steve Day – fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe, and the incredible Dr Caroline Casey, founder of the #Valuable campaign, which we are delighted to be working with as an Expert Partner by providing practical support and advice to businesses which sign up.

Dr Caroline Casey on stage

Dr Caroline Casey CEO, Binc

Our global activity went up a gear too with the launch of our new Global Taskforce co-chaired by our Partner Shell and the creation of our new Business Disability Framework which we launched at the DfID summit in July together with our Partner PWC and which I presented the new Global framework at the ILO’s annual Global Business Disability Network conference in October.

We engaged in a huge range of policy and influencing work, including not only responding to consultations (8 in 2018 with another 7 already in the pipeline for January) but being specifically invited to contribute to the Work and Pensions Committee’s targeted call for evidence on the Disability Employment Gap and the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s inquiry into poverty and human rights in the UK. We have also engaged with the Work and Health Unit and with the Lord Holmes Review of Public Sector Appointments – in which our submission was quoted nine times! – and will be continuing this work in 2019. As always, our policy positions and insight are shaped by the experiences of our Partners and Members and so our huge thanks for sharing your insights with us to help inform our responses.

Closer to home, we carried out a programme of in-depth interviews with our Members and Partners which has provided some rich and very helpful insights on how we work with you. We will be using this insight to shape and relaunch our offer later this year and I will be writing again shortly with a themed series on your feedback and what we are doing as a result.

So, what’s coming up in 2019?

We kick off the year with the launch of some brand new resources: five new impairment-specific briefings, sponsored by our Partner HSBC and covering (respectively): Asthma, HIV and AIDS, Muscular Skeletal conditions, Bowel conditions and Epilepsy. We will also be launching two other brand new guides: ‘Welcoming Disabled Customers’, sponsored by our Member Merlin, and ‘Making Meetings Matter’.

And a few more meeting/event dates for your diaries:

It’s already shaping up to be a really exciting year and I look forward to working with you all as we join together to create a truly #DisabilitySmartWorld.

Best wishes and happy new year!

Diane

happy new year 2019

 

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)

Is there really a business case for website accessibility?

By Rick Williams

home-worker-image-obscured-person-using-a-laptop-with-mug-of-coffee

Following the publication of the Click-Away Pound Report http://www.clickawaypound.com I’ve been reflecting on why website accessibility and usability for disabled people is still an issue after all these years. It is a puzzle to me that 71% of disabled users click-away from sites with access barriers and consequently displace £11.75 B to accessible sites. Why do businesses let that happen? It definitely isn’t good business on any level.

This situation exists despite:

  • The Equality Act and its predecessor – the Disability Discrimination Act
  • International standards
  • Government guidelines
  • A British Standard
  • Expert guidance and discussions
  • Campaigns

The traditional business case

It seems to me there are three key aspects to the broader business case:

  • Legal
  • PR
  • Commercial

These three issues are, of course, inter-related but are worth considering individually.

In reality the legal risks of having an inaccessible website are low in the UK. To make a case a customer would need to demonstrate a breach of the Equality Act which affected them personally and this would need to be done in a County or High court which would be expensive and time consuming. No cases in this field have been pursued to their conclusion; the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has initiated several cases against businesses with inaccessible sites but the cases were settled out of court, with the organisations involved agreeing to address the issues. The lack of cases coming to court probably explains why the law has had little impact in this area since its introduction (in the form of the Disability Discrimination Act) in 1995, although challenges are always a possibility. Interestingly, in the USA the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 allows for class actions and the imposition of much higher compensation payments. Even so, the US approach has not delivered a fully accessible web presence.

There are potential PR risks if website accessibility is ignored and this has implications, albeit limited, for loss of reputation. Any business strategy based on customer-focus and inclusivity is quickly undermined by the lack of an inclusive website. Such stories are unlikely to generate significant coverage in mainstream media and result in PR damage unless a legal challenge is mounted, but they do attract attention on social media and generate ’mood music’‘ of negativity about the business’s understanding of the issues which can be damaging to the brand.

Even commercial judgements such as lost or displaced revenue has not driven business to ensure accessible websites; if it had there wouldn’t be this issue. This surely can only mean businesses don’t understand its size and implications.

Clearly this business case has failed to gain traction. What is the reality that business is failing to grasp?

The business issues

Considering the trends identified in the Survey and applying them to the national data is illuminating.

  • The most recent ONS estimate of the UK population is 65.11 million in mid-2015 of whom 87.9% (46.47 million) have internet access.
  • CAPGemini projected overall UK online spending to be £126 billion by the beginning of 2016 equating to an average spend per head of the UK population with internet access of £2710.
  • In 2016, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated there were 8.6 million internet users with a disability in the UK
  • This Survey found that 71% of internet users with a disability have access needs; this translates to 6.1 million people
  • Taking an average spend per head of £2710, the online spending power of 6.1 million disabled people with access needs in 2016 is £16.55 billion.
  • The Survey found that 71% of the total 6.1 million disabled internet users with access needs (4.3 million people) simply click-away when confronted with a problematic website.
  • These figures equate to a click-away figure of £11.75 billion lost in 2016 from those sites which are not accessible.

These calculations are extrapolated from the Survey’s findings so care must be taken when considering them. Nevertheless, these figures are so large that even allowing for a significant margin of interpretation they are too large to be ignored.

This assessment is supported by findings from our wider work in this field which indicates that over 70% of websites present significant accessibility and usability barriers to disabled users. This means that over two-thirds of businesses are significantly undermining their own potential online customer base. This spend is not lost but simply moves elsewhere as disabled users with access needs turn to a website which is more user friendly. Two-thirds of online retailers are passing customers and sales to their competitors.

Conclusion

To answer the question ‘Is there really a business case’ I believe the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’, both nationally and at the level of the individual business.  However, business needs to get a better understanding of the bottom line implications and adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach to website accessibility rather than treating it as a ‘nice to do’ or ‘bolt-on’.

A brief look at the numbers in the Click-Away Pound report should be enough to persuade organisations that they are potentially ignoring and excluding a large number of potential customers. Also businesses need to bear in mind that if a disabled shopper clicks away from their site to one of their competitors, they show little inclination to return.

Take a look at the Click-Away Pound report and get an insight into the business issues and how inaccessible websites impact on your business.

http://www.clickawaypound.com

Making sure that ‘digital-first’ is also ‘accessible-first’

By Lucy Ruck

Delegates at the Accessibility in the Digital Space event

The Accessibility in the Digital Space event on 28 September

There’s no question that the main way that employees and customers alike will deal with most organisations today will be digitally.

But the question remains: what does this mean for accessibility? So this is what we asked at our Accessibility in the Digital Space event which I was lucky enough to lead on Wednesday 28 September.

These events are enormously rewarding in terms of the success stories and good practice we hear about from BDF’s Members and Partners and particularly the sheer passion many of them have for making their websites and IT systems fully accessible.

Indeed what emerged very quickly at Wednesday’s event was the importance of digital accessibility for organisations. Nigel Fletcher of Tesco, who kindly hosted the event, estimated that around 20 per cent of Tesco’s 500,000 employees have a disability.

The event gave us the first glimpse of the Click-Away Pound research which BDF have produced with Freeney Williams and which will show the costs to businesses of users leaving inaccessible websites.

What we know already is stark: that over 70 per cent of disabled people face significant barriers to accessing websites and apps and often give up.

Of course, there are many challenges involved with digital accessibility, not just in terms of working around existing systems but also entrenched ways of thinking. Rick Williams highlighted the need for a change of culture at organisations so that accessibility is approached as a matter of course, rather than being included as an afterthought as often happens at present.

Then there is the sheer scale of the work involved, with Alistair Duggin of the Government Digital Service noting that making the gov.uk site accessible entailed work on some 300,000 pages of web content.

But one of the key points from the discussion was that organisations are rising to the challenge in a big way.

Marianne Matthews and Clare Davidson from Sky highlighted a major shift in the organisation towards embedding accessibility in everything they do. They have built up a massive digital product development team of 650 people to help them do this, tested every digital product with live users and linked accessibility directly in to Sky’s three design principles of ‘brilliantly simple’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘intelligent’.

Meanwhile Will Houston of Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, noted that accessibility for employees is being transformed by allowing employees to personalise the way they work on IT systems. Will also spoke extensively about the tools that the Technology Taskforce has developed, that are really helping him to embed accessibility with their organisation. Signing up to the Accessible Technology Charter and using the Accessibility Maturity Model (AMM), have really helped them to assess where they are and the areas where they need to improve.

So the key theme here is changing the way we think – as we move more and more towards being ‘digital-first’, we should also become ‘accessible-first’.

And it’s great to be part of the discussions that drive that move.

For more information about BDF’s Technology Taskforce please visit www. technologytaskforce.org/