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

Putting disability on the map – our Global Conference 2020

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

Our Global Conference 2020, held at EY, with the audience looking at the stage

Our Global Conference 2020, held at EY

“Just go out there, try things, make things happen, and you can change things in your organisations,” was one of the rousing calls from one of the speakers Shell’s Andy Kneen as Business Disability Forum held its inaugural global conference in February at EY. The day explored the challenges of developing a global disability strategy, as well as looking at the practical steps already taken by members of its Global Taskforce.

The taskforce itself was formed in April 2018 seeking to improve the life chances of people with disabilities globally by ensuring that a best practice approach to disability inclusion is being adopted across global operations.

Stefan Tromel Disability Specialist at the International Labour Organisation and heads up the Global Business Disability Network stated: “Now the good news is, we are seeing the level of attention that disability and disability rights and the employment for disabled person on a global scale is unprecedented. We have the Sustainable Development Goals, we have the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, with 170 countries ratifying that.  If you look just 15 years back, there was almost no discussions in the majority of companies around legislation and policies around people with disabilities. Not only do we now have these discussions, but we see an amazing involvement of the corporate sector.”

One of the other speakers on the day was Lyn Lee who, in conversation with Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, explained how Shell had developed a global approach to implementing workplace accessibility in about 45 countries.

Lyn also explained why Shell have sponsored Business Disability Forum’s research on the challenges of developing a global disability inclusion strategy, “About a year ago, I was looking around and feeling a little bit overwhelmed that beyond workplace accessibility there was digital accessibility, customer accessibility, competency building for our employees, including our employees with disabilities and global meaning and definition on accessibility.” There were also questions around what exactly Shell was doing beyond business accessibility… The first question that came to Lyn’s mind was: “Is there any research on the challenges of implementing something global?”

Other speakers included Matt Dowie from HSBC who enlightened the audience on how HSBC has turned corporate commitment into tangible action. HSBC now have a global disability champion in their CFO Ewen Stevenson and he sponsors a global programme that encompasses areas such as data, knowledge and adjustments.

Alex Lane at Accenture talked about Accenture’s journey and new initiatives: they now have 45 countries around the world with active disability programmes. Their global leadership programme ‘Activity Unleashed’ offers personal and career development opportunities to disabled colleagues across Accenture’s global operations.

One of the most anticipated panels was Global strategy, local delivery: How to ensure a global disability strategy works in local contexts with Murteza Khan, the CEO of the Bangladesh Business and Disability Network, the aforementioned Stefan, Turki Halabi, Executive manager at Qaderoon Business Disability Network in Saudi Arabia and Reeti Dubey, Business Manager to the Head of HR in India at RBS. Murteza emphasised the importance of global companies’ impact through their supply chain: “In Bangladesh a meaningful structured way inclusion started to happen in the industry because Marks & Spencer’s, Primark and H&M started to motivate a lot of their local partner factories to start looking at inclusion and provide the tech support and the NGOs identified the skills building and identifying candidates, et cetera, to then start working on that systematically.”

The day then headed into inclusive branding with Sinem Kaynak and Manisha Mehta of Unilever. Sinem encouraged businesses: “If you are an advertiser yourselves, in your companies, try to make your advertising more inclusive because its power is huge.  You know, it’s so many people around the world seeing it, watching it every day, and we often neglect what a powerful tool it is in shaping societies. So, try to make yourselves and your brands and your communications more diverse and inclusive.”

After Sinem’s and Manisha’s insightful conversation Andy Kneen from Shell then highlighted one of the practical ways Shell is striving to be disability-smart with their new app for disabled customers and explained: “You get to the petrol station and press a button and let them know you have arrived. One of our Shell colleagues will come and fill up your fuel tank.  If you want a snack, they will take payment in the car, either electronically or a cash payment. It is something that started in the UK… and we have in all of our UK petrol stations and you can see there on the right‑hand side a quote from one of the users who described it as being a life changing experience because it gave him independence and he doesn’t have to be reliant on other people when other people are available.”

The final panel of Kate Nash OBE, founder of PurpleSpace and the PurpleLightUp movement, Iain Wilkie, Founder of 50 Million Voices and James Partridge, CEO of Face Equality International talked about the disadvantages from “face-ism” (facial difference/disfigurement) and stuttering and the ways their organisations 50 Million Voices and Face Equality International respectively work to combat that. Media coverage plays a crucial part in perceptions.

And as Andy and Diane wrapped up the conference Andy stated: “I’m a little bit emotional to think that so many people in this room, who have come here today, to talk about how we take disability global. Compare that to a few years ago, it is massive progress. There’s great energy in this room, and disability is one of those areas where we can work together and share experiences. There’s nothing sensitive here, so let’s try to learn from one another.”

Click here to learn how to join the global taskforce

Learn more about our global briefings which provide guidance for one-stop, best practice resource for global organisations here

Learn more about our next conference in London

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.

Leadership driving change

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

On Thursday 25 April, we were delighted to host our annual conference 2019: Disability leading the way.

When we chose this theme, we wanted to reflect the importance of leadership in driving change. But you don’t have to be senior to be a leader and so we also wanted to reflect the importance of leadership not just at senior level but through all levels of the organisation.

Caroline Casey talking to people

Caroline Casey and guests

We support businesses to become “Disability-Smart” via our own Disability Standard which is a whole-organisation accreditation and which reflects our ethos that getting it right for disabled people is not just the domain of HR or D&I but needs a cross business commitment to getting it right. So it’s no surprise that a key area of the Standard – “Know how” is all about the confidence of line managers – in being confident to have a conversation with a disabled employee and to know how to respond to requests for support – including adjustments – and indeed this was a recurring theme in our Great big workplace adjustments survey. It’s also about the confidence of customer facing staff to meet the needs of everyone.

Too often, disability is parked in the “too difficult” or “too sensitive” box – and in too many cases, the fear of getting it wrong means that people don’t do anything as they are so worried about causing offence. This might mean being afraid to ask a disabled colleague what adjustment they might need for a meeting or pretending not to see a disabled customer – something which people with a visual impairment tell us happens all too often.

Welcoming disabled customers guide and a Legoland coaster

Welcoming disabled customers guide

So in March with support from our member Merlin, we launched our new Welcoming disabled customers guide which is full of really practical hints and tips for frontline staff on how to communicate with and provide excellent support to every customer. The spending power of disabled people in the UK is around £249 billion per year and rising. This means that quite apart from being the right thing to do as an ethical retailer, it makes good business sense to provide services, premises and websites that are both accessible and usable for the widest possible group of customers. Businesses who instil the confidence in their people to be disability smart and ask how to best serve all their customers stand to reap considerable business benefits. Yet disabled customers more often than any other experience poor customer service. The Extra Costs Commission 2014 found that three quarters (75%) of disabled people and their families had left a shop or business because of poor disability awareness or understanding. This is entirely unnecessary as often all that is needed is to ask “how can I help?”.

BDF

Attendees at Business Disability Forum Annual Conference 2019, 25 April 2019, hosted by the British Library

And at the conference I was delighted to launch our Meetings matter guide as a really practical tool to make meetings a positive, productive and – dare I say – pleasurable experience for all involved. Millions of meetings take place every day – from work team meetings and organisational away days to stakeholder or client consultations and meetings that can decide the future and the lives of the people affected. For too many disabled people, however, meetings are frustrating experiences in which they can never fully participate because often simple adjustments have not been made by the meeting organiser or chairperson. Adjustments aren’t a “nice to have”; they are absolutely essential for disabled people who might otherwise leave a meeting with incomplete or inaccurate information or simply not be able to attend at all.

Business Disability Forum Meetings matter guide - A guide to hosting inclusive meetings.

Meetings matter guide

As we often say, if you get things right for disabled people, you get them right for everyone. Accessible meetings mean more productive meetings for everyone.

On the stage is the Change in our time? Leaders of today panel with Asif Sadiq ME, Mike Clarke, Caroline Casey, Victoria Cleland, Mike Clarke and Brian Heyworth and a BSL interpreter.

Change in our time? Leaders of today panel with Asif Sadiq ME, Mike Clarke, Caroline Casey, Victoria Cleland, Mike Clarke and Brian Heyworth.

You can also lead by making a difference wherever you work in an organisation and whatever your position in society. One way to show leadership is to speak out and say what other people are often to afraid or embarrassed to talk about and thereby break down barriers and challenge taboos. Our session “breaking down barriers” aimed to shine a light on less understood conditions – and those which are perhaps deemed less socially acceptable to talk about – but which have a real impact on people’s working lives. If you would like more indepth information on specific conditions, take a look at our updated and expanded briefings series – developed in partnership with expert organisations and providing practical guidance on disability as it affects business.

Because this is what we do at Business Disability Forum. We create a safe space to talk to business and for businesses to talk to each other about disability and we enable pragmatic, scalable business solutions.

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

A journey through time… our technology showcase

By Dean Haynes, Business Disability Forum

and Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Smyth of Barclays

Paul Smyth of Barclays

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

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

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

Elisabeth Ward from Scope

Elisabeth Ward of Scope

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy Ruck

Lucy Ruck

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

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

PWC Disability, Ability and Wellbeing Network.

Posturite – ergonomic suppliers and service providers.

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

Microsoft – empower every organisation to achieve more.

Microlink – leaders in the field of assistive technology.

Iansyst – assistive technology specialists.

Bennett workplace – workplace & ergonomic solutions.

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

To find out more about our events, visit here

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.