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

Building disability-smart employee networks – and how to make the most of them

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

“Try to do a few things really well” and “Think about the range of access to networks” were just two of the many take-aways at Business Disability Forum’s latest construction roundtable, this time focused on employee networks and held at Balfour Beatty earlier this month.

If businesses wonder what the benefits are of creating employee networks, they include: helping create a diverse workplace and talent pipeline, belonging for employees, increasing awareness, a place to provide expertise and peer support.

Balfour Beatty kicked off their presentation on the day with an explanation of their Allies Affinity Network which includes gender equality, multi-cultural and multi-racial, LGBTQ+ and disability – and how they intersect. The different networks often ally up and provide back up for business cases and programs.

Sam Pierce and Natalie Parker from Balfour Beatty explained the process for setting up the employee network: “When you set up your network, establish interest from within your organisation. Think of a great name! Consider the structure that the network will take and how many meetings you will need to hold, think about the communications you’ll need to send out to your organisation and the budget you’ll need. Secure senior leader support and if you can set up a launch, it’s great if you can link it to an existing event or awareness day.”

A leaflet that says: "Balfour Beatty - Include Everyone - Our Affinity Networks help make Balfour Beatty a great place to work"

Balfour Beatty has a range of employee networks

Strategy must always be a key factor in creating an employee network: get a clear plan of who, what, and how the network will positively affect the organisation. Who should the network include? Balfour Beatty encourages inclusivity, inviting allies, as well as those who identify with the protected characteristic. How will the network meetings take place via members, employees, external parties?

The attendees at the roundtable also discussed how workers on sites might not feel they can tap into employee networks, especially if they are contractors or sub-contractors and not employed directly, but came to the conclusion that it is about educating all of the labour force and supply chain that employee networks can include them!

Indeed Emilia Hardern from Network Rail stated that her organisation was one of the first to invite supply chains and external partners to join their employee networks – so do consider them in the process of forming them if you work in the construction industry.

Emilia also talked about the number of lives that are positively affected by the networks and the opportunity it provides to affect the commercial aspect of business. If employees felt listened to and their needs addressed, this creates better morale and productivity.

Jodie Greer from Shell shared that her approach for her disability-focused employee network Enable was targeted at people who say “it’s not for them”. “That’s exactly who it’s for!”. Jodie herself doesn’t have a disability but wanted to be part of a network that affected change and positive solutions: “If you can change a culture, disability awareness will come.”

Throughout the day, attendees were really keen to pose questions on how they could start implementing employee networks as they were at different levels on the journey and different organisations had useful tips to get the ball rolling such as creating an action plan and partnering with other organisations. Indeed, Balfour Beatty thanked Business Disability Forum for the help it received in setting up its employee network around disability – and Karan Snuggs, Business Disability Partner at Business Disability Forum thanked all who attended.

The day finished with Karin O’Donnell at DWP sharing their processes for networks, and the role that networks play in creating an inclusive environment and helping shape the strategic plan – and how this might help the construction industry think about how they set up their networks.

A networking session rounded off the event and delegates left with another take-away: the role that employee networks play should be driven with SMART objectives to ensure the benefits can be measured.

To find out more about how to attend our networks and taskforces, go to businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/our-services/our-taskforces, and if you are interested in becoming a Member, find out more at businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/membership

Time to talk about men?

By Jacob Spargo-Mabbs, Business Disability Forum

‘Real de-stigmatisation comes from a realistic approach – and when 62% of men will have a mental health problem at work, you could call it an epidemic’ Dr Seidl

Did you know that almost two thirds of men have experienced a mental health issue where work was either the main cause or a contributory factor? Based on the reaction of the audience at BDF’s Scottish Conference, a lot of people weren’t aware of that before (including me).

Dr Wolfgang Seidl (pictured left), David Hanlan (pictured second left), Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club (pictured second right) and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men (pictured right) on stage. There is also a BSL interpreter in front of the stage.

Dr Wolfgang Seidl (pictured left), was joined by Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club (pictured second right) and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men (pictured right) shared their experiences as part of a panel on men and mental health. They were joined by David Hanlan from Scottish Water, who also gave a talk about health, work and identity (pictured second left).

One of the most talked-about speakers at Business Disability Forum’s Scottish Conference on 30 January was Dr Wolfgang Seidl who spoke eloquently about men’s experience of mental health and the crisis that we are facing as a society. Whilst mental health is now – rightly – receiving greater attention, Dr Seidl shed light on an underappreciated aspect to the mental health crisis: the link between men’s mental health and their work. The statistics and stories that Dr Seidl shared show clearly that mental ill-health is an epidemic, and workplaces will have to adjust to address it. This chimes with Business Disability Forum’s own research in 2019 which showed how many men feel the pressure to perform to societal standards and expectations and the detrimental impact that has on their mental health.

We also heard powerful stories from men who have been directly affected. Dr Seidl played a video of Richard Wright talking frankly about his experience of mental ill health in the workplace. We also heard from Richard’s manager about what he did to support Richard.

Joining Dr Seidl, Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men shared their experiences as part of a panel on men and mental health. They were joined by David Hanlan from Scottish Water, who also gave a talk about health, work and identity.

We also heard on the day from our head of legal and campaigns Bela Gor , who asked whether the Equality Act 2010 is fit for 2020 and this is a subject we will be exploring throughout the year, alongside the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act. Bela then joined Dennis Howard from RBS, Jennifer Teacy from Scottish Water and Anna Smith from PWC to discuss the role of employee networks in exploring our intersecting identities.

After lunch we heard from comedian Juliette Burton about her experience of mental health. She was followed by Lauren Chiren who shared her experience of menopause and how the lack of a common awareness of menopausal symptoms led her to believe she was experiencing early-onset dementia.

The day finished with a panel hosted by our Global Taskforce and Partner Development Manager  Brendan Roach about accessible tourism in Scotland. He was joined by Robin Sheppard from Bespoke Hotels, Jan Kerr from the Homelands Trust, Moira Henderson MBE from The Rings and Marina Di Duca from Visit Scotland. The overall message from the panel was that being accessible is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business too, a messaging reiterated by our CEO, Diane Lightfoot, who closed the day. As she said, when you get it right for disabled people, you get it right for everyone.

We’ll be exploring some of these topics and more at our Annual Conference at the British Library Conference Centre in London on 22 April. Sponsored by our Partner HSBC, our theme this year is “Disability in 2020: Time for Business” so do join us! Visit the conference page for more information and to book your place. We hope to see you there!

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.

Help to shape research on global disability inclusion strategies

Two hands shaking across a night landscape

Globally, an estimated one billion people have a disability (that’s 15% of the world’s population). There is strong evidence that disability and poverty are linked, with disabled people more likely to live in poverty due to higher unemployment, lower income levels and lower attainment of skills and qualifications. This is a global trend but, unsurprisingly, is especially pronounced in low income countries.

Half of the organisations that we support at Business Disability Forum are global. Between them, they employ more than 8 million people globally. Members and Partners are increasingly telling us that their ambition is to get it right for employees and customers with disabilities wherever they are in world.

Whilst it’s relatively early days, we’re already seeing some brilliant examples of organisations approaching disability as a global business issue. For example, Accenture has a global disability strategy and Shell has developed a global process for making workplace adjustments for employees with disabilities.

Please share your views!

With this in mind, Business Disability Forum is conducting research into disability inclusion at a global business level.

Sponsored by Shell, the project is exploring the existence, and challenges, businesses face in developing a global strategy, as well as lessons learnt so far.

We know this is a complex, but incredibly important area of our work and the only way of exploring it fully is to talk to as many global businesses as possible. It does not matter where your organisation currently stands regarding commitment, or activity, relating to a global strategy for disability inclusion – please share your views in this short online survey.

The body of research will be used to develop guiding principles and practical steps for diversity and inclusion professionals to use within their own organisations. Findings from the survey and the wider research will be published in 2020.

If you work in a global organisation and have a view on how disability inclusion is working, or might work, at a global level in your business, then please take part.  The survey is anonymous and an opinion piece of research, you will not be required to know or share any data. It will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

To take part in the survey please click on the following link https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/GDSS8V6

Please contact us at global@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk if a different format of the questionnaire would work better for you. Do not hesitate to contact us at the same email address if you have any other queries.

Business Disability Forum thanks all contributors for their time and input into this important piece of research. 

Empowering disabled people in the workplace

According to the charity Scope more than half (56%) of businesses erroneously believe that the main reason disabled people don’t get jobs is because they lack the right skills or qualifications.

The text says: 3rd October 2019, join us for a webinar, why disability confidence makes good business sense with Asif Sadiq, Mark Lomas & Louise McQuillan

Texthelp is running a webinar on why disability confidence makes good business sense.

With this in mind, businesses need to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace to quash these misconceptions. If are you an HR or D&I professional working to create this type of workplace this webinar is for you.

Texthelp have gathered together a team of experts from the Diversity and Inclusion arena to bring you a webinar on Thursday 3 October, 12pm, focusing on how companies can gain competitive advantage by empowering disabled people in the workplace.

Asif Sadiq is Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging for The Telegraph. He was formerly the Head of Diversity and Inclusiveness for EY Financial Services and was also previously the Head of the Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Unit for the City of London Police. He is a passionate and inspirational global leader, author and key note speaker with the ability to empower individuals and create a truly inclusive environment for all.

Mark Lomas is Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at High Speed Rail 2 (HS2). He  has delivered numerous diversity and inclusion projects for organisations, including The Financial Reporting Council, Groupama Insurance, The BBC, The Law Society, Sheffield University, NHS Clinical Commissioning Group Boards, ITV, and The Bermuda Human Rights Commission. Mark recently delivered improved performance for the BBC on several employer benchmarks, following extensive analysis of BBC Employment practices and diversity impacts.

Louise McQuillan, Workplace Solutions Manager at Texthelp, specialises in helping public and private sector organisations to support workforce diversity and inclusion strategies, increase staff productivity and customer engagement.

Titled ‘Why Disability Confidence Makes Good Business Sense’ this collaborative webinar is free to attend and will engage participants in a discussion around the importance and value of driving diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Join in as the panelists take a deep dive into their own organisation’s Disability Confident  journey and share best practice alongside practical thoughts and solutions that can be used by D&I Specialists, HR professionals and business leaders, as they pursue the goal of increasing disability confidence in their organisations.

To register for this webinar please click here. If you can’t attend on the day, don’t worry, if you register you can watch it back at a later date.

Meet Disability-Smart Award Winners: Microsoft

Microsoft won the technology category at last year’s Disability-Smart Awards for using cutting edge technologies to ensure their widely used products were as accessible to as many customers as possible.

Hector Minto, Microsoft’s Tech Evangelist for Europe, Middle East and Africa, (pictured right alongside Michael Vermeersch, left), spoke about the impact of the Disability Smart win at Business Disability Forum’s Annual Conference in April.

He said: “Winning the Disability-Smart award was very good for us, not just because of the Windows work but for what people don’t see, which is the number of employees with disabilities working as engineers on the product. It is not somebody doing something for people with disabilities, it is blind engineers, it is deaf engineers, it is people working and bringing their life experience to our product to make it better.

“There is so much built into the product that empowers people routinely. But it really took the Disability Smart Award to get the message out clearly to the business world and the education world.”

Michael and Hector from Microsoft

At this year’s ceremony there are a total of 11 Awards to compete for with four completely new categories. 

Categories for the 2019 Disability-Smart Awards are as follows:

  1. Disability-Smart Senior Champion Award 2019
  2. Disability-Smart Design Award (new category)
  3. Disability-Smart Workplace Experience Award 2019 (sponsored by Microlink)
  4. Disability-Smart Influencer Awards 2019 (new category)
  5. Disability-Smart Technology for All Award 2019 (sponsored by Microlink)
  6. Disability-Smart Customer Service Award 2019 (new category)
  7. Disability-Smart Communications & Marketing Campaign Award 2019 (new category)
  8. Disability-Smart Global Leader Award 2019
  9. Disability-Smart Multinational Organisation Award 2019
  10. Disability-Smart Diversity & Inclusion Practitioner Award 2019
  11. Disabled Peoples’ Choice Award 2019

To find out more about the awards categories and how to enter, visit our awards page.

All entries must be received by 6 September 2019. Winners will be announced at the Disability Smart Awards Ceremony on 23 October 2019.

Find out how you can attend here.