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

Going places at our summer reception

By Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

Diane Lightfoot at the summer reception, addressing the crowd

Diane Lightfoot at the summer reception

Last week we held our annual Business Disability Forum summer reception where it was wonderful to to be joined by some new as well as some more familiar faces!

Our summer reception has historically been our Partner group reception but this year we wanted to open it up to members too and judging by the number of people in a room, that decision has been very well received!

This year’s reception – fittingly for the time of year – was on the theme of “Going Places” with a focus on summer holidays. Huge thanks to our Partner Sainsbury’s for hosting us and providing a selection of foods from around the world which certainly got us in the holiday mood! Our sponsor for the event was the Go-Ahead Group and we were delighted to have their support not only as a very important part of going on holiday is “getting there”, but also because we launched the initial findings from our accessible transport survey at the event.

A colourful banner for Business Disability Forum's summer reception 2019

Summer reception 2019

In May, we launched an accessible transport consultation as part of our “Going Places” campaign, titled “Getting There: How accessible is UK public transport in 2019?”. We wanted to find out more about disabled people’s experience of using tubes, trains, taxis, buses, trams, coaches, and planes travel whether for work or leisure. The results are based on the experiences of 236 people who got in touch with us to share their views. The results are perhaps not surprising:

Our headline finding is that inaccessible transport is preventing disabled people from going places.

Travel difficulties are preventing 4 out of 10 disabled people from going shopping and a third from going to work or going on holiday. At the same time, a quarter of disabled people said they found it hard getting to the GP or hospital.

The research found that:

  • The most popular type of public transport used in an average month is train (59 per cent of disabled respondents use the train regularly), followed by bus (50 per cent), and taxi (34 per cent).
  • 44 per cent said they have been prevented from taking part in leisure activities (such as going to the cinema, theme park, or exhibition) due to inaccessible transport.
  • 38 per cent said they couldn’t go shopping.
  • 34 per cent said they have been prevented from getting to work
  • 33 per cent said they have been prevented from going on holiday
  • 25 per cent said they find it hard to get to the places that help them manage their condition or get treatment (such as the GP, hospital, rehab or physio).

Our research is published a year on from the publication of the Government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy, which aims to create an equal access transport system for disabled passengers by 2030, and at a time of increased campaigning around the inaccessibility of public transport across the UK.

It shows the huge impact that inaccessible public transport is having on the lives of disabled people and the subsequent knock on effect on the economy. People are telling us that transport difficulties are making it harder for them to get to work. This is particularly worrying when you consider the growing numbers of organisations which are becoming multi-sited or are looking to relocate. We are also concerned that transport issues may be limiting the roles which disabled people feel they can apply for, ruling out those which require travel.

Inaccessible transport is also preventing disabled people from spending their income, by influencing decisions about where to shop and to spend leisure time, and whether to go on holiday. With the collective spending power of disabled people in the UK standing at £249 billion, this represents a significant loss to business.

But the other thing we are seeing is that one size doesn’t fit all. For example, lots of people are saying how easy airport signage and communications are, and then others are saying they can’t read airport signs and that departure boards are very inaccessible. What this tells us more than anything is that people are different! We all do things in different ways and need to use things differently. So, flexibility and a range of options is the key to the future of inclusive transport.

We are also really encouraged by the number of transport companies who have joined us as Members and who are really committed to making a difference for their disabled customers. We are seeing some examples of real innovation in this space, such as Network Rail’s approach to inclusive design, TfL’s refurbishment of priority seating to help raise awareness of the needs of people with non-visible disabilities and Gatwick Airport’s Lanyard scheme. Great ideas don’t have to be complicated; Brighton and Hove Buses have an award-winning scheme called “Helping Hand” that empowers bus users to discreetly and directly advise the driver of any assistance they need. The yellow card holds a brief written instruction for the driver that can be shown upon boarding the bus so that the driver is immediately made aware of the customer’s needs or requirements without the customer having to verbally communicate it. It’s been particularly useful for people with non-visible disabilities and is now being used off the bus as well – in taxis, shops and cinemas. For example, the “Please face me I lip read” can help anywhere at any time.

So, things are changing and changing for the better and we need to keep that momentum no matter what the future is about to bring us. Now more than ever business needs the best workers to get to and travel for work and we all need to be able to access rest and relaxation.

We will be using the research to make a series of recommendations to the Government as part of their current consultations on transport accessibility and as part of our Going Places campaign. You can follow the debate with the hashtag #BDFGettingThere

Last but not least, a huge thanks to all our Partners and Members for being on this Disability Smart journey with us and for driving change not just in your businesses but across society. Inclusion itself is a journey, not a destination, but thanks to your support we can make it easier for everyone not to only to be Going Places but to be Getting There as well.

Diane Lightfoot
CEO

Ps We are looking at the “Getting on” aspect of our Going Places theme with our new career development courses taking place this October and November, generously hosted by our Partner RBS in Edinburgh and led by Phil Friend and Dave Rees. There are a few places still available on this 3-day residential course – heavily subsided thanks to RBS’s generosity – so if you are interested please have a look here

Construction sector network roundtable round-up

construction-sector brighter

Earlier in June our second construction network roundtable took place at HS2 with the aim of sharing ideas and innovations in the sector, chaired by Adrian Ward and Karan Snuggs.

Pamela McInroy, Diversity and Inclusion Manager from High Speed Two (HS2) spoke about the linkage between Health and Safety and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and how a fully inclusive site helps achieve a safe site and how this applies across all protected characteristics.

Maria Grazia-Zedda, EDI Workforce Manager at HS2 spoke about the approach that HS2 are taking to ensure inclusive recruitment, and how HS2 are using Gap Jumpers to help with some of their recruitment. “Did you know that 1/3 of the construction workforce will retire in the next 10 years? It makes sense to share practices that are disability friendly.”

Laura Crandley Executive Director Partnerships at Leonard Cheshire informed the group about the work of Leonard Cheshire and in particular focused on the organisation’s Change 100 initiative which is aimed at students and graduates with disabilities or long-term conditions.

Leonard Cheshire are looking for more employers to support this work and members of the construction network are encouraged to liaise with Laura should they wish to get involved with this initiative.

If you are a Member or Partner of Business Disability Forum in the construction industry and would like to be involved or would like more information, please contact Adrian Ward (adrianw@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk) and Karan Snuggs (karans@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk)

 

Identity through the lens of disability: Business Disability Forum Film Festival 2019! 

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

Anticipation was high before this June’s Business Disability Forum’s Film Festival – and the day didn’t disappoint!

This year the question that would spur the film entrants on was:

“Identity through the lens of disability, what does this mean to you?”

Noeleen Crowley far left, Diane Lightfoot left. Oliver Kent right, Neil Shanlin right and Lucy Ruck. There is also a BSL interpreter

Noeleen Crowley far left, Diane Lightfoot left. Oliver Kent right, Neil Shanlin right and Lucy Ruck

Entrants had 10 days to complete this film challenge and the resulting ones were judged from the world of advertising, film and TV, professional services and disability: Oliver Kent, a former BBC producer, Neil Shanlin, Creative Director/Creative at AMV BBDO, Noeleen Cowley, Partner, Banking Operations and Customers at KPMG and Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum.

Popcorn and candy floss

Popcorn and candy floss

Popcorn and candy floss was consumed in abundance as the winners were announced at this year’s festival hosted by KPMG and prize donors reached far and wide from companies such as Amazon, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Shell, 1stAveMachine and Flare Studios.

Prizes at this year's festival

Prizes at this year’s festival

Our highly commended films were awarded to: ‘Don’t give up’ – Magdalena Stahrova (Unique) and ‘The Only Way’ by Valentina Catenacci, both winning prizes of an Amazon Firestick and £50 Amazon vouchers donated by Amazon.

Highly commended Magdalena Stahrova, a camera man is ataking the photo of her with accompanying guests

Highly commended Magdalena Stahrova (right) with accompanying guests

Third place was awarded to the creators of the film ‘No Guesses Found’, entered by team ELK Medium (Georgie Cubin and Jane Leggat), exploring how dyslexia affects people differently, and highlighting that there is no universal experience of disability. They won two Amazon echo dots, two firesticks, as well as Amazon vouchers donated by Amazon.

Second place was awarded to the team JRZ (John Ford, Ritesh Vara and Zoe Norgrove) who entered with the film ‘Four’. The film explores the world from the perspective of someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). They won three days’ work experience opportunity with Flare Studio, a drone, £50 Amazon vouchers from Amazon and three HD firesticks.

And *drumroll please*…

First place winning entry ‘Same Difference’ was created by Samuel Ash and William Horsefield (also known as team Wolfpack). ‘Same Difference’ is based on their experiences of deafness. They won three days’ work experience with film production company 1stAveMachine, GoPro HERO Action Camera, donated by Shell, drone, as well as £100 Amazon vouchers donated by Enterprise Rent -a- car and £50 Amazon vouchers donated by Amazon.

Winners Samuel Ash (left) and William Horsefield (right) holding their awards, There are film props behind them.

Winners Samuel Ash (left) and William Horsefield (right)

“Now”, “powerful”, “fun” and “human” were some of the words used to describe some of the films on the day.

Neil Shanlin said: “I was impressed with the overall level of work. Every single story was one that was worth telling and I saw respect for me as the viewer. The films were a great representation of what it is to be in Britain today.”

After the films were watched, the crowd enjoyed networking (taking photos alongside the hypersized film props) and delicious canapés, talking about the impact the films had on them. Film Festival goers were also able to enjoy an exhibition of photographic work by Helen Light and Laurie Glees, two students from Morley College, London.

20190618_124554

Film props

The standard of the films continue to grow higher every festival – we really look forward to seeing you next year!

People are talking to each other at Business Disability Forum's Film Festival 2019

Networking at Business Disability Forum’s Film Festival 2019

 

View all the finalists’ films in one place – here!

View our press release here!

To find out more about our events, go to https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/networking-and-events/

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.

Disability leading the way: our CEO’s round-up

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

 In the latter half of last month, I was delighted to open our annual conference 2019: ‘Disability leading the way’.

It was wonderful to see so many friends old and new – including those who travelled from as far afield as Paris, Amsterdam and Singapore to join us!

This year we were at a new venue – the British Library Knowledge Centre – thanks to the generous sponsorship of HSBC, a long-standing Partner and friend of Business Disability Forum.

Business Disability Forum is a not for profit membership organisation that helps businesses recruit and retain disabled employees and serve disabled customers. We exist to help organisations – of all shapes, sizes and sectors – to become disability-smart in how they recruit and retain disabled employees and serve disabled customers. Ultimately our purpose is all about transforming the life chances of disabled people as employees and consumers and enabling them to access the same opportunities that their non-disabled peers take for granted.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum at the lectern of the annual conference Disability leading the way

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

We have more than 28 years’ experience of working with public and private sector organisations since way back in 1991 when we were set up to be instrumental in the creation of the Disability Discrimination Act to now, when our 300 members collectively employ around 15% of the UK workforce and 8 million people worldwide.

And, nearly three decades later, the “thought leadership” side of our work remains incredibly important.

Our policy activity is informed by the views and experiences of our members and in the past year alone has included an invited submission to NICE on Workplace Adjustments Passports, a response to the Joint Human Rights Committee on human and disability rights in international agreements (which is somewhat topical!), feedback to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s draft strategy 2019-2022 and responses on Enforcement of the Equality Act. We also made a major contribution to the Lord Holmes Review of public appointments which we are continuing to support.

At our 2018 conference, I said that disability is too often the poor relation in diversity – parked in the “too difficult” or “too sensitive” box. And yet, it is the one strand of diversity that has the potential to affect each and every one of us. I said that it should be the one aspect of diversity that everyone is talking about.

So, in the past year I’ve been delighted to have seen disability finally making the headlines and rocketing up the agenda as a consumer issue, thanks in no small part to the #Valuable campaign which we are proud to support as an expert partner.

It is often said (because it is true!) that if you get it right for disabled people you are more likely to get it right for everyone – because you are thinking about individual human beings and their needs rather than designing from a policy or structure (be it a building or website) first approach. And why on earth would any business want to exclude a potential employee or customer?

And that is why we chose as our theme for this year’s conference: Disability: leading the way.

Molly Watt, Marianne Waite and Oliver Lam-Watson, panellists, they are smiling

Molly Watt, Marianne Waite and Oliver Lam-Watson, panellists of the ‘the next generation, changemakers and innovators’

When we came up with this theme, we also wanted to reflect the importance of senior leadership in driving change. Time and time again we see that this is critical in building an inclusive culture, modelling “what matters round here”. and that’s why it’s the first point of our Disability Standard. That’s why too, the #Valuable campaign is focusing on getting disability on the agenda at board level and why the #Valuable 500 was launched at the World Economic Forum in January this year.

We also know that one of the corner stones of getting it right for disabled people – particularly in the workplace – is making adjustments – and here too senior leaders have a very important role to play.

Getting adjustments right doesn’t have to be difficult. It is often very simple. Yet too often, the adjustments that would make all the difference prove strangely difficult to put in place and adjustments are consistently one of the top topics to our advice service. So, to find out a bit more and to dig into this important topic, in March this year we launched The Great Big Workplace Adjustments survey in partnership with Microlink to find out what the picture looks like for disabled employees in 2019.

We were overwhelmed by the response with over 1200 people taking part, which really does show how incredibly important this topic is. Not surprisingly, the survey findings reveal that, when in place, adjustments can have a significant and positive impact on the workplace experiences of disabled people or people with long term conditions.

However, at the same time, far too many respondents are still worried about asking for adjustments to be put in place, despite feeling that they would benefit from such arrangements. Employees are worried, not just about how their manager would react to them having adjustments, but how other colleagues would as well. It is concerning that this includes many people who have asked for adjustments previously and this highlights the continued need to change attitudes towards disability, particularly at senior management and board level.

There is a perception, widely held by respondents with managerial responsibilities, that adjustments and support for staff with disabilities are not a priority at board or senior leadership level.

So how can senior leaders help?

Last year I spoke about disability at what on the face of it were two very different settings – Wharfability and the construction sector. Yet for both the huge issue in talking about disability was fear of stigma or low expectations or being judged for admitting a “weakness”. So, if you have a senior figure who champions the disability agenda and/or shares that they have disability, it is hugely powerful in communicating that it’s OK to talk about it.

This is also really important in the context of adjustments; we know that the more senior someone is, the less likely they are to “declare” (I use the term deliberately) a disability. And, at a senior level, someone may not need to ask for adjustments but with the autonomy that comes with their position, be able to just quietly get on with working in way that suits them, whether that is flexible working patterns, working at home, ordering some specific kit, have a specific dedicated space or office. It may not even cross a senior person’s mind that what they are doing is essentially, putting in place – self-serving – their own adjustments.

A panoramic view of Business Disability Forum Annual Conference 2019 hosted by the British Library

Business Disability Forum Annual Conference 2019 – audience

So why bother saying? Well, because at a more junior level someone would need to ask – and talk about their disability – and our survey shows that too many people are still worried about doing that. We know that – like it or not! – the actions and behaviour of senior people have a disproportionate impact on those around them. So, it’s really important that senior leaders model that behaviour and make it feel safe for everyone to ask for the adjustments that they need.

If we want to increase the number of disabled people and people with long term conditions entering into and remaining in employment, then getting it right on workplace adjustments is vital. The findings published last week are just a starting point. Over the coming months we will be looking at how we can use the findings to influence the advice we give to businesses and Government, and to demonstrate the need for additional research to be carried out on this very important topic. We would like to thank everyone who has given their time to contribute to this important piece of research so far.

You can download our key findings at www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/adjustments and please tweet about it using the hashtag #AdjustOurWorkPlaces

At our conference, we started a conversation about about leadership and disability, but it doesn’t end here. We want to keep the conversation – and action – going. To misquote the late, great, David Bowie: “We can be leaders. Not just for one day.”

 

Diane Lightfoot, CEO