Technical SwapShop – Can technology help our employees with mental health conditions?

By Dean Haynes

2016-06-21 09.56.17

Our latest Technical SwapShop took place on 21 June, hosted by Taskforce member Deloitte. This session focused on mental health, asking the question: “Can technology help our employees with mental health conditions and if so, how?” Chaired once again by BD F Associate Rick Williams, we looked at how new and existing technology could support staff with mental health conditions, along with hearing three alternative viewpoints on mental health in the workplace – from the employee, the organisation and an expert in the field. Outside the auditorium space, we also had a range of exhibitors, including BDF members iansyst, Microlink and Posturite, showing their products that could assist anyone with their productivity.

Proceedings got underway with a brief introduction from Will Smith, Deloitte’s Talent Partner for Audit, where he announced the upcoming relaunch of Deloitte’s own diversity network Workability that aims to promote education, recruitment and retention of disabled staff throughout the business.

Next to take the stage was Jacqui Crane, who spoke of her own experience with mental health issues, and the coping mechanisms and technology she uses to maintain her wellbeing. After living with depression for the last 7 years, something as simple as a notebook (in a particularly fetching shade of pink) with a to-do list consistently helps Jacqui with the day-to-day. On the more technological side, Jacqui told delegates of three apps she also uses to “gamify” her mental health. Moodscope allows users to track their mood, quantifying it to measure the ups and downs at any given time. Habitica provides the user with a cartoon avatar that gains points and abilities as you tick off daily tasks and habits. Lastly, her Fitbit activity tracker lets Jacqui monitor how much she’s moving about and even tracks her sleep, creating goals through the number of steps you take every day, or the amount of sleep you get every night.

2016-06-21 10.02.45.jpg

Our next speaker was Heather Cook, Client Director at Brain in Hand. Heather began by telling the room a surprising stat that 1 in 4 people will suffer from some form of mental health issue at some point in their life, and employers have an obligation to support them. Dubbed “your own personal mental filing cabinet”, Brain in Hand provides users with accessible and personalised support for difficult or potentially stressful situations, letting you create your own suite of solutions to lessen anxiety and get additional support as and when you need it.

John Starling, Partner in Consulting at Deloitte, then spoke to attendees about Deloitte’s own Mental Health Champion Network, of which John is one of over twenty members. While the Network is not filled with experts, each member has their own personal connection to mental health issues, so while they are able to help others access resources and guidance, they are also learning themselves. The activity of the Network is promoted within Deloitte as a means to “[affect] a cultural change supporting a more holistic approach to health and well being”, a tenet that could easily be adopted by other companies.

2016-06-21 11.13.19.jpg

Following a brief break where delegates were encouraged to visit the rest of our invited exhibitors, such as Remploy, MatchWare, Notetalker, Skill Boosters and SignVideo, BDF’s Senior Disability Consultant Christopher Watkins gave us an insight into BDF’s mental health e-guidance, designed as a tool to upskill line managers in their interactions with staff with possible mental health issues. Using a statistic from BDF’’s own “State of the Nation” report, where 83% of employers surveyed thought that information about adjustments was easy to find versus only 32% of employees who were very confident of finding this information, the e-guidance comes in three modules covering awareness, having these sensitive and occasionally difficult conversations, and finally making adjustments for colleagues with mental health issues.

Our next speaker was David Banes of David Banes Access, who spoke about the relationship between assistive technology and mental health, and more specifically how technology can simultaneously be a help and a hindrance to people. The “always on” nature of technology and its inherent flexibility has adapted to let people work more effectively, using apps to help us collect our thoughts, proofread our writing and even find our way around but, by the same token, the risk of alienation through technology or even cyberbullying has to be taken into account.

Steve Brownlow of Frabjous Day and Rick Williams of Freeney Williams used our last slot on the agenda to talk about the ongoing findings of the Click-Away Pound survey and BDF’s new Access Pathway service.

The Access Pathway is borne out of the e-Check member benefit, where organisations can receive an expert review of a random sample of websites. Since 2008, over 100 reviews have been carried out, with over 70% revealing accessibility and usability issues. Obviously, these issues can have legal, commercial and PR ramifications so they need to be addressed by organisations. The Click-Away Pound survey has thrown up a number of recurring barriers, such as the use of CAPTCHAs and the incorrect use of colour. The Pathway itself comprises three steps: determining the benchmark of accessibility, planning your pathway to improve accessibility, and finally writing a specification and successfully implementing it. For more information on the Access Pathway, please visit: http://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/advice-and-publications/access-pathway.

2016-06-21 13.04.45.jpg

Technology Taskforce Manager Lucy Ruck then took the stage to round up the day’s proceedings, thanking Deloitte for hosting, our speakers for bringing the seemingly-unconnected subjects of accessible technology and mental health to light, and our exhibitors for bringing their wide-ranging products to our delegates’ attention.

You can catch up with the day’s events by searching for the #TTSwapShop hashtag on Twitter.

David Banes of David Banes Access said: “BDF [Technical] SwapShops are more than an exchange of ideas. Each idea, technology and initiative builds upon those of others, offering the potential to create an approach for an organisation where the sum is greater than the parts. Thought provoking and valuable”.

Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays said: “This year’s Technology Swap-shop’s focus on mental health and how technology can both help or hinder was really insightful – with a peppering of personal stories,  practical advice, apps and organisations’ approaches to boost awareness, empathy and understanding. The day was less about taboos and more about tools for an area of assistive tech in its infancy but gaining pace”.

Heather Cook, Director of Client Services at Brain in Hand said: “Brain in Hand [was] delighted to be invited to address the audience at the latest Technical SwapShop. The forum gave us a real opportunity to talk about the benefits that Brain in Hand technology is bringing to hundreds of users who are using our software to move forwards with their lives and achieve improved levels of confidence, self-determination and independence. Mental Health affects one in 4 of us throughout our lives, and with the rapid pace of technology and the way smartphones and apps are being used in everyday life, we genuinely believe that using this new technology to support people with mental health conditions will deliver a paradigm shift in the way that support can be personalised and easily accessed by the user using every day familiar technology”.

Technical SwapShop goes up in the world!

By Dean Haynes

Generously hosted by Technology Taskforce member BT at the iconic BT Tower in Central London, our Technical SwapShop was held on 4 November and attended by nearly 100 delegates.

With speakers and exhibitors from both Taskforce members and assistive technology companies, attendees got the chance to get personal perspectives on the use of Assistive Technology (AT), as well as find out about the range of products available, before having lunch at the top of the tower!

The view of London from the top of BT TowerAbove: The view of London from the top of BT Tower

Proceedings got underway with delegates given the chance to learn about different AT products from over a dozen exhibitors, including ReciteMe, Matchware, Hassell Inclusion, Ai Media, Nuance and iansyst.

Things then moved into BT’s auditorium where our chair for the day, BDF associate Rick Williams, introduced representatives from our hosts BT. Bertrand Mazieres gave us a brief introduction to BT, before Dan Ballin explained the importance of accessibility to BT as an organisation.

Next, EY Associate Partner John Levell spoke about his firm’s dyslexia network, why it was set up and how it adds value to their organisation. He also took time to describe his own personal experiences in the workplace coping with dyslexia, which struck a chord with many in the audience.

Alastair Campbell of Texthelp was then given the chance to demonstrate Texthelp’s Read&Write software, which has been designed to offer support to individuals who may experience literacy difficulties due to dyslexia, low literacy skills or English as a second language through the use of a computer.

Audio Notetaker was the focus from our next speaker, Adam Pearce of Sonocent. Audio Notetaker allows employees and clients to combine text, audio and slides into one cohesive package to foster barrier-free communication in the workplace.

Adam Pearce of Sonocent delivering presentation on Audio Notetaker

Above: Adam Pearce of Sonocent delivers presentation and demonstration of Audio Notetaker

Microlink’s Tim Scannell, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Account Manager, talked about how his disability affects him and demonstrated assistive technology that can assist individuals like himself that are profoundly deaf.

Following Tim, Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays, then took to the stage to talk about how his own visual impairment affects his working life, what accommodations he has in place and what can be done to help as individuals and organisations.

Last on the formal agenda was Steve Bennett from Dolphin, who provided us with a demonstration of their SuperNova software that assists those with visual impairments.

After a brief interlude from BDF’s Chief of Staff Paul Day, Kiki MacDonald from Euan’s Guide closed out the day’s presentations.

Euan’s Guide, which has been dubbed “TripAdvisor for the disabled”, was devised by Edinburgh-born Euan MacDonald, who has Motor Neurone Disease, the website and accompanying apps aggregate reviews of public venues across the UK for their accessibility.

Delegates browse exhibitor stalls

Above: Delegates browse the various exhibitor stores

With all presentations done, delegates and exhibitors all made their way up to the top of the BT Tower to network over lunch and enjoy the views across London!

You can catch up with the day’s proceedings and see photos from the day by following the #TTSwapShop hashtag on Twitter.

Twitter: @TechTaskforce