What a difference an (accessible) day makes…

Do you have small children? Enjoy traditions? Or are you simply a fan of slapstick comedy and innuendo? If so, you might well have found yourself attending your local pantomime this holiday. I am not a lover of pantomime. But I have a child who is. And so, I have seen two this year. Parenting brownie points for the whole year, I think.
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to attend the relaxed performance of Sleeping Beauty. It was performed at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. And it showed me what accessibility looks like, done well. 

The first hurdle is the sweetest…

Despite being a Midlands lass, I hate the Coventry ring road with a passion. It remains one of the most bizarre driving experiences in Warwickshire to me. But when I looked up directions on the Belgrade website I found a video! Some kind (brave) soul had volunteered to drive it, be filmed, and talk us through the chaos! It couldn’t have cost much to produce. It wouldn’t have taken much time to film. But it made our visit far, far easier.
On arrival, the signposting was clear and easy to spot. In the foyer were a team of volunteers, there to help. They wore purple sparkly hats (which got them extra brownie points). Midland Mencap supported nine families in need with free tickets for the show. And they were there in person to hand them out with a smile.
Picture shows twiddle muffs in a variety of colours and patterns

Low-cost colouring pencils = happy children, happy parents

Colouring pencils and paper dotted side tables, keeping children occupied. Volunteers from Coventry Building Society offered help if needed. And they carried baskets full of sensory fidget toys for use throughout the performance. Beautiful twiddle muffs were there for those in need,  knitted by volunteers.

The theatre itself is fully wheelchair accessible. The lights were dimmed (not fully). Small changes were made to sound effects. And any special effects were explained at the start. The performance was captioned. As are all Belgrade productions.
 
If that wasn’t enough… The theatre also offered a familiarisation visit if needed. And provided a small library of social story downloads! The cast was diverse. The audience was diverse. And for a few hours, I got a glimpse into the impact inclusion has on a community. More of it please world!
To learn more about our best practice portal for ALL your employees or to advertise jobs with us, contact info@evenbreak.co.uk or visit www.evenbreak.co.uk

Talking Positively About Disability to Prospective Employers

Talking positively about disability can make the difference between really impressing a prospective employer or putting them off you altogether.

Deaf woman using sign language
Deaf women signing to each other

Disabled people make great employees

The reality is that, in many cases, as disabled candidates we make the best employees. On average, we are just as productive as non-disabled people (often more so). We tend to have less time off sick, fewer workplace accidents and we stay in our jobs longer. We are all experienced in having to navigate around an inaccessible world. So we have developed skills such as creative problem-solving, tenacity, negotiation skills and innovation.

However, as we know only too well, not all employers see us that way. They may perceive we are somehow less able than others. That we are an expensive risk. That we cause more problems than we solve. And so we need to work hard to persuade them otherwise.

Emphasise the positives

Sometimes, as disabled people, we can be our own worst enemies in failing to challenge negative stereotypes. I went to an interview with a brilliant autistic candidate a while back. His first twenty or so sentences either began with “I can’t” or “I need”. Whilst these may have been valid comments, beginning an interview by explaining to the employer exactly why you shouldn’t get the job is unlikely to result in success! The same candidate had so much to offer the employer, and could have been just as honest telling them what value he would bring to the organisation. Starting his sentences with “I can” and “I will” would have been far more positive. Asking for adjustments can come later – when the employer has already decided he is the best candidate.

Highlight the benefits your disability brings

If you do decide to mention your disability, you can also do this in a positive way. Rather than “I’m autistic, so I’m useless at working in teams”, perhaps say “my autism means I pay incredible attention to detail and tend to be much more accurate than neuro-typical people.” Both statements may be true, but the latter one will make being offered the job more likely. Other examples include, “Being Deaf means I’m really good at reading body language,” and “Requiring personal assistants means I am experienced in employing and managing people,” and “Acquiring an impairment has helped me develop new skills I never knew I had, such as resilience and adaptability”. The trick is to phrase your impairment as an asset rather than a problem.

Turn adjustments into positives

Similarly, when asking for any adjustments you may need, this can be done positively too. “I’m afraid I will need specialist software to help me do my job,” could be rephrased as, “with the correct software in place I will be able to be effective and productive – and Access to Work will pay for the software and train me to use it.” Or even better, “in my previous role I used dictation software, paid for by Access to Work, which meant I was both quicker and more accurate than my colleagues.”

Whilst some employers are enlightened enough to be positive about disabled applicants, we may need to challenge others – in a subtle and positive way – to rethink their pre-conceived ideas about us. Talking positively about disability can really help.

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/employers/

To find jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/jobs

Feel the fear and speak up anyway

Picture shows a little boy in hardhat with megaphone on light background

I’ve read that people are scared of disabled people. Not the people per se, but the disability itself. For me, this statement brings to mind scary cartoon monsters. They are called names like Mad Dog Multiple Sclerosis. Anxiety Annie. Dr Depression. It just seems a touch silly that people are scared of disabilities. Even ones with evil villain names.

But scared they are.

I first saw this when visiting a recently paralysed friend in the hospital. She was very young and had experienced a nasty accident. The tragedy of the accident sent ripples through her local community. But the tragedy continued (tragedy is mean like that) when hardly any of her friends visited. Endless days in a rehabilitation ward with no visitors are no fun at all.

They were scared. Scared that this could happen to someone at such a young age. Scared of what the future might hold. Scared of the hospital environment. Scared that they might not be able to do anything to help. But most of all scared about not knowing what to say. It’s worth remembering that most disabled people would far prefer you to say the wrong thing (with the right intentions) than nothing at all.  And disabled people are… just people. The same as anyone else.

As a nurse, I quickly became very comfortable talking about most subjects. I can ask intimate questions with ease. I’ve shared heartbreaking situations with people on a daily basis. And I’ve also become skilled at spotting the small daily moments that make life special. And yet, it is still hard to talk about my own health. Or sit side by side with the pain of someone I love. It’s still hard to bring my whole self to a work environment. And it’s still hard to be a person that talks openly on subjects that can make us all squirm a little. But please do. Please speak out. Because far worse than feeling scared or saying the wrong thing, is staying silent.

To learn more about disability etiquette click here.

When should we start employing disabled people?

Image shows the word ‘now!’ on a torn out piece of paper, surrounded by other words including ‘someday’, ‘another day’, ‘never’.

When we talk to employers about employing disabled people, one of the first questions you often ask us is what you should put in place first.

In some ways, that’s an odd question, because you are almost certainly already employing disabled people. You just might not know. Most impairments (around 80%) are not visible, so many people just don’t mention them. Consider dyslexia, diabetes, asthma, chronic pain, autism, mental health conditions and so on.

You are almost certainly already employing disabled people…

Apart from that, if we waited for organisations to become completely inclusive before employing disabled people, no disabled person would ever be employed! The important starting point is to just get started. It’s a virtuous circle – the more disabled people you employ, the easier it gets, and the more confident you become.

On the whole, disabled candidates understand that no organisation will get everything right every time, but if there is a willingness to listen and learn that’s enough.

Disability inclusion is, of course, at the heart of everything we do at Evenbreak, and we are still learning. We are incredibly lucky because we have loads of opportunities to learn – from our amazing candidates, our enthusiastic employers, and each other. Between the nine people on the Evenbreak team, we have a wide array of impairments and learn something new from each other all the time.

We are still learning too…

Our recent video asks a number of disabled people what their advice to employers would be, and in their own way, each one of them said: “just do it!”.

The danger is that if you wait until everyone is trained, all the buildings are made accessible, all the policies are changed and all the budgets are in place, it will never happen. You can be working on all of those things in parallel with attracting disabled people to help you on that journey. Sometimes the ‘we can’t do it until …” becomes an excuse rather than a genuine concern. In particular, budgets! If this is really a priority for you, you’ll find the budget from somewhere.

So – what’s really stopping you?

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/employers/

To find jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/jobs

Celebrating the lesser spotted signs of inclusion

Text ‘Everyone Matters’ appearing behind ripped brown paper.

Commitment, true commitment, to diversity and inclusion isn’t seen all that often. And lack of inclusion has a significant impact on everyday lives. Social media means that we’re now privy to glimpses into other peoples lives in a way never experienced before. And it highlights that we have an awful lot to learn. Twitter, in particular, often leaves me feeling demoralised and depressed. People are dealing with everyday struggles over freedoms that so many of us take for granted. People in wheelchairs are still being moved by other people without consent. Parents are still unable to access changing places toilets for their disabled children. And not so long ago black ballet dancers had to hand paint their ballet slippers to match their skin tone. Because only pink slippers were available.

We have a long way to go and a lot to learn about inclusion. When you experience a lack of inclusion yourself or see its effect on someone you love, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed by anger. The unfairness of the situation grates. On the flip side, when you experience the simple joy of having your basic human needs met when you’re included, it’s like winning the jackpot. It shouldn’t be rare. But it is.

And like the lesser spotted woodpecker, we should celebrate it when we do see it. Here are a few small signs that change IS happening.

Invisible disabilities are more talked about…

Image shows symbols of a wheelchair, male and female with the words ‘Not every disability is visible’

The great signage debate has been ongoing in disability circles for some time. As our awareness of hidden disabilities increases, some feel a wheelchair symbol is no longer fit for purpose. But what symbol should we use? How can we include everyone? Such debate often paralyses decision making. So it made me smile when I wandered into Morrisons and saw the sign they’ve added to their toilet door. Simple, but a clear reminder that not all disabilities are visible. And it’s small reminders like this that help change culture. I haven’t seen a supermarket with a changing place toilet yet, but I hope to see that change soon.

More and more people are leading by example…

Business leaders are now being more open about the disabilities or differences that they have. Very often they can contribute these to their success. Mental health is beginning to lose its stigma. Awareness of inclusion is evident more often in everyday moments. Evenbreak’s Director, Jane Hatton, told us about one of these moments just last week. Jane is unable to sit for long periods and often attends events where she’ll be standing alone at a high table. This means she can attend the event. But during a dinner event, eating alone can be rather isolating, especially when you’re peering over, well, your peers! Imagine her surprise when one of her peers joined her at her table for the meal. Inclusion doesn’t need to have an accompanying policy to be effective.

‘Quiet hours’ are quietly increasing across UK stores and entertainment venues…

Shopping, soft play and theatre crowds can be stressful experiences for the best of us. But for individuals on the autistic spectrum the noise, glaring lights or proximity of people can lead to sensory overload. The accompanying distress it causes can be profound. Imagine being unable to access supermarkets, theatres, shopping centres? Happily, stores and venues are catching on that the purple pound is worth rather a lot. We are now seeing quiet hours being introduced in trial schemes across the UK. We’re yet to see it standardised in every supermarket. And certainly not with the necessary regularity and reliability. But it’s a start. And I for one am celebrating.

 

Invictus Games (in the every day)….

Written by Corporate Engagement Manager, Adam Etherington
 
Who else has been watching the Invictus Games on the television last week? I’m amazed at the passion, tenacity, courage and determination of the athletes. So much so, that I wrote this blog and dedicate it to the many disabled athletes that the ‘I AM’ logo represents.
 

Image shows a scrap of paper with the words ‘what are you waiting for?’
I watched the ex-Army Sergeant, that had three of his limbs blown off when on tour in Afghanistan, as he swam at the Games. He won two gold medals, using just one arm. The whole event says so much about the character and the attitude of the individuals taking part. They are an inspiration to me and many other disabled people across the world. I hope the following doesn’t strike you as too indulgent, but I have to get a few things off my mind.
 
I am Disabled
 
I am a 53-year-old man with Multiple Sclerosis
 
I am working for Evenbreak – an organisation that helps inclusive employers attract and retain talented disabled people.
 
I am working from home. This benefits both myself, my employer and the environment.
 
I am working with a brilliant team of disabled colleagues.
 
I am good at my job.
 
I am not a burden to Evenbreak.
 
I am a Corporate Engagement Manager.
 
I am loving what I am doing.
 
I am learning from Jane Hatton, who founded Evenbreak’s niche disability job board seven years ago.
 
I am impressed that we have over 30,000 disabled candidates registered on our job board.
 
I am calling out to large employers. Let me illustrate the advantages you’ll gain from employing talented disabled people.
 
I am positive. I don’t give up.
 
I am reaching out to you at adame@evenbreak.co.uk
 
Do you? Motivate others?  Appreciate the value of different abilities? Understand the business case for employing disabled people? Get in touch.

“I want to be an inclusive employer and recruit disabled people BUT…”

Stop making excuses, start making changes – handwriting on a napkin with a cup of coffee

Savvy employers are very aware there’s a skills shortage. They’re aware they need a wider talent pool to recruit from. And they’re aware that a diverse workforce is a good thing for business. So, what holds employers back from taking action? Changing the way they recruit? Tapping into new pools of talent?

Here are 3 of the excuses reasons we hear most often:

“So, I get that we’re missing out on 20% possible candidates. I get that employing disabled people equals profit. But how can someone in a wheelchair wait on tables?”

When a decision maker is presented with a new idea or a challenge to the ‘norm’, it is human nature to become risk averse. It’s rare for people to immediately see the possibilities being offered. Instead, most of us will come up with immediate, often flimsy, reasons as to why something won’t work. We are instinctive fault finders! Julia Galef, of the Center for Applied Rationality, suggests our brains are lazy. She argues that you should never accept your brain’s first answer to anything.  And encourages decision makers to move past the initial ‘cognitive laziness’. Instead, take some time to develop a more considered or rational response.

1 in 6 of the working age population is disabled or has a long-term health condition. That’s an awful lot of people to ignore. And only 8% of disabled people in the UK are wheelchair users. Disabled people, like the rest of the population, are a diverse bunch of people with a diverse bunch of skills. Candidates will apply for jobs that they are able to do. Occasionally, candidates might need some adjustments. But most disabled candidates don’t require any. Or only adjustments with no cost attached. And for adjustments that do have a financial cost attached, the cost is usually very low. Access to work can help with any issues that arise. Accessibility and inclusion should be considered in an organisation regardless. It’s worth remembering that both benefit not just employees, but your customers too.

“We would love to employ more disabled people, but they just don’t apply”

Most employers describe themselves as equal opportunity employers. But this information is often found at the bottom of the job advert as a tacked-on paragraph to the main affair.  No employer writes that they discriminate on a daily basis against disabled people. But sadly, the experience of disabled candidates tells us otherwise. Disabled people face many barriers. It begins with attitudes and perceptions, followed by inaccessible recruitment processes. And can culminate in a lack of accessibility in the workplace itself.

Many disabled candidates will only apply if they are confident of two things: Firstly, that their application will be considered seriously. Secondly, that they are sure they can fulfil the requirements of the role.  To attract a diverse range of applicants, employers need to communicate their commitment to inclusion effectively.

“We understand that by ignoring the needs of disabled people our business is losing money and we want to become more inclusive, but we’re scared of getting it wrong”

It’s estimated that by ignoring the needs of disabled people, businesses are losing approximately £1.8 billion a month. Employing disabled people helps an organisation to increase its understanding of this market. Additionally, it raises disability awareness and develops a more inclusive culture in the workplace. Businesses that embrace inclusion tend to see a positive correlation between profitability, employee morale and engagement.  The fear of using the ‘wrong’ terminology, offending somebody or making incorrect assumptions is understandable. And many of us will get things wrong. But we learn. And develop. And then the magic happens! Once a company overcomes their fear and starts seeing disabled employees as an asset, they open the doors to:

  • Access to a wider talent pool
  • A more loyal, engaged and productive workforce
  • An increase in revenue, profits and market share

 

To talk through your excuses  reasons for not employing disabled people, sign up to our best practice portal or advertise on our jobs board, please contact Janeh@evenbreak.co.uk

We promise she doesn’t bite.

 

 

I consider inequalities (but only if they affect me)

As a new member of the Evenbreak team, I am on a steep diversity and inclusion learning curve. Although years of nursing experience has given me a great start, I didn’t know how much there still was to learn. This means that equality and inequality in the workforce are pretty much all I talk about now (that and dogs). It also means that I’m always asking friends how inclusive their employers are.

Conversations go something like this:

“Morning Rach, how are you? Can you tell me what percentage of disabled people your workforce has?”

When friends aren’t crossing the street to avoid me, I learn a lot. For example, one friend has an employer who is beginning to think about diversity. As a result, they have started a gender equality working group.

As a woman and a single parent, this is important to me. Because I have experienced the disadvantages of being a single, female, working parent many times. I know we need decision makers to make changes, act, consider us. But what about everyone else? And the disadvantages they face? Do we only think about the inequalities we understand or experience ourselves? And is there a hierarchy of inequity? To create a diverse workforce do we need separate working groups for each group of people facing inequalities? Or do we need an inequalities network? To consider inequality wherever it may raise its head, and in whatever form.

Do you know what you don’t know?

I’m learning a lot.  And there’s so much more to learn. The Founder of Evenbreak, Jane Hatton, posted on LinkedIn recently and gave me a head start.  She recommended that all white people read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book: “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. Consequently, it’s next on my ‘to read’ list. I don’t want to be someone that only considers the inequalities that affect me. And I bet your organisation doesn’t want to do that either. So, what else to read? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations…

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak click here

To find jobs on Evenbreak click here

And to find out more about best practice around disability in the workplace take a peek here

Anxiety and Accessibility – Is your workplace welcoming?

The words accessibility and workplace usually bring one image to mind: A visibly disabled person, in a wheelchair, trying to access a building. Ramps. Lifts. Revolving doors. For many disabled people, just getting to a venue takes careful planning.  But accessibility comes in many forms.  And can impact upon many conditions.

I went to a meet a new client in the centre of Birmingham last week. I knew I might have problems sleeping the night before. I knew I’d be nervous. I knew it would be a challenge. But it didn’t occur to me to troubleshoot potential obstacles before going. Not in enough detail.

I checked the train times in advance. I checked the address in advance. I bought tickets in advance. I picked my clothes in advance. Small things that can help manage anxiety.

But on the day, it was scorching hot. I’d only had a couple of hours sleep. 15 minutes from station to venue wasn’t enough time for me to find the place easily. I got lost. I panicked. I got hotter. Birmingham seemed very, very, busy and the buildings very, very, tall.

Anxiety can affect basic functioning…

Everyone looked too busy to stop and ask for directions. And the buildings weren’t clearly marked. Google maps kept kicking me out of walking directions and decided to stick me in a car instead. I stopped people and asked for help but three people later, I was still lost. I rang the receptionist and asked for directions but had to be transferred to another receptionist first. It got later. I panicked a bit more. I didn’t understand the directions. And I didn’t want to be late. Anxiety was clouding comprehension.

The client rang and asked if all was well. I admitted I was lost and rather stressed. She was calm and kind and directed me into the building. I was two minutes away! But in my panic, I hadn’t remembered the first line of the address and had walked past the building numerous times.

Mental health conditions can take something very simple and make it incredibly hard. Memory, concentration, breathing, the ability to control your body temperature. All are affected. I am an able-bodied person and I can physically travel anywhere very easily. Except I can’t. Sometimes, if the week has held many stressors, the mental obstacles are hard to overcome.

When I approached the building it was huge, glass, with a revolving door. No clear signposting. There was a security guard rather than the reception desk I expected.  When I arrived at the reception there were multiple instructions about how to get through security barriers and how to programme the lift. People to interact with. More challenges.

What can help?

But then, I got out of the lift and everything changed. The client met me at the second reception point, so I didn’t have to be directed again. She asked me if I’d like a comfort break first. I welcomed the opportunity to run cold water on my wrists to calm myself down. She led me to an office, offered me water and from the very first second I met her, to the very last second when I left, did everything she could to make me comfortable and at ease.

We had a successful meeting and she gave me clear directions back to the station. I got home easily with not one issue.  On my return, I realised that I have a disability. Internal and external factors affect how well I function. The client, in turn, had reflected upon the corporate environment that she felt so comfortable in. She asked me how could she have made my visit easier? In truth, she absolutely did make it easier. Had I been greeted with a less aware, less professional, or less compassionate person, the outcome could have been very different.

Next week I’ll be writing about how to make your workplace more accessible to those with a mental health condition.

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak click here

To find jobs on Evenbreak click here

And to find out more about best practice around disability in the workplace take a peek here

 

What Problems do Dyslexic People Face in the Legal Professions?

Just a few short decades ago hardly anyone had heard of dyslexia and children who had the learning disability were left to struggle and were often told they were lazy or stupid.

Now, thankfully, we know a lot better and most dyslexic children and students are identified and given help so that they can access all of their educational opportunities. There are, however, still some fields that can seem intimidating or impossible to people with dyslexia and law is one of them.

Dyslexia affects the way people process information 

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability, alongside dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder and dyscalculia. The person’s IQ is often within normal range or higher, but the learning disability affects the way in which they retain, process and access information. It’s a neurological issue so it can’t be cured and it can seriously affect the way dyslexic people read, write, recall information and speak.

Under the Equality Act 2010. Dyslexia is a protected characteristic, which means that anyone with dyslexia can’t be treated less favourably than someone without it. It also means that they should have reasonable adjustments made for them at work, even legal professionals, whether they work in a specialist practice like Kenway Miller or a barristers’ chambers.

Dyslexic legal professionals face special challenges  

Each dyslexic person has their own unique profile of strengths and weaknesses, but within the legal profession, many will find they face these challenges in particular.

Other people’s prejudices 

This is by far the biggest challenge and it’s the hardest to overcome because it involves convincing pretty much everyone that dyslexia is both real and isn’t a sign of low intelligence. As the disability affects everyone differently, one person may be a fast reader but a slow writer, another may have difficulty with speaking fluently and yet another may have organisational problems.

Forms are tough

People with dyslexia find filling in forms difficult so any electronic documents that have a time-out can present problems. Dyslexic students can fail exams because of poor spelling and punctuation and when it comes to sending out CVs, lower-than-average exam grades can lead to the candidate being binned without the wider circumstances being taken into account.

People with dyslexia tend to fail psychometric tests

Any tests with multiple choice questions can be tough on dyslexic people as they find them hard to process. Some verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning problems can be difficult too, because they don’t allow for the person to use their usual coping mechanisms. This is why legal HR teams need to use specialised or fairer assessment processes for dyslexic people.

Two-part questions can fox people with dyslexia

As dyslexia is primarily an information-processing issue, complicated questions with two or more parts can prove to be too much as there’s a lot of information for the person’s working memory. Long sentences – a big feature in law – can also take longer to “work through”.

Organisational problems 

This is perhaps the second-biggest issue because legal professionals are expected to be very organised and punctual. Law firms have set expectations here and failure to meet them can lead to disciplinary action if the individual doesn’t know about or doesn’t admit to their dyslexia. Legal firms’ HR departments should be able to recognise common dyslexic-type errors and problems and make reasonable adjustments before the situation deteriorates. This could be encouraging the person to “come out” as dyslexic or even offering them testing and help.

To advertise jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/employers/

To find jobs on Evenbreak go here – http://www.evenbreak.co.uk/jobs