Network Rail offer Read&Write to every employee, seeing it is as software "much more than a support for staff with specific challenges".
Network Rail employ over 38,000 staff. Their employees come from different walks of life. And include a mix of genders, ethnicities, capabilities and people who are disabled and nondisabled. They offer Read&Write to every employee, seeing it is as software "much more than a support for staff with specific challenges". Read on to discover their story.
Employing over 38,000 staff, Network Rail is responsible for delivering a safe, reliable railway for four and half million people and businesses who rely on it every day.
Headquartered in London with operating locations across the country, the public organisation owns and operates most of the rail transport network in England, Scotland and Wales.
Access and inclusion for customers, partners and staff are engrained in Network Rail’s ‘Everyone’ Diversity & Inclusion strategy. As well as increasing its ability to serve customers, this 360⁰ initiative strengthens the talent pool, boosting staff retention and encouraging job applications from a wider range of potential employees.
“We go to great lengths to create an environment where everyone can be themselves while they’re in the workplace” states Kevin Bowsher, Diversity & Inclusion Manager.
Previously a government backed company, Network Rail was formally reclassified as part of the UK Department of Transport in 2013. This change has made it mandatory for the organisation to comply with tighter equality legislation.
Working digitally is a fact of life for employees in every sphere of Network Rail’s operations, from engineering to customer service. And like any large enterprise, there’s a significant proportion of staff who need extra assistance with everyday literacy tasks – from reading PDF documents to composing emails and browsing information online.
“Some 10% of the population have dyslexia in some form”, observes IT Project Manager Minaxi Viram, one of more than 800 Diversity & Equality ‘ambassadors’ who champion issues like mental health, neurodiversity and dyslexia at Network Rail:
“In an organisation of our size, that means we’ve potentially got thousands of employees who can benefit from Assistive Technology.” But as Minaxi explains, a big barrier to providing support has been the reluctance of staff to ask for help:
“Take one example of maintenance engineers who are working trackside on vital safety related work, and the complex documentation that goes with it. They’re just as likely to have challenges like dyslexia as anyone else. But there’s a culture that hinders workers from disclosing they have problems with reading or spelling. The perception is that they’ll be labelled as ‘not clever’ by their peers and managers”.
For the Diversity & Inclusion team, one employee pointed to a solution that could bolster staff confidence – and help Network Rail meet its legal obligations.
“A colleague came to us who was struggling at work with dyslexia” recalls Minaxi. “She mentioned that she’d been using Read&Write at university, and had found it really valuable. As an organisation we have a duty of care from a reasonable adjustments perspective. We quickly realised there was an assistive technology solution that outperformed everything else on the market.”
Installed on PCs and tablets, Read&Write for Windows helps staff members with neurodiverse challenges and visual disabilities who can benefit from extra help with emails, documents and using the web.
Read&Write is also a time-saver for busy staff members when they’re on the move. “In common with many other big organisations we’re constantly deluged with email traffic” says Kevin Bowsher. “Many of our staff like using Read&Write to hear their mails read out loud while they’re sitting on the train.” Kevin also cites Read&Write’s ability to convert PDF files to editable text documents.
Network Rail’s enterprise-wide license entitles every employee to access Read&Write on their PC, laptop or tablet without restrictions: it’s right there for anyone who wants it, whenever they need it.
“We decided early on that we wanted to make Read&Write available to everyone in Network Rail” confirms Infrastructure Solutions Architect Tony Antoniou, who oversees its implementation across employees’ PCs, laptops and iOS devices.
“It’s really simple for staff to get their hands on Read&Write” explains Tony. “It’s available for download anonymously from our internal software library, without requiring sign-off from a line manager. And that’s really important: staff can ‘self-serve’ without any kind of stigma or embarrassment if they don’t want to be identified as having additional literacy needs.”
“To date we’ve already had hundreds of downloads, and this figure has kept growing steadily since launch” notes Tony, who describes ongoing IT support for Read&Write as refreshingly painless: “People take to it quickly, and we’ve really not had any issues. It just works. And of course training’s available for anybody who needs a hand getting started.”
“It’s all about giving [staff] the capability to become more effective. This could reduce stress, they become more productive, [and that] reduces absenteeism.”
Soft-launched in late 2016, Read&Write was officially rolled out enterprise-wide from October 2017. Its full-scale introduction was announced to all staff with prominent postings on Network Rail’s employee intranet site. It’s also promoted to staff through other communication channels including the company’s Yammer internal social media channel.
One of Read&Write’s biggest advocates is Assistant Project Manager Emma Newman-Baronius, a certified Assistive Technology trainer at Network Rail. She offers personal tuition – face to face, lunch and learn group sessions and by remote PC screen sharing – for staff and management who want to learn more about the benefits of using Read&Write.
By her reckoning, Emma’s already introduced hundreds of colleagues to its benefits through word of mouth, social media and periodic lunch-and-learn sessions: “As soon as people get to play with Read&Write, they quickly realise just how useful it is.”
As Emma stresses, Read&Write is much more than a support for staff with specific challenges. Just like predictive texting on your mobile phone, the intuitive toolbar’s clever features can help anybody during the working day:
“It’s used at all levels in the company, from our top executives to trackside workers who’ve got it on their tablets.” As Emma explains, Read&Write is embraced organisation-wide as a universal tool that can help everybody work more accurately and efficiently – whether they reckon they need help or not.
“Some people with conditions like dyslexia are reluctant to come forward and disclose they have difficulties with reading and writing. Let’s face it: nobody likes admitting they make mistakes, regardless whether they’ve got any kind of diagnosed disability or not.”
“Employees often start by using one or two features – like the useful PDF to Word function – or converting documents to MP3 for listening on the train. But as time goes by, there’s that ‘aha’ moment. That’s when they realise that Read&Write can do a whole lot more, like the clever mind-mapping function.”
Emma is herself a fan of the predictive text feature that offers smart word suggestions while you’re working. “If I start typing ‘level crossing…’, Read&Write knows from my previous documents that I usually mean ‘level crossing closure’. Ordinary word processors will autocorrect to some extent – but it’s amazing how fast Read&Write picks up your own personal vocabulary and understands what you’re trying to say.”
As of March 2018, more than 660 employees have downloaded Read&Write, with steady growth in this figure every month.
“As a government-backed body funded by taxpayers, it’s important that we get the best possible value with any IT procurement project” says Minaxi Viram. “And on that basis our Enterprise-wide license for Read&Write represents excellent value. Going forward, we’re actively looking at strategies to increase staff take-up even further. This is something all of us at Network Rail can benefit from – every single day.”
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