Guest contributors: Julie Dennis, ACAS and Rachel Billington, Met Police

Disability Confident: FAQs


At Texthelp, we’re on our own journey with the Department of Work and Pensions Disability Confident Scheme, and as we continue to strengthen our commitment to diversity and inclusion, we want to help other organizations along the way. So, we recently met with Julie Dennis, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at ACAS (a Disability Confident Leader), and Rachel Billington, HR Senior Diversity and Inclusion Lead at the Metropolitan Police (Disability Confident Committed Employer), to explore D&I best practice. 

In our webinar session we discussed the overarching factors organizations must consider when building an inclusive culture before delving into the significance of these for employees with disabilities, especially during the current pandemic. From our session, we identified some key themes our listeners wanted to know more about, so we’ve put together a full list of FAQs around the topic. We hope it helps!
 


Disability confident FAQs with headshots of guest bloggers Rachel and Julie


Navigating employment law

What employment legislation exists in regards to disability?

The Equality Act came into force in 2010 to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. Under the Equality Act, ‘A disabled person is defined as someone who has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out day to day activities’, and discrimination is defined as ‘to treat a disabled person unfavorably because of something connected to their disability’. 

The Act puts a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for staff to help them overcome disadvantage resulting from impairment. This applies to not only employees, but job applicants also.
 

What is a reasonable adjustment?

A reasonable adjustment is a change which helps to remove or reduce the effect of a person's disability so that they can achieve their best. The reasonable aspect of the adjustment will depend on the situation, but to help, there are four key questions for the employer to consider;
  1. Will the adjustment remove or reduce the disadvantage for the person with the disability?
  2. Is it practical to make?
  3. Is it affordable by the employer or business?
  4. Could it harm the health and safety of others?
During the decision making process, involving the employee or applicant with the disability will help to determine what possible adjustments will be of benefit to them.
 

When it comes to assessing the requirements of reasonable adjustments to the workplace, what should I consider?

When you’re assessing the requirements of a reasonable adjustment, consider what changes are necessary for different aspects of the business, for example;
  • Do current policies need to be updated?
  • Are physical changes to the workplace required?
  • Is extra equipment or assistance needed? 

You may also identify benefits these changes could have for the wider organization. For example, a clear glass door at the end of a corridor may be an identified hazard for someone with a visual impairment. Adding a colorful strip at eye level would make it easier for that employee to see it. But that’s also an adjustment which would benefit the safety of every employee. So, when making reasonable adjustments, consider those that you could implement for the entire workforce too. 

It’s also important to note that for some organizations, the Access to Work Scheme can help fund adjustments.
 

When should a reasonable adjustment be considered?

Reasonable adjustments must be considered if the employer becomes aware of the individual’s disability, if the employee/job applicant asks for reasonable adjustments to be made, if the individual is having difficulty with any part of their job, or if employee sickness or delay in returning to work is linked with their disability.
 

How can I encourage my employees to open up about their disability?

It’s important to remember that not all disabilities are visible, and some employees may not have disclosed their disability to you. Creating a culture within the organization where your commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident will help. It’s about looking at what you can do to encourage open conversations between every employee, not just those individuals that may specifically need support, and creating an environment where disability is both celebrated and included. This will help to remove stigma for those individuals and create an environment where they’re comfortable to share. Building support networks where your people know where to turn also means that support is readily available and accessible to them, and will help employees who are experiencing challenges but may not be ready to disclose their disability, or indeed, may not be aware themselves that they have a neurodiverse condition.
 

Are there any tools to help employees to express their needs?

There are useful documents known as ‘Workplace Adjustment Passports’, which are non-mandatory documents owned by an individual that help them to express their needs. They allow employers to hear from an employee in their own words, to gain an understanding of their usual day to day, and to learn more about their strengths and their challenges. They minimize repeated discussions employees often have to have around their disability, as the passport can be used as reference should the individual’s line manager be changed, for example. They also provide structure for both the individual and line manager when it comes to conversations around workplace adjustments. 

Another useful tool is Carer’s Passports. These allow employees to tell employers not about their health conditions, but about their caring requirements for any type of dependents. 


Building a disability confident culture

Where should I start?

The first thing to do is to ask yourself ‘How disability confident is your organization?’ - and be honest! Think about how truly inclusive you really are, and ask your employees for feedback to discover their thoughts. You may uncover some misconceptions that will highlight areas you need to improve. In the webinar session we mentioned earlier, Rachel Billington shares what happened when the Metropolitan Police did just that. Hear all about their journey and discover what adjustments they’re making in the recorded session.

The Disability Confident Scheme also offers a great starting point with lots of guidance to help organizations build a culture in line with best practice. Being part of the Scheme will also help you demonstrate your commitment to improvement and can encourage employees to speak up.
 

What is the Disability Confident Scheme?

The Disability Confident Scheme is ‘a government scheme designed to encourage employers to recruit and retain disabled people and those with health conditions’. There are three levels - Committed, Employer and Leader. At Texthelp, we’re at level two of the scheme as a Disability Confident Employer. If you’d like to know more about how you could get on board, we’ve broken down each level in our dedicated Disability Confident resources area.
 

How can organizations maintain balance between D&I priorities?

Every organization working towards improving diversity and inclusion should have a clear strategy in place, with clear objectives and identified ways to measure the impact. It’s important to find the balance between your key priorities, identifying and agreeing where you’re going to focus your efforts and even breaking  down your overall strategy into subgroups to help you maintain that balance. Weaving D&I priorities into your ‘business as usual’ activity will ensure it remains top of everyone’s agenda, and not just a standalone ‘project’. It’s key here that you have ‘buy-in’ from senior leaders as well as middle management.
 

What advice would you give for gaining senior leadership and middle management commitment? 

The best way for getting commitment is to relate it back to the benefits. Creating an inclusive culture where your people feel engaged, included and supported will help people to work to the best of their ability and allow them to thrive and perform better - and that’s good for business performance! There’s also the importance of doing the right thing, and that’s key in forming part of the ‘business case’. 

To successfully engage middle management, it’s also about empowering them in their roles. They may feel overwhelmed day to day, so give them what they need to support their employees with ease - whether this involves additional training or strategies to alleviate time pressures, for example those which reduce associated admin tasks.
 

Considerations during Covid 19

What do we need to consider during the current crisis?

Organizations have had to make some really quick and difficult decisions over the last few months, and when it comes to diversity and inclusion, it’s important to make sure that you’re doing the best by your employees and thinking about the equality impacts before you make decisions. This is made easier by involving your employees in decision making processes. With that in mind, make sure that you’re communicating in accessible ways to ensure that every employee receives that information in a way that meets their needs. You can simply ask an individual ‘What is the best way that I can communicate with you? 
 

What can I do as a leader to help support employees through the current situation?

The most important thing is to think about employee health and wellbeing. Take time to catch up with your people, and that includes employees on long-term sick or maternity leave, and those that have been furloughed. Find out how they’re feeling by being open about your own challenges, experiences and concerns. If you’ve got an employee assistance program or mental health first aiders in your organization, work with them to kick off conversations. It’s all about hearing directly from your employees and getting them involved in any required interventions or workplace adjustments that will help them through. If your employees are working remotely, we’ve pulled together a blog with 11 tips to help you guide your employees through any challenges. 
 

How can we support people with neurodiverse conditions?

Over the last few months, we’ve seen sudden changes and employees have had to quickly adapt to new ways of working. That’s going to be really challenging for someone who is neurodiverse. The very fact they’ve had to change routine may cause a higher level of stress or anxiety than for others, and it might well be that the support measures previously in place may not be available to them. So, think about the things that you can do to make it easier and remember that what may work for one person might not for another, so speak to individuals and ask them what they need. It’s also important to highlight to managers that they may be managing someone who has not declared their disability, or may not actually be aware that they’re neurodiverse. So, the best approach is to be flexible to meet the needs of all staff. After all, the ability to carry out one’s job effectively is important to everybody. 

For some further guidance, take a look at our blog ‘7 ways to support neurodiverse employees working from home’ and ‘10 ways to support employees with autism’.


If you would like to hear more from our guest contributors Julie and Rachel, check out the recorded webinar session. You’ll hear first hand how the Metropolitan Police have successfully been building a more inclusive workplace, and what workplace adjustments they’ve put in place to improve their disability confidence.

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About our guest contributors

Rachel Billington
Rachel is HR Senior Diversity and Inclusion Lead at the Metropolitan Police where she has been involved in the redesign of their workplace adjustments strategy, including successfully introducing the Disability Workplace Adjustment Passport, as well as the Passport for Carers.
 
Julie Dennis 
Julie is Head of Diversity and Inclusion at ACAS, where she’s responsible for leading and providing expert advice on all D&I related matters, with the aim of building an inclusive culture that drives engagement and ultimately performance. She also leads on employee health and wellbeing. ACAS is a government agency who provide free and impartial advice on all matters relating to employment law.

 

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