Thursday September 20th saw the first Iansyst conference aimed fairly and squarely at the workplace.

Last year, iansyst provided assistive technology solutions for 7000 disabled individuals. Now 35 years old, iansyst are helping businesses focus on diversity, so delegates from near and far gathered at the Moller Centre in Cambridge to hear five key speakers – all with disabilities, hidden or apparent – who showed us how to create successful ‘disability confident’ organisations that work for employees and customers alike.

Janine King, Managing Director of iansyst, opened the conference addressing the need to have an open discussion about the state of inclusion in the workplace. “Over the past few years, we have found that more HR professionals have been contacting us requiring assistance when it comes to supporting people with health conditions and disabilities in the workplace,” says Janine. “We know that most employers want to do the right thing, but they may not have the right framework or approach in place. We want to help them by providing a knowledge and awareness on implementing the right support for their staff.”

Creativity and success

‘We need to get the environment, attitudes and procedures right, otherwise disabled people can’t flourish or have an effective input into the economy and society,’ said Martyn Sibley.  He has been named as the third most Influential disabled person in the UK and runs his own companies including Disability Horizons.

Martyn is in a wheelchair and has spinal muscular atrophy which hasn’t stopped him skiing in Catalonia, flying a plane over Stonehenge, hanging up in a tree and floating in a hot air balloon.

Despite a degree in Economics and a Masters in Marketing, Martyn struggled to get an interview and, in a world addicted to a medical model of disability, he has faced many barriers while trying to access suitable care, equipment, housing and transport.  He called on companies to take a close look at their recruitment procedures which all too often stand in the way of attracting the best people, especially if those people have disabilities.

Inclusive Recruitment

The second speaker, Jane Hatton founder of EvenBreak said, ‘I am a lot more creative now I am disabled.’ Jane is what is now known in the trade as a ‘diversity and talent acquisition leader’ which means she is a go-to person if you want a workforce that represents our society. This includes having women at all levels of the organisation, people of different ages and cultures and reaping all the benefits of hiring disabled talent in your workforce.

She used stories and case studies to explode some of the common myths such as the misconception that people with disabilities will have more days off sick and will lack the skills and qualifications an organisation needs.

Jane came across Lewis when he was 16. He had ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), few qualifications, no work experience, could not work outside the home and realistically could only manage 2 to 4 hours per week. He could have been destined for a life on benefits but Jane found him a data entry role where he worked in  20 minute bursts entering jobs onto a message board. ‘He is the illest person I know,’ said Jane, ‘but he’s never had a day off sick and in six years he’s never made a mistake.’

Jane’s tops tips for attracting diverse candidates and becoming a Disability Confident employer are:

– Use networks and partnerships to reach a wider range of potential candidates

– Work with third parties such as www.evenbreak.co.uk 

– Develop a reputation and culture that is reflected in your advertising and publicity 

– Offer support at every stage and look at  alternative application method

– Offer reasonable adjustments at the very beginning

– Consider placements and the guarantee of an automatic interview to every disabled applicant

Barriers and solutions

Toby Mildon is a Diversity and Inclusion practitioner and has an impressive track record in making big companies like BBC and Deloitte more family friendly, getting more women into technology and advising companies on reasonable adjustments that will make the workplace more accessible.

He quoted the busy manager’s mantra: ‘I am not sure if we can afford this’ and outlined the three big barriers which can mean that disabled employees do not get the adjustments they need:

• A lack of information and signposting so employees and their managers have no idea who to approach to discuss reasonable adjustments.  This may mean that they find themselves directed to occupational health;

• Poor budgeting and procurement practices so, for example, someone needing a dyslexia ruler may be told it will cost £100 and arrive in a month when they could get one for £3.99 with next day delivery from Amazon

• Ignorance and prejudice which may lead to a notion that speech to text software or flexible hours are only for people with medical conditions when in fact parents, carers and all employees would benefit from sensible workable solutions.

Accessibility at Work

Steven Mifsud, profoundly deaf from birth has a degree in Architecture and is a member of the NRAC (National Register Of Access Consultants).  He is an expert on accessible environments and his company Direct Access UK has advised clients as varied as Virgin Trains, Nandos, Kelvingrove Museum and Dubai Expo 2020.

He was quick to point out that there are one billion people in the world who have a moderate or severe disability. In the UK alone we have 10 million people who have disabilities and they have a combined spending power of £80 billion. He took the audience through hazards which might be identified by an access audit and pointed out that, ‘Consultants with disabilities have the great advantage of first-hand experience and a trained eye.’

Coaching in the Workplace

Mark Woodward has dyslexia and is an assessor, trainer and coach for Iansyst. Like the other speakers he finds part of his role is to bust myths. In his case this is often along the lines of: ‘Oh you’re dyslexic… so you can’t spell and need yellow paper, right?’

Mark explained that in a busy workplace employees with dyslexia can find that word-based activities may take up so much processing power that the brain struggles to cope with other demands.  He stressed that solutions are as individual as the employees who need them but suggested three useful strategies:

– ‘Offload the task’ – find someone else who can handle a particular piece of work

– ‘Subcontract the task’ – use technology such as Dragon Naturally Speaking to do your writing so that you focus on the content and not how words are spelt; use software such as ClaroRead for proof reading to see if your text makes sense

– ‘Work with the task’ – find new and better ways of doing things, perhaps replace routine journal entries with a tick list

He pointed out that coaching is not about telling someone how to do the job but working with individuals to ‘manage the stress and lighten the load.’

Finding out about the technology

As well as offering an exceptionally good menu of talks from experts with first-hand experience of disabilities in the workplace, the day also offered delegates the chance to meet a group of key technology suppliers

Claro Software reading and writing tools for people with dyslexia that works with all the main business packages

Contour – ergonomics, mice and keyboards that prevent RSI and help those who struggle with conventional hardware

Kaz Type – award winning touch typing tuition tailored to the needs of hose with dyslexia

Matchware – mind mapping software that integrates seamlessly with the main business packages

Neurotalent Unlocked – eCourses to help adults with dyslexia improve their reading, writing, listening, organisational skills, productivity and your confidence

Note Taking Express – a service that lets users upload audio recordings, specify a deadline and receive notes in the form that works best for them

Phonak – microphones transmitters and receivers to help employees who are deaf, or have hearing loss. Their equipment is increasingly being used for individuals with autism or who have auditory processing disorders

Spellex – specialist spell checking and voice recognition software for staff working in (among others) medical, legal, dental, veterinary, geographical, scientific industries

The conference also supported the government’s Disability Confident initiative, which encourages UK business and organisations to employ disabled workers. “The Disability Confident scheme is a great first step for employers to become more inclusive,” says Janine King. “We can help companies become Disability Confident as we are an Access to Work supplier, providing assistive technology with training and one-to-one coaching strategies – all of which can help employers meet the workplace adjustments that are required.”

Where Next?

There was clearly an appetite in the room for more events of this kind. With the requirements of the Equality Act and the pressure on the government to make good on their promise to halve the disability employment gap by 2020, companies are well aware of their responsibilities and keen to consult with experts to develop good practice and make their workplaces more fit for purpose for all their employees.

If you want to learn more about how iansyst’s assistive technology and solutions can help your employees and colleagues, please get in touch with a member of staff by emailing commercial@iansyst.co.uk or ring 01223 420 101.

Article written by Sal McKeown.

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