Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Diversity and Ability conference report: What inclusion looks like

Diversity and Ability (D and A), an award-winning social enterprise, recently held their first ever conference to mark their 11th birthday and International Day of Disabled Persons.

D and A helps people and organisations to ensure disability inclusion and accessibility are deeply engrained into the culture of the workplace (and any other social environment).

For this reason, the conference theme was: “What inclusion looks like”. The event saw experts (including those with lived experience) come together to discuss how people and organisations can foster authentically inclusive environments.

The two-day event saw talks on disability and inclusion on a global scale, D and A’s new AXS Passport, improving the experience of disabled health learners and their transition into the NHS workforce, the importance of lived experience in education and research, and panel discussions about recruitment and retention, intersectionality and the importance of digital passports.

D and A’s Director of Accessibility and Inclusion, Adam Hyland, said: “Inclusion is so much more than reasonable adjustments and I hope that this event … highlights the importance of going further than ever in your organisations to ensure inclusion always comes first”.

The impact of digital passports in education and employment

On the first day of the conference, the D and A team launched the AXS Passport: a digital tool for sharing accessibility and inclusion requirements.

The AXS Passport is a type of accessibility passport that can quickly and effectively communicate an individual’s needs. The passport succinctly lists the person’s access needs when attending the workplace, healthcare settings, and social settings (such as shopping and leisure centres).

The passport gives organisations and businesses a way of anticipating and arranging adjustments for the individual. For example, it could indicate that the venue will need to be wheelchair accessible, and there will need to be closed captioning during presentations.

When asked about what the passport’s purpose is, Millie Hawes, a disability rights activist and Corporate Responsibility Manager within the legal sector, said: “From my point of view, the purpose of the passport is to take away that burden of having to constantly tell people what your needs are.

“I remember filling out really old-fashioned medicalised forms that asked me really intense personal questions, and I hated it. I don’t want my employer to know the ins and outs of how I use the loo – that doesn’t really feel appropriate.

“[Disability passports are an improvement] because there isn’t any information stored of a personal nature. It simply tells [your employer] about your access needs, without explaining why or what for.”

Dan Harris, CEO of Neurodiversity in Business, added that in order to make accessibility passports fully effective, they need to be universal. He said that a type of passport which explains how people work most productively is beneficial to everyone, and could be applied in all workplaces.

He uses the example of ‘the manual of me’, which informs your boss or line manager about how you work best. This could be simple things like, if I am asked to do something during a verbal conversation, please follow up the instruction with a few bullet points in an email, so I’m absolutely clear on what I have to do.

By giving everyone the opportunity to create a ‘passport’ or ‘manual of me’, “We take the stigma out of someone needing to say ‘I’m coming to you because I have a disability or I associate with neurodiversity’. Actually, it’s just about how you get the best out of me as an employee, and that’s a much more comfortable discussion to have,” Dan explains.

Professor Nicki Martin, Professor or Social Justice and Inclusive Education, added that: “What’s good for disabled people is generally good for everybody. I think that anything that minimises the additional labour that people have to put in is really important.

“One example is noted in a book called Ableism in Academia. One of the authors writes about how she had to keep applying for her disabled parking permit, and she wrote on the form one day: ‘I’ve just checked and my leg doesn’t seem to have grown back’”.

The AXS Passport aims to have the same effect. It means that people with disabilities don’t need to keep repeating their access needs to different organisations, they can simply show their passport and leave the organisation to make the appropriate adjustments.

Improving the experience of disabled health learners and their transition into the NHS workforce

On the second day of the conference, Professor Liz Hughes, Alexandra Ankrah, Josephine Cannings and Stuart Moore came together to discuss how the NHS is working to improve the experience of disabled health learners and professionals.

Find Your Way

Prof Hughes, the Deputy Medical Director for Health Education England, says that ever since she was a junior doctor, all the way up to becoming a consultant, she found it very difficult to get basic reasonable adjustments at work.

In light of these experiences, Health Education England and Diversity and Ability partnered to create a toolkit for health professionals and learners, called Find Your Way.

There are two Find Your Way toolkits, one for students and one for professionals. The former guide provides information for students about how to access the support they are entitled to during their time in higher education (including an explanation of the Disabled Students’ Allowance and how to access it).

The other guide provides healthcare professionals with the knowledge and support to progress through the Access to Work process. This includes how to apply for an Access to Work grant, how you will be assessed, as well as a glossary of key terms and acronyms.

“Access to work is underutilised in a very big way,” says Prof Hughes. “And it’s there to help disabled people achieve their maximum potential.

“Currently, we’ve got people in one healthcare profession being really well supported, and then others in the same department, but under a different directory structure, not being supported as well. So, we’ve still got work to do.”

Project Choice

Project Choice is a specialist college providing tailored educational support, and a supported internship course for young adults aged 16-24 with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, and/or autism.

The team at Project Choice, which includes Jo Cannings – Area Manager for Portsmouth and Southampton – creates vocational profiles for each young person. This means each person has an individual programme which is tailored to their needs.

It’s a full-time course which takes places over an academic year, and it is split between four days in a work placement and one day of education.

As well as covering functional and employability skills, the programme helps with training for adulthood, including travel training, money management and independent living skills.

Participants who undertake the programme also have access to a mentor that helps to support them through the process. This helps to educate the workforce about the adjustments people with disabilities may need as well as providing some much-needed help and support.

Project Choice is fully funded by the educational skills funding agency and local authorities. In 2021/22, 160 young people undertook the programme, with two thirds (67%) going into full-time employment or further education after completing the course.

The importance of lived experience in education and research

Professor Nicki Martin is Professor of Social Justice and Inclusive Education, interim Co-Director of Research Centre for Social Justice and Global Responsibility and lead on EdD Inclusive Education at LSBU.

Prof Martin led a discussion on the second day of the conference about the importance involving people with disabilities in research as participants, and not subjects.

“Focusing on lived experience during research is absolutely crucial… but everyone involved in delivering the service [has to be] equally valued,” says Prof Martin.

“I’m a parent of disabled adult children myself, and have had multiple experiences of being asked for my views. All the time it’s: ‘fill in this form’, ‘tell us this incredibly person information’, ‘can we have a cheek swab from your extended family?’.

“This is where people feel that they are the subjects of research, and research participation is completely different,” Prof Martin explains.

In order to ensure fair and equitable participation, Prof Martin says that these principles must be deeply embedded into the university or research centre. “The whole culture of the university has to understand inclusion to make it work,” she said.

Researchers should think about missing voices, and how to include these voices in a way that will ensure their full participation. Research can be extremely exclusionary, and researchers must consider how different factors come into play. For example, some people may not have access to a computer or be able to afford the bus or train fare.

“It costs money to participate in research,” Prof Martin says. “You can exclude some groups by not making it easy for them”.

Prof Martin notes that participation in a political issue, and the concept can be abused by the powerful in order to service their interests. She says that if research truly gives voice to the voiceless, it will challenge power relations and could create some conflict.

Ultimately, Prof Martin says research is not emancipatory if people with lived experience are not included in policy making decisions, and are only asked to comment once the policy is in place.

People with lived experience must be able to lead and control research if it is to be emancipatory, and only this type of research will create effective policies that will work for the groups they are designed to help.

Embracing inclusion at Transport for London (TfL)

Venetia Petter, a customer experience executive working for Transport for London (TfL), manages the Disability Equality Training (DET) for all TfL professional services staff and London Underground operational staff.

Venetia says TfL is focused on delivering their customer promise of ‘Every Journey Matters’ by ensuring they are focused on getting the basics right and meeting their customers’ expectations for safe, reliable travel.

“DET is one way we do this for our disabled customers by providing first class training for our staff.  We have delivered a highly successful in-person DET course across the organisation since 2017,” she said.

TfL stopped all training courses for over a year, including DET training, during the pandemic. Venetia says the team were reluctant to move the course online because of how beneficial it was for staff to get one-to-one interaction from the disabled trainers.

However, TfL didn’t want to delay the training for any longer than necessary, particularly since many disabled customers were more anxious about travel as a result of Covid-19.

In September 2021, D and A won the contract as TfL’s new DET suppliers. D and A have helped TfL to move their training online, and any worries and concerns about shifting to virtual training were “quickly alleviated”, Venetia says.

Training was kept interactive through breakout rooms and platforms like Slido and the DET team have begun to realise the benefits of training online. Staff received a pre-training video and an introductory pack which has helped them learn how to use Zoom.

D and A also developed post-resource packs for staff so they have something to refer to after the training. These are emailed out to staff and include all the key information from the training session and further reading/links to assist their learning further.

The team have also created interactive learning pages that contain all the accessibility information operational staff may need when working at a station. The links for these pages were rolled out to nearly 6,000 staff iPads and have enabled TfL to share accessibility information “quickly and beautifully through text, images, and videos”, Venetia says.

The courses are currently fully booked and have received high levels of positive feedback, and Venetia says TfL’s partnership with D and A has been invaluable.

She said: “TfL is committed in creating an inclusive culture where everyone, staff and customers, feel accepted and valued.  Our partnership with D and A is testament to our ongoing commitment in adopting an ‘anticipatory approach’ to inclusivity to shape a more inclusive framework for the organisation in the future.”

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