Don't disable me: How you can avoid creating barriers for disabled people

Date of webinar: 
8 Feb 2022 - 13:00

Collage of presenters

In this webinar, which took place on Tuesday 8 February 2022 at 1pm GMT, we heard from people with lived experience of disability as they discussed the barriers they face day-to-day and the ways in which simple adjustments and considerations can make a world of difference.

Our experts provided an introduction to the broad areas of disability/impairment, which will be the focus of AbilityNet's upcoming in-depth training sessions:

  • visual
  • hearing
  • physical
  • mental health
  • neurodivergence

What did the webinar cover?

Led by individuals with lived experience of disabilities and AbilityNet’s workplace inclusion experts, we discovered the common issues that people encounter at work, in study and in day-to-day life. 

We also found out more about some of the assistive technologies and tools available to address these barriers, how some assistive technologies offer support, as well as the simple steps that everyone can take to avoid creating barriers in the first place. 

In the webinar the panel discussed:

  • misconceptions about disabilities
  • the language used to describe different disabilities
  • some of the assistive technologies that the panel find most useful 

The webinar included an “Ask me anything” opportunity for attendees to pose questions to the panel.

Watch the webinar playback (captions provided and download a transcript):

Meet the panellists

We heard from a fantastic panel of speakers with professional and lived experience of working with disabilities:

Adam Tweed, Innovation Consultant for Education and Workplace, AbilityNetAdam Tweed

Adam is a lover of all things tech, and he firmly believes "if you can break it; it's been designed badly" and that “the best tech is the stuff you shouldn't need to think about.”

In this webinar, Adam discussed his mental health-related experiences and shared tips about some of the tech tools available to help manage mental health conditions. 

Rina Wharton, Accessibility and Usability Consultant, AbilityNet

Rina regularly runs audits and checks of AbilityNet's clients’ websites and mobile applications.

She writes detailed reports on any issues she finds and offers recommendations on how to fix them. 

Rina is a person with autism and in the webinar she discussed her experiences when studying and in the workplace. 


Alex Barker standing in front of wall, wearing sunglassesAlex Barker, Disability Consultant, AbilityNet

Alex has Moebius Syndrome, which is a very rare condition that causes paralysis in facial muscles, club foot, missing limbs and sometimes cognitive issues too.

He discussed his experiences growing up, at university and in the workplace and shared information about the tech tools he uses to help with his condition. 

DON'T DISABLE ME TRAINING COURSES:

AbilityNet also offers workplace training to help you build a workplace that is inclusive by design and uses technology to enable all employees to perform at their best.

Learn more from disabled people about how you can address visual, hearing, physical, mental health and neurodiversity barriers at your organisation.

 

"Wow! what a mesmerising and inspirational webinar" – comment from an attendee of our recent webinar.

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Webinar FAQs

A recording, transcript and slide deck are available below.

Find out more in our webinars FAQs and sign up to our next free webinar in our AbilityNet Live webinar series.
 

Webinar Q&As

This webinar was 60 minutes and included an opportunity to pose questions to the guest, please see below the questions and answers from our pannellists. You can find an archive of our webinars on our website and we also offer paid role-based accessibility training.

Q: How much can I as an employer ask you about what you need to succeed?

Adam: I think this is a question of your investment in me as an individual. Try not to think in terms of “what’s wrong with you?” or ”what ‘special needs’ do you have?” or about “this person is clearly disabled and therefore must need additional help or adjustments”, but rather treat it as part of any induction process where you explore the barriers that an individual might be facing; that way you’re likely to not only identify issues for the employee in question, but more often than not, you’ll improve the working environment for everyone.
In terms of the conversation, ask the individual what they might find useful in order to work at their best and if this fits with what you want and you’re able to provide it (be that equipment or adjustments) then do so. If you think it’s unreasonable or too expensive (assuming this wouldn’t be classed as a legal requirement under the Equality Act or ADA) then have a discussion, come to an acceptable compromise. If an employee doesn’t tell you and their performance suffers, any adjustments should be discussed as part of a standard review process and should again focus on barriers rather than disability.

Q: I recently was diagnosed with anxiety and low mood, what is the best way to communicate that to my team?

Adam: I’d think about the why – why do you want them to know? In my case I spoke to my line manager as I felt she needed to know but she had also been a significant source of support. Beyond that, the public nature of my mental heath journey has largely been as a result of saying I was willing to discuss my experience because I felt comfortable doing so. I’ve also spoken with others about the ways in which I manage any periods of low mood.
If you feel discussing things with others will help you, I’d say start off small and do so in conversation as opposed to giving yourself the pressure of making an announcement. If you are wanting others to know because you are aware of working practices and culture that are difficult for you, I’d suggest looking at how you might discuss them in terms of promoting better working practices as opposed to putting yourself under the additional pressure of asking others to make adjustments for you because of a diagnosis – I promise you the suggestions you might make for better working practice will make an impact on everyone.

Q: What advice would you have for people who don't have a diagnosis and consider their disabilities as 'mild' and deciding to 'put up with it'?

Adam: This is fairly common thought process with mental health difficulties, many of us, myself included, don’t seek a diagnosis or help for whatever reason and therefore feel that we’re a fraud or should just ‘pull ourselves together’. We need to recognise that lived experiences differ as do life events, resilience levels, support networks, etc. etc. everything is in constant motion and what we might be able to ‘deal with’ one day we might lack the resources to deal with on another. Everyone is different and we need to try to avoid ranking our experiences according to how we see others.

Q: How would you want a manager to check in that you are okay without being a pain?

Adam: In terms of Mental Health concerns I referenced the #AskTwice campaign from Time to Change but again, it’s a similar principle to physical health; if you see someone wince, you might ask if they’re OK they might tell you “Yep fine” and you’ll follow it up with a “You sure?” but if they repeat that they’re fine again, you’d probably think “OK, maybe it’s something they don’t want to talk about.” – Mental Health is no different, sometimes you need a nudge to talk, sometimes the last thing you want to do is talk and this differs from person to person and situation to situation. The key is to make clear you can be talked to, but at the same time realising that there is only so much you can do; you do not have to feel responsible for ‘fixing’ someone else. 

Rina: My autism means that I find it really difficult to differentiate when I’m being asked how I am because “that’s what people do” and when I am being asked because it’s a genuine question. So for me, it’s not so much a question of “without being a pain” but a question of “is this a genuine question rather than a neurotypical nicety”.
Know what my indicators are that I am not coping well so that you can identify times when I may not be able to reflect on my own wellbeing and need my manager to probe a little more deeply.  Be aware that I mask my difficulties to fit into their neurotypical world, and I have been doing this for most of my life. So, I need my line manager to develop a relationship with me so that they feel comfortable encouraging me to consider when my responses are coming from my masking and when they are a clearer indication of how I am struggling to keep up the ‘performance’. As well, this relationship will help my line manager to better understand me as a person and see some of the warning signs that I’m not picking up. 

Q: Question to Alex, why was the word processor most impactful to you? 

Alex: I went from a special needs school to a comprehensive in the mid-80s. I was provided with a TA (Teaching Assistant) to help me with writing. I was lazy and she wrote down what she thought the school wanted to see when I got a word processor to really gave me the chance to get work down by myself and it made me want to show the teachers what I wanted to write. I ended up doing a BA in Journalism Studies!

Q: The formal aspects of recruitment and the workplace: the Interview, the one-to-one meeting, the progress and development review. The structure and focus of these can reinforce masking. Do the panel have some thoughts or methods for counteracting this?

Amy: This is definitely challenging, especially when there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach applied to this. AbilityNet have a gap analysis process and associated training series that delves into each step of the employee journey to evaluate how inclusive and accessible it is and make recommendations to provide a more equitable and flexible approach. Check out our free training on the 23rd of February to find out a bit more about the Gap analysis and conduct a high level assessment of where you are now and what you might want to focus on improving. 

Adam: I think you’ve identified the problem; the formal interview process! This is a huge barrier for many people. I think the question to ask is whether the formal interview process is fit for purpose; are you attracting the perfect candidates to a role and are you employing the best people or just those who interview well? AbilityNet have put together a multi-part course that looks at all aspects of the employee journey and helps you to identify the parts of the process that might be excluding people and giving you the tools, tips and ideas to address these issues to counteract the issues you identify.

Rina: Try to focus on the skills/knowledge/experience, rather than assessing people in how they perform in a very standardised and inflexible assessment.
I may not be able to demonstrate what you are looking for during an interview because of the time and pressure during the interview. This doesn’t mean I don’t have these skills; it just means that I need to have some adjustments to showcase them. This may be offering breaks during the interview, getting the questions early or having the freedom to perform some of the tasks in a different way, e.g., can a telephone interview be given as questions to reply to in text?
 

Q: Amy - perhaps you could let us know the name of the book you just mentioned, re digital communication?

Amy: Absolutely and apologies for my mind blip during the session. This book is amazing I highly recommend it. An absolute goldmine of ideas and information in our new hybrid world of work. Digital Body Language by Erica Dhawan

Q: How does one talk about the intensity or level of disability without hurting anyone? Because conveying the level of disability is also important in some situations!

Adam: I think recognising everyone’s experience is unique to them, placing one disability as more intense than another risks making assumptions about a persons lived experience or quality of live based on a benchmark that they might share. For example you might consider a person who can hear is less disabled than a person who is deaf, but many Deaf people do not consider themselves disabled at all. I’m always interested in having my own assumptions challenged, so I may be missing a specific situation that you have in mind.

Q: Have you found any issues working in teams with people with a range of very different disabilities?

Amy: This is something that is very much aligned with how consciously you are seeking to create an inclusive working or learning environment. If there are some cultural expectations that everyone is given airtime and the ability to contribute then you tend to find that the team/group will work creatively to make sure barriers are identified and removed for everyone. Sometimes this involves compromise and teamwork when approaching using partially accessible online tools for instance. As long as the default position is working together using individual strengths and the tools available to support accessibility and inclusion you should be in a good place. You will probably get better more well thought out outcomes through having a really diverse group focused on the job in hand too.

Adam: I do understand where this question is coming from, so please don’t think my answer is combative, but the same questions were raised about women in the workplace, people of colour, different sexualities and gender identities. It is absolutely right to have this discussion, to voice your concerns, but I think for many people they see ‘disabled’ as ‘different’ and ‘needing help’. Instead how about thinking of the question as “What issues would there be with having a diverse team with different lived experiences?” and suddenly what you might see as a problem, you will see as a huge benefit to any organisation.

Q: How can small projects / workplaces ensure that we are being inclusive with limited funds and time?

Amy: The majority of individual reasonable adjustments are low cost or free to implement and others can be funded by Access to Work see here for our factsheet. Interestingly, looking at the overall picture and seeking to make it inclusive by design is generally cheaper and easier and makes the working environment better for everyone. There are definitely some low effort / cost but high impact ways to improve inclusivity and this has a really strong effect on workplace morale too as demonstrates that you care and want to make work enjoyable and comfortable for the widest possible audience.

Adam: Most ‘adjustments’ are free and actually add very little time to a workflow and many assistive technologies and checking tools are low cost and often in-the-box (Microsoft Office for example includes an Accessibility Checker that will highlight common issues in content and show you how to quickly and easily fix them. There have also been huge advances in things like the spelling and grammar tools to now highlight things like inclusive language). Having accessible documents and working practices will have huge benefits but you need to shift your thinking from ‘disability-related’ to ‘barrier-related’. Captioning content for example; this enables a video to be accessible to someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing, but we know far more people watch videos with captions than identify as being Deaf or hard of hearing (Facebook for example reported 85% of videos are watched on mute) Captions allow people who are in noisy environments to also access your content, and at the other end people who are in environments where they might not want to disturb others. Captions also improve overall engagement with a higher proportion of captioned content being watched to completion as opposed to part-way through. Including image descriptions on pictures (alt text) will make them more accessible for indexing your web content, so you will receive a benefit in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Inclusive companies benefit from better public opinion and an inclusive environment is seen as more important than salary by a significant (and growing proportion of graduates) so being inclusive will mean that you will attract the best people.

Rina: For me, a big element of being inclusive is attitude. I know straight away if somewhere is trying by the attitude I am met with when I disclose my autism, if the person I am talking to replies positively, then I can start a conversation about how we can work together to arrange some adjustments that support both me and the organisation. Attitude costs nothing. 

Q: Do you have to have formal diagnosis in order to have employability rights?

To answer this specific question, we asked AbilityNet’s Head of HR, Mairéad Comerford, for her response. 

Mairéad: Is the absence related to an protected characteristic? If so you are protected:
If you are absent for longer than 7 days you need a doctor’s note to sign you off so this will be enough, however, depending on your organisation sick absence policy, they may have the right to ask you to attend their own occupational therapist (so check your company policies).

Your company will have a sick policy whereby they will have company sick pay and if you exceed this (and stated in their policy) they can stop sick payments. However, any company, if someone is off sick should look at reasons (via return to work interview) and put in place any reasonable adjustments – employment tribunal would look at this.

I think it is fair for an organisation to understand reasons for person being off and if continuous would normally have Occupational Therapist to do a check. So need reasonable actions from employee and employer. The formal diagnosis would be looked at case by case basis.
 

Q: If you are relatively new to advocating for yourself, how do you cope with questions from colleagues or line managers about what you need? Often, I don't really know, and/or am nervous about asking for something unreasonable.

Adam: I think again this is about approaching this as a discussion about barriers and how to work at your best and in a discussion there are only unreasonable demands, not unreasonable requests. One would assume your company has made an investment in you and they want to get the most out of this investment. It really should be no different than discussing your CPD and identifying training that you might consider beneficial to your productivity or career progression and highlighting the benefit this will have for the company. With colleagues, I understand, depending on what you might find beneficial, this can be more challenging (I thinking of situations like an open plan office if you work best in silence) but often again, a discussion most often leads to a situation that benefits many.
The free resources AbilityNet has available such as our factsheets and My Computer My Way, may also help you to find out the sorts of support that might be available that would help you overcome whatever barriers you might be facing. Many are free, in-built or low cost and even if they don’t quite suit you, will enable you to discuss any more specialist support with your employer, or line manager. 
Most countries also have things like the Equality Act that provides legal protection against discrimination based on disability (including mental health conditions) but this typically required a diagnosis and should hopefully only ever be a last line of defence against a bad employer.

Rina: When I first started asking for adjustments, I was not sure what would and would not work. I started by just explaining what issues or difficulties I am experiencing. This can then help you to talk through potential solutions with your line manager. In terms of trying to work out what is “reasonable”, my suggestion is to float ideas of things you think might help. That is, try to come up with a few things you might want to try to see if they would help and include these in your discussion with your line manager. These do not have to be definite solutions, mention to your manager that you don’t know what will work, but that you have a few ideas to try. This way, your manager can consider the different options and take them away to discuss if needed. Personally, I take a “if you don’t ask, you don’t know” approach. The most I can do is suggest some solutions and work with my line manager to work out an adjustment that meets both my needs and that of the team and organisation.

Q: Asking and being direct I understand - how does that work for those working through mental health issues. Does that exacerbate your anxiety, Adam?

Adam: Being direct does not necessarily mean being rude or hostile. I’m often at my most relaxed around those who are most honest as I’m not having to spend any cognitive effort on reading a situation (I can be very sensitive to body language, expressions, and whether something someone says is actually what they mean). Giving/receiving negative feedback is never nice, but I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to hold back or not say something “because he’s got anxiety” and finding out this had happened would be my idea of a relationship-ender with an employer!
In terms of being direct about conditions, that can be slightly more complicated and you would need an element of sensitivity but asking if someone is alright, or if they need any help is very different from “What’s up with you?!” or “You need help!”

Q: I heard that the National Autistic Society recommend those 'with autism' prefer to be called autistic. Would you agree with that?

Adam: I think that the NAS is a good source for subject matter experts, but bear in mind that this differs from individual to individual. I’ve always taken the view that so long as you know why you have chosen to use one particular term and open to feedback you’re on safe ground.

Rina: It is honestly a personal preference. I am very aware that some people have very strong feelings on this. The best way of finding out how someone would like their autism to be referred to is by asking them. 
 

Q: I wonder how the panellists deal when they disclose information about their accessibility needs (to managers etc) but receive a nonchalant, dismissive, or uninterested response?

Adam: I am in a privileged position where I’ve always had the option to walk away from a job (and have) if it didn’t suit me, but I recognise this is not something that is an option for many people. The Equality Act does give you legal rights but this is not available to everyone and the process of fighting can be a barrier in itself. Receiving a nonchalant, dismissive or uninterested response can often point ignorance and fear that ‘dealing with’ a request is going to be expensive, unreasonable or will open the flood gates to more requests or requests from others, it might equally be a lack of understanding of the impact of a problem. I’ve known situations where people have handed in their notice and been met with a “I didn’t realise it was having such an impact”.
It is unfortunate that we are still at a point where a satisfactory resolution is likely to require you, as the person experiencing the barrier, to have to put the effort in to resolving it, to making the other person realise the impact. It might be you have to look at what is motivating them to be reacting in this way. The other thing to remember is the power of the story rather than “a condition” or a “list of accessibility needs”. That was why we put together the lived experience series, that often people make assumptions and aren’t able to comprehend how someone else sees the world, the barriers they face, but also the value this perspective can bring.

Q: Which voice recognition software do you use and is it expensive? (Not asking as an employer)

Adam: Google Docs have ‘voice typing’ and Microsoft Office has ‘dictate’ and they’re pretty impressive in terms of accuracy (I’m male, without an accent, so might not be everyone’s experience!). Google is available with a free Google account, Microsoft is in-built, but you’ll need an Office 365 subscription. Beyond the voice recognition, you can also do commands such as ‘bold’, ‘underline’ and ‘new paragraph’. Beyond this, Nuance’s ‘Dragon’ is pretty much the industry standard and has a lot more functionality that in-built software won’t have (Dragon, for example is able to input into any program, whereas the in built software will only work in the programs they are part of). Although the home edition is a reasonable price a business and particularly specialist versions such as those able to understand medical and legal terminology can be quite a significant expense. 

Rina: I use Dragon at work, which was supplied through Access to Work. This is a scheme for disabled people in work to get access to assistive technology and support at work. At home and Uni, I tend to use the built-in voice recognition in my MacBook and iPhone. 
 

Q: As language is subjective, how do I write the best possible/most inclusive training material for my colleagues/clients?

Amy: Whilst there are not hard and fast rules about right and wrong meaning we are unlikely to ever get it completely ‘right’ there are a few key principles to keep in mind. When talking to someone in person and unsure what to say, as discussed on the webinar you can ask for their preferred way to describe themselves. When producing written content to be consumed by a wider audience as in this case this isn’t possible to check with all readers.
 
Some things to be aware of are to avoid using any terminology that has negative connotations such as ‘suffering from’ or being ‘afflicted with’ a condition. Terms like ‘wheelchair bound’ are better replaced by wheelchair user or person in a wheelchair. There are geographical nuances on whether a person first descriptor (someone with a disability rather than someone who is disabled) is preferable. Typically the UK preference is for ‘disabled person’ and this is linked to the Social Model of Disability which states that it is the barriers present in the physical and social environment around a person that disable them, rather than their disability in and of itself. In the US the preference is for Persons with disabilities sometimes abbreviated to PWDs. A good middle ground is to say ‘someone living with (a condition or impairment). There are various AI based tools to check for inclusive language such as Microsoft Editor. You can work up a glossary of terms that you decide to use for your organisation with a rationale for what you have settled upon. Just be ready to dust it off regularly and check against current preferences. We are just about to give ours a bit of a review actually!

Adam: Unfortunately the unhelpful answer is ‘it depends’. Language is constantly evolving and there is rarely universal agreement. The UK tends to favour ‘disabled people’ as a term as it is felt this reflects the social model of disability that places emphasis on how an environment or attitude can disable a person. The US, in contrast, favours the person-centric ‘people with disabilities’. Neither term is right or better than the other. All I can say is asking and involving your audience will never be wrong, and although ultimately you are never going to be able to please everyone, often a simple explanation as to why you’ve made the decisions is enough.

Q: How would you deal with someone (say a manager) who reacts badly to that level of truth?

Rina: While this is probably not the most helpful answer, my immediate response is “If you’re not prepared to listen to what I need or understand the difficulties I am experiencing, then I don’t want to work here”.
Having said that, there is some value in educating them if you’re able to do so. I appreciate that this is often easier said than done. 
If you have no other options, you could perhaps try to find someone else in the organisation who could help you to convey your thoughts in a way that the other person can understand and accept.

Q: I wanted to ask Adam how he has found telling his male friends (if any) about his diagnosis? These topics can be difficult amongst men

Adam: I have a few close male friends I’ve spoken with. I also have lots of friends who have known me well enough and for long enough to maybe accept some of how I am is just how I am. I’m aware that some of my dark moods can impact others so there are occasions where I might avoid company or head off on my own if I feel like my mood isn’t a good match for the company I’m in. I’m also pretty comfortable in my own skin, so I’m pretty confident now that my circle of close friends doesn’t include anyone who would have a problem with me or the way I am; I just wouldn’t make any effort to maintain what I’d see as a one-sided friendship!

Q: Is there an organisation to get a diagnostic assessment? As I have symptoms etc and always thought about it for a few years as I struggled in university and ended up leaving after a year.

Adam: I think before seeking a diagnosis, I think it’s worth asking what difference it makes. If it gives you access to support or adjustments that you think would be helpful and are out of reach otherwise, then it might be worth doing, but if it’s about giving a label to you for being who you are, sometimes it can be less helpful.
Neurodivergent conditions (Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia) you can see an Educational Psychologist. A clinical assessment can be very expensive and may not reveal anything (or many not be at significant enough levels to warrant diagnosis). For mental health conditions a psychologist (typically clinical), psychiatrist or GP, but again may not give you a definitive answer.

Q: Can you tell me a time where your difference became a strength to share in your workplace?

Adam: Although I didn’t really touch on it in the webinar, for me the ‘manic’ bit of what I actually consider to be my personality rather than a mental health condition has always made me creative and the ‘depressive’ bit gives me the chance to be more introspective and productive – most of the time I can manage this and get the balance right and so it can be a huge strength. More generally I think that lived experience of a mental health condition can make you more sensitive to others experiencing similar issues and also makes you easier to talk to I often find.

Q: What are you best experiences of inclusive workplaces?

Amy: Where leaders and colleagues are empathic, compassionate and eager to evolve and improve. The other hallmark of success is where inclusion is treated as a business objective with a structured approach to achieving it. Engaging your teams, setting a baseline, agreeing some goals, gathering evidence about what would improve, measuring and celebrating success or changing the plan. There can be an overemphasis on extra curricular activities to drive wellbeing and engagement but often focusing on the job focused challenges is more important. If staff are struggling to work productively and feeling burned out they wont have the time or energy to engage in awareness days and team building events.

Q: A manager set up a meeting and it was about my performance which caught me off guard and my mind went blank. How can I tell the manager to give me heads up?

Amy: This is again something that should be considered organisationally as part of the performance and career development process to make sure that individuals are not being surprised with discussions of this kind. Having clarity about what meetings are about and when performance will be discussed is really important and line managers are much more likely to get a good outcome from such a meeting if someone is prepared for the discussion.
 
From your own personal perspective you could perhaps either speak to the manager or send them an email explaining how the fact you were not advised in advance caused your mind to go blank and that you would have been better prepared to have a helpful discussion about this if you had known in advance what was going to be discussed. Ask can they in future provide you with information in advance so you feel more prepared to discuss to give a better chance of a positive and collaborative approach to any such discussions.

Adam: As a fellow “blank in the spotlight” I’d say have the conversation with your manager to explain – most people don’t set out to catch people out and even fewer deliberately enjoy making others feel uncomfortable and if they’re a good manager they’ll want to know how a simple ‘heads up’ is going to make a difference to a member of their team.

Q: What helps you to feel included ? e.g. in events taking place / clubs, etc

Adam: Choice; feeling like there are options to join in and options to step back, options to interact and options to listen.

Q: What are key design elements in a workplace to promote/ensure inclusiveness?

Amy: For me I would say : flexibility, trust, focus on results not how they are achieved, innovation, communication, equitable experience, positive representation at all levels, celebration of differences.

Q: Any success stories about leaving a work environment that is not suitable for me? I have anxiety, ADHD, I had workplace coaching, disclosed condition

Amy: It's always worth ‘moving towards’ something that is more suited to what you want from an employer/work environment rather than ‘moving away’ from something that isn’t working although where your situation is impacting on wellbeing it needs to be addressed. Making a positively focused list of what you want from a work environment and considering what would need to change in your existing role to achieve this is a good place to start. It may be possible to achieve too! I am sure others can say more on this but when ‘moving away’ from something that is not working without considering in detail what great would feel like you can often end up somewhere equally unsuitable.

Adam: Whether it’s the right decision to leave only you can decide, but in terms of the second part of your question; I worked in an environment that I recognised as toxic and ultimately led to what I consider now to be a breakdown (I say consider as I didn’t get any help but I don’t remember much about that time). I did a few bonkers jobs but eventually ended up at AbilityNet.
I have two phrases I pinned by my desk: “You have survived all of your worst days” and “This too shall pass”.

Q: How would you explain the importance of accessible Word documents and presentations to standard audiences who currently can't find time to make them accessible?

Amy: We often find demonstrating the experience and how an accessible doc supports and the pain of navigating inaccessible docs is the best way forward in terms of communicating ‘the why’. For ‘the how’ make it as easy as possible by providing accessible templates and step by step guides to how to create accessible content. We designed an eLearning module especially for that. It acts as a really useful resource that you can dip into whenever you need to check something.

Adam: I’d say an accessible document isn’t a document that has been made “disabled-person-friendly” accessible content means content that can be accessed by anyone, in a method that best suits their preference or way of working. Think of captions on videos – we know that the audience who watch content with captions switched on is significantly larger that the audience who would identify as Deaf or hard of hearing (85% of Facebook videos are watched on mute for example) captions enable your content to be viewed by people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, but also by people who might have an ear infection (temporary impairment) or people who are in a noisy environment or conversely a quiet one (situational impairment). The same is true for accessible documents. An accessible word document with proper headings (the Styles) will enable anyone to navigate quickly and efficiently, to move sections about without error-prone copy and pasting of chunks. Beyond this, introducing simple accessible considerations will become as part of ordinary workflow as using a spellchecker and will ultimately mean that you will not have to worry about the day you will need to retrospectively make everything accessible when a client, customer, employee, manager, CEO or merger means that it becomes an immediate requirement.

Q: In relation to eLearning (self-paced, individual, online learning), what are some features that have been helpful?

Adam: the biggest thing for me, as you highlight is the fact it is self-paced – I learn at a pace that suits me at a time that I know I can focus best, I can review and check or skip over things without feeling like I’m holding up others or forcing others to rush to catch up. The variety of modes of learning also suits me, so being able to access video, text, audio and interactive activities.

Q: What would have made the biggest difference to you to support you in your career as you left education?

Rina: For me, as I started my career, the things that made the biggest difference were flexibility and understanding. Not just understanding that I need to approach work differently and have some adjustments, but that my ability to cope with working full time is hugely impacted by my home life. If something stressful is happening outside work, I may be less able to cope at work. They are not separate and should not be treated as such.

Q: How do you adapt to changes in your team/workplace? For example, a new team member.

Amy: Communication is key and having a really robust onboarding process is probably the most important element to enable the team and new hire to engage positively. This has been increasingly challenging based on many new hires never actually meeting their colleagues in person due to remote working and therefore those relationship building elements become ever more important. Taking time to discuss culture as well as practicalities of the job and making sure to provide people networks to foster belonging is crucial. There are loads of novel ways to achieve this and lots of tech tips that can help! Check out our training How to do accessible, inclusive onboarding on the 16th of February 2022.

Q: How do you experience day to day life? Shopping, socialising, health appts etc. what could people do differently to be more inclusive?

Rina: For me, general awareness and understanding makes a big difference. Really appreciating that everyone is different and will need to approach life in their own unique way is key to making people feel welcome. 

Q: When you were new(er) to advocating for yourself, how did you speak to colleagues or line managers about what you needed? I find it hard to know what I need.

Adam: I think for me it’s not the condition that leads it, but rather that I know myself well enough to know there are certain ways that I work well and certain ways that I don’t, so I tend to be pretty honest about this, but I also accept there are situations where my ideal way of working isn’t going to suit what needs to be delivered. It’s communication and compromise and I’ve worked in lots of different environments and whilst some have been less flexible than others, most managers typically want their team to perform at their best.
In terms of knowing what you need, that’s the age-old “you don’t know what you don’t know” but if you think in terms of what you are finding challenging as opposed to approaching something with pre-existing ideas based on a condition or diagnosis, you will often find you start finding what works best for you.

Q: A bit of a general question - but when will major players like Adobe make designing for accessibility a bit easier? Neither from design software nor in Acrobat, it's still so convoluted.

Adam: In fairness Adobe are making significant inroads into making their software and the content they produce more accessible although often it is through plug-ins and add-ons and this introduces friction into the process that slows widespread adoption of best practices. Building accessibly into company culture, framing accessible and inclusive content as beneficial to everyone will push the needle on how important this is for a company to prioritise. For designers, coders, content producers; have a look around for alternatives there are available that might be more accessible or produce more accessible content and champion these alternatives. All the entrepreneurs out there, look at the gaps and see the audience you could have!

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