Employee support and adjustments in the age of Covid

Date of webinar: 
26 Apr 2022 - 13:00

What do HR managers need to know about hybrid working with disabled employees?

Woman sitting at desk in workspaceAre you doing enough to provide your employees with 'reasonable adjustments' to be able to perform at their best?

The Equality Act 2010 requires employers and service providers to make reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people to access the same opportunities and services as non-disabled people.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the complexity of reasonable adjustments that employers need to provide increased. 

On Tuesday 26 April, BT Group and AbilityNet discussed how to ensure you're providing (and receiving) reasonable adjustments in the workplace, particularly in light of Covid-19 and its effect on disabled employees. Our panellists also shared some of the assistive technology that can help in the workplace.

What did the webinar cover?

The webinar covered:

  • a focus on how organisations can and have responded to Covid-19's effect on employees 
  • best practices and advice for organisations wishing to make beneficial changes
  • examples of assistive technology that can help in the workplace
  • a discussion of HR considerations, what employees should expect from employers, and the provisions employers should provide to their workforce

Meet the panellists

The panel included:

Lina ChauhanBT logo - the letters BT inside a purple circleLina Chauhan, Group Ergonomic, Musculoskeletal and Wellbeing Specialist, BT Group

Lina is an Advanced Occupational Health & Musculoskeletal Health Physiotherapist and has worked in the industry for 15 years. She is very passionate about helping people stay healthy at work. For BT Group plc she works as an Ergonomic, Musculoskeletal and Wellbeing Specialist within a leadership and collaborative role, driving forward optimum health and wellbeing in the workplace.

On the webinar, Lina spoke about BT's focus on its employees' workstation set up and and adjustments was amplified to support health and wellbeing and working from home at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Mairead ComerfordMairead Comerford, Head of HR, AbilityNet

Mairéad has been working within HR since 1987. Fresh out of university she began working at BT as a generalist HR administrator through to manager on its graduate recruitment programme. Mairéad joined AbilityNet (a Disability Confident Leader) in 2011 as Head of HR, covering all aspects of HR: engagement, change, employee relations, employment law, and performance. 

In the webinar, Mairead discussed the resources available to help make adjustments in the workplace and to build workplace processes that are as accessible as possible.

Adam Tweed, Innovation Consultant for Education and Workplace, AbilityNet

Adam Tweed smiling at cameraWith a BSc in Psychology and a career spanning IT in both the commercial and education sectors, Adam is a self-described jack-of-all-trades. The move to AbilityNet, initially as a Disabled Students' Allowances (DSA) and Workplace Needs Assessor, combined both his passion for people and for technology and the intersection of the two.

In the webinar, Adam explained how reasonable adjustments don’t have to be expensive and how assistive technology can empower employees. 

Webinar FAQs

You can find the webinar recording, slides and a transcript below. 

You can find an archive of our webinars on our website and we also offer paid role-based accessibility training.

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

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.

Q&As

This webinar lasted 60 minutes and included an opportunity to pose questions to the guests. The panel were able to answer many questions from attendees during the live session, which you can find by watching the webinar playback or accessing the transcript. Here are some additional questions we weren't able to answer at the time:

Q: Lina in your experience, have you come across ultra-lightweight headsets? All the ones I have tried caused neurological pain in the face.

Lina: Thanks for your question! I have reached out to my colleagues at BT who have suggested:
Plantronics/ Poly do an ultra-lightweight headset now in the UK as showing on their UK website now.
In particular, the STARSET H31CD is advertised as “ultra-lightweight” and suggests it is often used in air traffic roles etc and rests behind the ear.
When considering headsets, I suggest considering the less plastic on the headset then the lighter the headset might be, so the headsets with over the ear, around the ear and neckband wearing styles might be lighter than the conventional binaural or monaural wearing style headsets.
What you then might want to consider is: is this wearing style going to be suitable for a workplace where there is likely to be a lot of background noise and whether this is suitable to use?

Q: Do you have any advice or suggested ways to ask for, and receive, reasonable adjustments without making the conversation about disability or necessarily sharing the nature of the disability? 

Mairéad: If you can have an open and honest discussion with your line manager or HR then this is always the best approach. If this is not possible concentrate on the barrier when speaking to your manager/HR rather than the disability, so for example: I find it tiring typing out reports, is there any assistive technology that could I could use that does speech to text?

Adam: I’d always suggest any conversation starts with barriers and how to address them – it should be that most can be resolved without having to go down the route of diagnosis and disclosure (at least to begin with).

Q: I would be interested to hear more about Access to Work.  Does AbilityNet support employees in this process?

Mairéad: We don’t support employees directly but we do have a factsheet on our website and the government site has useful information, or you can ring your local Job Centre Plus for further information. Happy to talk you through the process of what I have learnt, you can email me at: mairead.comerford@abilitynet.org.uk

Q: Are there any free assistive technologies that can be used with Excel?

Adam: Not that I’m aware of in terms of built-in other than the Accessibility checker (under the ‘Review’ tab) which will highlight some of the common accessibility issues with excel. The free screen reader NVDA (along with in-built screen readers such as Narrator should work with excel and depending on what you are wanting to do, there may be other free or low-cost options to try.

Q: If you raise an issue with your line manager and they fail to respond, how can you push this issue in a positive way?

Mairéad: Ask for a meeting to discuss, send a polite prompt in case this has dropped down in their email list. If these attempts fail then you should speak to your HR department. Do some research yourself to offer up some solutions for example financed via Access to Work and you can contact them direct you do not need to have approval from your employer to do this.

Q: Are there any good tools to help me transcribe my meetings?

Adam: Microsoft Teams has in-built live transcription. The transcription feature in Word online (demo’d in the webinar and recorded demo videos) will allow you to upload a recorded audio file and generate a transcript with speakers and timecodes. It will work with video (there is a file size limit though). You get 300 minutes per month with an office 365 subscription.

Google has ‘recorder’ it’s an app (android phones, audio only) but provides good live transcription that allows you click on the transcription and ‘jump’ to the audio in the recording. Exporting the transcript was a bit of a faff, but this might have improved.

Otter.ai is another good service that gives a certain amount of free minutes (per month I think) before moving to paid – and you get a fair warning on this.

Q: Things change over time too; do you do regular reviews of RA over employee’s time in role?

Mairéad: Yes we do at AbiltiyNet and this is done via the ClearTalents at Work questionnaire that our employees update annually or as and when their circumstances change.

Q: If my line manager is hesitant to send me for OH assessment because I might get a DSA assessment in coming months, what can I do? Can I get an Access to Work Assessment within my employer's approval?

Mairéad: Yes you can. Do you want an OH and a DSA assessment – the one should be enough. However, if you feel you need a OH sooner then try to push for this as it can be done via Access to Work. 

 

    Discover how technology can support your employees with cognitive differences

    Learn more about our Don't Disable Me training course series that focuses on the lived experiences of people with disabilities including those who face neurodiversity barriers.

    In the course, you can learn first hand how technology can support neurodivergents at work, in study and day-to-day life.

    Find out more 

    Useful links

    Factsheet: What are reasonable adjustments?

    Factsheet: How technology can-support symptoms of Long Covid

    Workplace Reasonable Adjustment information for HR teams 

    Factsheet: How to apply for an Access to Work grant

    How to transcribe speech-to-text

    During the webinar, Adam demonstrated two ways you can transcribe speech-to-text using Google Docs and Microsoft Word Online. As there were a few technical issues during the live webinar, Adam has recorded separate videos to demonstrate the assistive technologies in action.