On the second anniversary of the launch of the Disability Confident scheme Paul Deemer, head of diversity and inclusion NHS Employers, reflects on attitudes, views and experiences of disability in the workplace.
I believe that we have seen a huge shift in attitudes towards disability over my lifetime. When I was born in the 1960s and through to the 1990s, the attitudes to disabled people were very paternalistic and patronising. The Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 was obviously a major watershed – and the culmination of many, many years of struggle by disability campaigners to achieve equality in the eyes of the law. The subsequent Equality Act 2010 merely served to cement this further.
But the shift has been wider than just legislation. I look around me every day and see the benefits and evidence of disability equality. Doors open automatically for me! My computer talks to me! My phone talks to me! I can get subtitles on those dreadfully recorded American films where they mumble and the volume seems to drop ten decibels every scene!
Attitudes have also changed. People seem to be more aware of the fact that other people might have disabilities. We have had disabled role models in sport (Ade Adepitan, Tanni Grey-Thompson) and in music (Ian Dury and Andrea Bocelli). Even some of our greatest thinkers are disabled (Stephen Hawkings).
But I still struggle to see that acceptance, openness and equality in the workplace. When it comes to disability in the workplace, we seem to replace “Yes we can” with “Well, we can think about it, but let’s do the health and safety checks first”. We seem to replace “anything is possible” with “most things are possible – but not for everybody”. Two ticks became two question marks – and too much of a tick box exercise (excuse the pun). The Disability Confident scheme is a significant improvement on this, and seeks to genuinely learn lessons from the past.
We need a change of attitude towards disability in the workplace, and I want to see the NHS at the forefront of that change. Some organisations are already leading the way, such as the fantastic BartsAbility network at Barts Health and some of the great Project Search initiatives at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals and St George’s University Hospital in London – but we need more to join us.
We need employers to be more disability confident. Let’s take the con out of confident and make the NHS disability CANfident! The future is bright – the future is purple.