On 30 April 2019 nearly 200 people from across the health and social care sector joined us for our fourth Disability Summit at the Tower Hotel in London. This year is a landmark year for our sector with the launch of our new Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) in the NHS and the roll out of our Learning Disability Employment Programme as part of the recently announced Long Term Plan. But we wanted the summit to be more than this, and to allow us to celebrate the achievements of people with disabilities and learn about best practice in the field of employing people with disabilities
There was a huge buzz of excitement and high expectations in the room.
The day’s events were expertly conducted and overseen by our two experienced facilitators - Kate Nash OBE and Dr Ian McPherson. As long term campaigners in their respective fields of disability, Kate and Ian were the perfect double act to make sure things stayed on track. But they did more than this by really setting the tone for the day when they opened with brief, snapshot stories of their own personal experiences of disability. The stage was then set for the rest of our invited guests and presenters to share their own stories and examples of good practice with the audience.
This year’s summit was a genuine attempt to bring together people whose main interest was disability, regardless of role or status. We had chairs and leads of disabled staff networks, disabled staff, those with responsibility and an interest in advancing workplace disability like equality and diversity leads within trusts as well as workforce leaders (such as HR directors/managers), nursing directors and operational managers. Most importantly, we wanted to create a space to hear the voices of people with disabilities and their experiences of working in the health and social care sector. So over half of the audience were people with disabilities and over 90 per cent of the presenters and speakers were disabled.
We opened the summit with some policy context setting from Dr Neil Churchill, director of experience, participation and equalities at NHS England. Neil talked about the WDES, but also linked it to the patient experience and made the connection between good staff experience and better patient outcomes.
Our first session fell to the Disability Staff Network of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay led by their executive sponsor and board member David Wilkinson. They opened with a video their network had compiled for the summit and then shared the story of how the trust was moving towards being effortlessly inclusive. This included some fantastic practical and often simple examples of where reasonable adjustments had been made at very little cost.
The audience was then treated to the force that is Storm Hannah! Dr Hannah Barham-Brown is currently training to be a GP in Leeds, but is also a disability rights advocate under the online pseudonym #Rollmodel. Hannah shared with the audience her experience of being a doctor, patient and frequent traveller as well as a wheelchair user and how the two very often do not go well together. But she also shared her positive experiences of these things, and again showed how often patients (particularly with a disability) benefit greatly from being treated by someone who is like them.
Lisa Baldock MBE was pivotal in the design of the Workplace Disability Passport which is not only used across the Civil Service but is well known in private industry. She used a tin of baked beans (the brand of which we are of course not able to mention) to demonstrate the power of labelling and then went on to talk about the importance of employers making reasonable adjustments for all staff, but particularly those (like her) who have hearing loss.
Our morning was closed by the fantastic trio of Kieran, Shannon and Callum, three of the young adults with learning difficulties or autism on placement with Hampshire Hospitals under their Project Choice scheme. With the help of their manager Ian Wheeler, the three interns had created a video about their experiences which they shared with the audience. They then took it in turn to tell their individual stories and the difference that Project Choice had made to their lives.
Our afternoon session was opened by DEAFvibe Visual Frequencies Sign Singing Group – who brought the audience to life with their versions of Something So Strong by Labi Siffre and This is Me by Keala Settle. The group regularly perform at community and organisational events to spread awareness of the importance of signing and the power of music.
Our next session featured four members of a Senior DiverseAbility Influencers Group talking to the audience about their personal journeys of being a leader with a disability. Part of the Building Leadership For Inclusion (BLFI) programme led by the NHS Leadership Academy, the group aims to update and inform leadership development, thinking and practice within and across NHS-funded health and care by placing the voices of those with lived experience of exclusion at the centre of all strategies for inclusive change.
Dorset HealthCare Hidden Talents Group comprises of staff employed by Dorset HealthCare who have experienced a mental health illness at some time in their life, or who live with a mental health condition or emotional distress. The group showed the audience a powerful and moving video they had made of the experiences of having a hidden disability in the workplace. They shared their personal stories of how they had overcome challenges and how the organisation had helped them on that path.
It’s tough at the top
Our day ended with a remarkably honest and frank session from Lisa Rodrigues CBE, a mental health campaigner and former chief executive of a mental health trust in the NHS. Lisa shared with the audience the challenges of having a disability alongside the challenges of being a chief executive and the pressures and responsibilities that this put on her – at both a personal and an organisational level. She talked about the importance of honesty and integrity and her ongoing challenges now of managing her mental health condition as she works to spread awareness about the subject.
If you would like a copy of the Disability Summit transcript please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can view and download the delegate guide to read the speaker biographies and also learning hub exhibitor information and contact details. Photographs from the day are available to download from our Flikr album and you can also view our Twitter moment which shares highlights of the event.
Thank you to our speakers, sponsors and exhibitors who supported the summit and made it such an inspirational event.