Business Disability Forum
|Founded||London, England (1991)|
|Key people||Susan Scott-Parker, CEO
Paul Day, Chief of Staff
Training & Events
The Business Disability Forum is the UK’s national employers’ network specifically focused on the topic of disability. The Employers Forum on Disability officially became the Business Disability Forum on 1 October 2012. This was done to better reflect the role of the group as a bridge between disabled people and the world of business.
The group has about 350 members, including 100 multinational corporations, small and medium sized enterprises and public sector employers, employ approximately 18 per cent of the UK workforce. Members include employers from banking, education, health, broadcasting, telecommunications, manufacturing and retail sectors.
The organisation provide a wide range of products and services for business including recruitment and retention of disabled employees, services to disabled customers and development of partnerships with disabled people as stakeholders in the wider community.
Membership benefits includes a Helpline, offering expert information on all aspects of disability, a connection service helping members to resolve potential Equality Act 2010 claims, member policy audits and a wide range of events and publications.
The Business Disability Forum also operate a management tool called the Disability Standard that enables organisations to accurately measure their performance on disability across the whole business and put in place an action plan to address priority areas.
Established in 1986 as the Employers Forum on Disability the group pioneered the first employers’ organisation of its kind. At the time of its formation, the initiatives to promote the employment of disabled people in the UK were largely developed in isolation of employers’ needs, so the creation of EFD started addressing that gap.
EFD was launched with support from the Prince of Wales' Advisory Group on Disability and Business in the Community (BiTC), a business-led coalition promoting corporate social responsibility. The original founding members at the official launch in 1991 were Barclays, BBC, Pearl Assurance, Prudential Assurance, Shell International and Shell UK.
EFD was created when its founder, Susan Scott-Parker, proposed to business leaders that companies should jointly fund a central expert resource which would allow employer members to benefit from best practice and disabled people to benefit from economic and social inclusion. Many of these business leaders had personal contact with disability through connections with disability NGOs and/or family members.
EFD was re-branded to become the Business Disability Forum on 1 October 2012.
The underlying idea in the Business Disability Forum approach is that corporate disability confidence presents a huge potential to businesses as they learn how to recruit and employ disabled people on the basis of capability, and as they learn how to become fully accessible for disabled customers and stakeholders in the wider community.
Given this the organisation aims to enable employers to become competent in disability inclusion, and to support a broader systems and culture change in terms of policies and practices related to disability. It serves its members through advising and supporting businesses in all aspects of disability confidence, conducting training on disability issues and providing a range of services and resources.
The most powerful thing the group did in the beginning to trigger change was to run the world’s first Leadership Development Programme for People with Disabilities. The programme, run by the former EFD for seven years, enabled disabled entrepreneurs to access leadership and management training courses organised by major corporations for their own employees. Participating corporations found that their management expectations regarding people described as ‘disabled’ were transformed by this opportunity to work alongside them during the courses.
Structure and partners
The Business Disability Forum is an independent not-for-profit organisation managed and funded by its members through membership fees and through financing websites, new initiatives, tools and events. Some members also provide pro bono advice and actively participate in joint problem solving such as the Business Taskforce on Accessible Technology. Although technically a charity, the group does not receive government grants or charitable donations.
Business Disability Forum has a group of around 50 core funders or partners representing both the public and private sector and various business sectors. These ‘gold members’ as they are called, receive certain benefits such as additional support, free services, and access to focused networks.
Business Disability Forum is governed by a board composed of representatives from the membership and is managed by a CEO and circa 35 staff.
People with disabilities are strongly represented in the organisations activities, including through an influential network of Associates. The disabled associates, all experienced in business matters and serve as expert advisers, ambassadors, speakers and trainers. They contribute to all events and to the drafting of guidance on best practice. The 20-strong UK network of associates was created in 1991, followed by a growing network of eight worldwide associates in 2007.
Business Disability Forum has good relations with other disability organisations in the UK and beyond, but does not have formal partnerships with them.
In addition to the general network, the Business Disability Forum has facilitated sub-networks by region and economic sector. Scotland, Wales and Yorkshire have formed regional networks while sector-specific networks exist for the creative industry, the police and ICT technology: the pioneering Broadcasting and Creative Industries Disability Network (BCIDN), active from 1989 to 2011, consisted of the major broadcasters in the UK.
Business Disability Forum facilitated the recruiting and retention disabled employees, the sharing of good practices among its members and promoted a non-stereotypical representation of people with disabilities in the media. The Emergency Services and Law Enforcement Network (ELEN), which has more than thirty members, was organised in 1999 at the specific request of the Association of Chief Police Officers. The network shares best practice and provide advice on the service delivery within law enforcement.
The Business Taskforce on Accessible Technology (BTAT), launched in 2008, is the most recent of the sector-specific groups. Its thirty-five members have come together with shared aim to advance accessible technology products and services.
In 2007, the Business Disability Forum president created a President’s group, bringing together members at Chief Executive and Board level, to position disability as a top management issue to do with business and investment in human potential.
To enable its members to measure their performance on disability confidence, the group created the Disability Standard in 2004. The Disability Standard is self-assessment tool, validated by experts in the organisation, for enterprises and public bodies to evaluate their performance relating to disability as it affects their entire business
The Disability Standard measures three areas: employer commitment, organisational policy and practice, and the impact of policy and practice. Disability Standard participants carry out an online assessment by rating their performance on a range of disability-related issues (including accessibility, outsourcing, recruitment, customer services), and providing evidence in support of the ratings. Disability experts assess the ratings and evidence of each participant, and draw up a ‘diagnostic report’ for each company. The results of all participants are pooled together to establish a benchmark score.
The report assesses the member’s performance against previous Disability Standards rating (if available), their sector average and the overall benchmark average. On the basis of the report, individual employers can develop a disability action plan.
While the individual employers’ ratings are confidential, participants receive either a Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze or Participant certificate, depending on their rating. Tracking of the Disability Standard participants’ performance over time shows that employers’ disability confidence rating has improved as they continue to benchmark themselves with the help of the Disability Standard.
The first Disability Standard in 2005 had some 80 employers participating while the subsequent Standards in 2007 and 2009 had over 100 participants. Consultation with members and disabled people after the 2009 Disability Standard, found the Standard to be a useful and credible exercise enabling business improvement - but also a resource intensive exercise that needed to be more versatile to meet the specific needs of individual organisations.
The Disability Standard is therefore being revised, and the new version will be available to members in 2011.
Over 100 organisations took part in the 2009 Disability Standard. The following organisations were ranked as the top ten:
1. The British Library
2. Motability Operations
4. Barclays Plc
5. Disability East
- London Borough of Tower Hamlets
7. Microlink PC (UK)
8. Habinteg Housing Association
- Luton and Dunstable Hospital NHS Trust
10. Ministry of Defence
Improving ICT accessibility for job seekers, employees and customers
The Business Disability Forum undertook, with the help of the consulting firm McKinsey, the first research into the many obstacles created by inaccessible online recruitment systems. McKinsey founds that 1.3 million disabled people in the UK alone were unable to apply for jobs with the vast majority of companies only recruiting via online processes. As a result, the group published the guidance on how to ensure online recruitment does not systematically exclude disabled and other disadvantaged job seekers, backed by the website: www.barrierfree-recruitment.com.
In addition, Business Disability Forum-facilitated Business Taskforce on Accessible Technology (BTAT) has created its own ‘Accessible Technology Charter’ to which companies can sign up. The signatories of the Charted commit to ensuring that the technology they purchase and use allows them to hire from, and provide products and services to the widest pool of people. The Charter also requires them to consult with disabled employees and integrate accessibility into procurement processes.
The Charter has been complemented with a business tool called the ‘Accessibility Maturity Model’ which enables companies to measure their ICT accessibility.
Public launch of these initiatives is due in late 2011.
The senior ICT directors engaged in BTAT are also contributing to the creation of a procurement protocol that can be adopted by any company wanting to ensure that all new ICT purchases make accessibility and usability an important requirement when deciding on ICT related purchases.
Providing information and advice on disability confidence
The Business Disability Forum raises awareness and provides information and definitive guidance on best practice through its website, networking events and publications. While information on some specific topics, such as legislative briefings, are available to members only, the group shares a lot of disability and business-related information with the wider audience as well. It has a media centre with facts and figures and case studies to be used by journalists, which is seen as important to promoting disability as a business issue.
The former EFD's first major publication, ‘Disability etiquette' was launched in 1991 and has sold well over 2 million copies. Since then, it has published a multitude of guides, often in collaboration with their members, among them ‘Guides on disability communication’ geared at different audiences and ‘Line manager guides’ on managing disability at work.
It also issued a set of 18 ‘EFD Briefing papers’ that provide employers with practical guidance and case studies on various issues related to the employment of people with disabilities.
The Business Disability Forum recognises that many large corporations want to provide their employees and customers with information which is specifically relevant to them. Therefore, all of the groups publications can be tailored to feature particular corporate brands, and many guides are available either in hard copy, or as licensed versions for use on the corporation’s intranets.
Although the Business Disability Forum has always offered a helpline service to its employer members in some form, a specific service, ‘Disability Directions’, was established in 2007.
It is provided by a team that answers a range of disability-related queries of members by phone, email, textphone, post or online. The service is confidential and tailored to the needs of the particular client. Calls can be about any aspect of business and disability. Examples of queries include, for example, how to recruit someone with a mental health condition; how to design an accessible conference; or feedback on specific policies affecting disabled people.
The Business Disability Forum offers training courses and workshops on different aspects of disability management and confidence to the membership generally; it also tailors training to meet the specific needs of a particular organisation. Most courses are either free or discounted for Business Disability Forum members, while non-members pay the full training fee. Most of the trainers and presenters are disabled themselves. In 2010, nearly 1,500 people attended EFD training events.
Training methods vary. In addition to face-to-face training, the organisation offers telephone tutorials, expert speakers to events and online training – or a combination. One example of online learning is ‘Disability Confident’, developed in 2004 by Skill Boosters, a company specialised in inclusive learning, in partnership with the Business Disability Forum. Disability Confident is an interactive learning resource which uses case scenarios and activities as a basis of learning about best practice, legal obligations and how to maximise the access and contribution of disabled people as employees and customers.
Another key online resource and publication, ‘Realising Potential’, sponsored by Intercontinental Hotels, was launched by EFD in 2006. It presents the new business case for disability, emphasising the benefits which result when a company becomes disability competent, and contains facts and figures on disability as it affects business and the global economy, case studies, and advice on stakeholder engagement and on organisational change.
The Realising Potential website has had around 24,000 visits per year since its launch and is now being updated to provide a global resource to global business. The new site will be branded: ‘The New Business Case’ for realising potential.
The Business Disability Forum also provides a policy and procedural audit services designed to help employers design barrier free and adaptive processes for recruitment, retention of people who become disabled, and doing business with people with disabilities.
Some of the former EFD’s major accomplishments 1986-2012 include:
- Engaging over 1,000 employers in improving their disability confidence,
- Mobilising leading UK corporations, alongside the disability movement, to actively support both the abolition of the 1944 UK Quota and the introduction of modern anti-discrimination legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act, in 1995.
- Through the Disability Standard, setting the corporate standard for performance on disability as it affects a business and defining what best practice on disability actually means with regard to recruitment, employment, customer care and stakeholder engagement more widely.
- Disseminating over 8 million best practice guides throughout the UK and internationally to raise awareness of disability as a business priority and to make it easier to deliver business improvement.
- Increasing the capacity of hundreds of organisations and thousands of managers to employ and retain disabled employees and to do business with disabled customers through its disability confidence related training and by building relationships between individual business leaders and individual disabled people.
- Creating a global advisory group of multinational partners now setting out to establish similar networks in other countries, starting with an emerging EFD in Spain.
Employers should lead the organisation.An organisation for employers must be owned and led by employers who create a platform from which to engage with disabled people’s organisations and other stakeholders. The forum must position employers as its key customers and then offer the employer relevant services and toolkits which make it easier for these employers to get it right.
Bringing business leaders and disabled people together is important. An employers’ network like the Business Disability Forum can only challenge deep rooted misconceptions regarding disability by bringing business leaders together with disabled people, be they disabled opinion leaders, politicians, experts, advisors, entrepreneurs, advocates, graduates, colleagues, customers, shareholders or job seekers. This face to face contact, reinforced by the message that employers should treat disabled people fairly – and employ them on the basis of capability – is crucial. The problem solving skills of both business and persons with disabilities can also generate creative solutions that may well bypass the traditional way things are done.
Establish a clear role. the group realised that it should establish a clear role that is separate from the role of the agencies that help disabled people to find work or who advocate on their behalf. the Business Disability Forum does not provide services to disabled people directly; it loses its capacity to influence its employer members if it is seen to be part of the traditional disability services field. the networks job is to make it easier for employers to say ‘Yes’ when approached by disabled job seekers for work opportunities and to create new more productive partnerships with services that promote economic and social inclusion.
Use the language that business understands and recognises. It is important to watch the jargon and avoid terms and tone that reinforces the view that ‘disability’ is ‘owned’ by government, doctors or charities. Developing value added services requires resources. According to the Business Disability Forum experiences, it is key to have the resources to employ a small team who then to energise, communicate, and deliver a package of messages, services and innovation – which provide added value to the business community.
- "Composition of the EQUASS Awarding Committee", EQUASS Annual Report 2012, page 23, http://issuu.com/eprehab/docs/equass_annual_report_2012_final_eb3447696d3dd2