Who are we? The people behind the job titles and why identity matters

07 August 2018

The following is a transcript of Diane Lightfoot's speech to attendees of Business Disability Forum's Partner Group Reception event on 26 July, where we brought together the organisations we work with the most closely to announce our focus on the theme of 'Identity' in 2018 and 2019. 


Diane Lightfoot speaking at the Partner Group ReceptionGood afternoon everyone and thank you for coming. It’s great to see so many of you here today - and thank you for braving the heat – 35 today which is 95 in old money!

I want to start by saying a huge thank you to RBS and particularly to John Brady – who we’ll be hearing from in just a moment - for hosting us here today. It’s thanks to your generosity – and the amazing wizardry of Event Prop Hire - that we’ve been able to create an indoor garden for you here today.

Our Partner Group Reception is our annual opportunity for us to thank our Partners, Members and Ambassadors for your amazing support of our work. It’s also an opportunity to tell you a bit about what we’ve been doing in the past year what’s coming up in the year ahead.

Business Disability Forum is a membership organisation and our whole purpose is to support you – our Members and Partners. In turn, we rely on your generosity in supporting events like today, which is why we are so grateful to RBS for hosting this event. Without your support we would not be able to put on an event like this!

Identity - what does it mean for disabled people?

I am pleased to announce that today we are launching our new theme of identity – and that is the main theme of our event today.

Identity is an intensely personal and complex topic. It is not static and can change throughout a person’s life or in context. We’ve tried to illustrate that in various ways and hopefully you have had a chance to look at the photography exhibition, created by students from Morley College, which explores the theme of Identity and how it can change, whether through the ageing process, other life changes – or disability.

Disability as an identity is also incredibly complex and this is something we want to explore this year.

Identity as a theme came together for us from several different routes:

  • Firstly, our focus on non-visible disabilities, which culminated in the Looking Beyond Labels event we ran in May. At that event, we talked about whether your identity is different if you have a visible as opposed to a non-visible disability and what it’s like to have the “luxury of choice” of openly identifying as being disabled vs having to “come out” over and over again.  
  • Secondly, data and “disclosure”; a question that we are increasingly being asked by our Partners and Members is how to encourage people to tell you that they have a disability if they don’t see themselves as disabled – or perhaps only at certain times or in context, for example if they have a fluctuating condition or if they are with other disabled people (or not)  - and how do you support people with a progressive condition to accept – and be proud of – a changing identity around disability.
  • Related to this, there’s also the wider context of the possible introduction of voluntary reporting on disability in the workforce and the disability employment gap – a hugely complex area and which is only meaningful if businesses ask the right questions and organisations create a culture where people feel that the benefits of identifying as disabled outweigh the risks.
  • It’s also really important in the context of getting more people into work – that we have a true understanding of disabled people in the existing workforce so that we know who are truly new entrants in finally reducing – eliminating – the disability employment gap.

To start us off on this theme, today we have a line up of disabled speakers who are going to talk about how they see themselves, how they have been perceived by others and how that might have changed over time:

  • Graeme Whippy, one of our ambassadors who has also worked with our Partner Lloyds and more recently with our Member Channel 4.
  •  Fazilet Hadi, whom we are delighted to have on board as a new ambassador after being  introduced to us by Graeme at our Looking Beyond Labels event in May. Looking Beyond Labels was part of our non-visible disabilities theme and as I mentioned, was really the springboard for our Identity theme, and so it seemed very appropriate for Fazilet to join us here today.
  • Oliver Lam-Watson, one of the finalists in last year’s Film Festival and created a brilliant film on the theme “why do I make life so difficult for myself?”

Attendees at the Partner Group ReceptionAt this point I should mention that the Film Festival was originally created by our Technology Taskforce, and that the Technology Taskforce is now celebrating an amazing 10 years! The Technology Taskforce was the brainchild of our Founder, Susan Scott-Parker OBE, who tells me that the Taskforce was originally set up for a 2-3 year time frame! It’s gone from strength to strength in the last 10 years though and whilst the technology has changed hugely in that time, the need for the Taskforce hasn’t!

The Film Festival was just one of many brilliant things that came out of the Technology Taskforce. And another is our final speaker, our very own Lucy Ruck, the manager of the Technology Taskforce and our Customer group, and also soon to be running our new Northern Network.

I’ve heard Lucy’s story before – though it doesn’t lose anything in the re-telling – most recently when we recorded the first of our new podcast series, “Who are we? The people behind the job titles”, sponsored by Open Inclusion, on the theme of Identity. The first episode features Lucy and me - it was released just yesterday and you can listen at https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/media-centre/podcasts/

The second is Lucy interviewing Graeme so you can find out a lot more about their identity and stories then. Also in the series are disabled people working at Network Rail and Channel 4 so do look out for those too.

Also on the theme of identity, we are starting a new slot of sixty second interviews in our Newsletter (if you don’t get our newsletter make sure you visit our stand to sign up) with disabled people.

Events coming up in 2018 and 2019

Identity will also be the subject of our Film Festival next year - for those of you who don’t know, we issue a time limited challenge each year to students to ask them to create a film around a theme related to disability - and for our Scottish Conference.

This year’s conference takes place on 11 December again hosted by RBS at their amazing Gogarburn campus in Edinburgh and it’s going to be even bigger and better than last year. Last year’s conference was our first major event in Scotland and was on the theme of Going Places - a theme which we are continuing this year alongside Identity. And on this theme, thanks to sponsorship and hosting from RBS, I’m delighted that we are going to be offering open Career Development for disabled people Courses in Scotland – the first of their kind – in 2019, taking place from October 14th - 17th and from November 11th - 14th to help disabled people take more control over their career choices. We are looking for hosts to run a course in England too so if you are interested do let us know!

Audience at the Partner Group ReceptionWe’ve also been literally going places globally – including Sweden, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Dubai and Austria.  And at the beginning of this very week, we were very pleased to co-host – with our Partner PWC – a special event on the role of business in supporting disability inclusion globally as part of the DFID global summit.

At this event we launched our new Global Business Disability Framework, a maturity model based around our Disability Standard and developed in partnership with our new global Taskforce, co-chaired by Shell and with support from Barclays, Atos, GSK and EY. We’re also grateful to other Partners including Accenture, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Microsoft and Royal Bank of Scotland for helping us to shape the tool.

Closer to home on the theme of Going Places, we know that it’s important for many Partners and Members that we go beyond London and so we are delighted that our Scotland network – established only just over a year ago – is now thriving. But we also want to fill in some of the gaps! I mentioned our new Northern network earlier and I’m pleased to announce that its inaugural meeting will take place in Manchester in November, kindly hosted by our Member Manchester Metropolitan University. We hope that this will be the first of regular meetings so if you are interested please let us know and we’ll make sure you’ll be the first to know. I’m also speaking at an event for business in Wales in September so who knows, the Welsh network could be next!

Our policy and campaigning work, present and future

Speaker Oliver Lam-Watson and a guest at the Partner Group ReceptionOur Partners and Members told us that you would like us to do more in the policy arena and I’m pleased to say that in the last year we’ve been doing just that. We’ve been busy responding to Government Consultations on subjects ranging from Access to Work to Assistive Technology to accessible websites in the public sector, all drawing on the views of business and disabled people. Our unique position was acknowledged by the Government when they called upon us to give evidence this month on the Disability Employment Gap and in a targeted, invite-only call which is all credit to our head of policy and advice and the evidence-based insights from you, our Partners and Members. We will also be submitting evidence to the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur to inform his UK visit and inquiry into poverty and human rights.

We also have a key role in campaigning for the rights of disabled people – we, with the charity Liberty, have just written to and open letter to the Secretary of State for Trade urging him to ensure that the rights of disabled people are protected in the Brexit negotiations. So far, it’s been picked up by the Independent plus several blogs and online news sites – which, given that this was released the week that Boris Johnson resigned AND Donald Trump visited, is not bad going!

Enter our Disability-Smart Awards 2018

Last but not least, just a reminder that we are now accepting submissions for our 2018 Disability-Smart Awards!

These awards showcase and celebrate the most innovative and inclusive practice amongst employers and service providers and this year’s award categories are:

1.    Senior disability champion of the year 

2.    Inclusive service provider of the year 

3.    Positive cultural change of the year 

4.    Workplace adjustments innovation of the year 

5.    Influential business of the year 

6.    Technology initiative of the year 

7.    NEW - The 'Disabled People’s Choice Award' for the most inclusive service provider, employer or experience where we want to hear directly from disabled people about a brilliant experience you’ve had.

The closing date for entries is Thursday 20 September 2018 and winners will be announced at the Disability-Smart Awards Ceremony on Thursday 29 November, which I’m delighted to say will be hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the Locarno Suite. Those of you who joined us at our President’s Group dinner earlier this year will know what a fabulous venue that is, so I’m sure it will be a great event!

Closing remarks

So that’s the formalities – it just remains for me to thank:

  • Our wonderful hosts, Partner RBS and John Brady in particular, we are so grateful to you as we do need hosts and we literally couldn’t have done it without you.
  • Thanks to Event Prop Hire who created our beautiful serene indoor garden and who kindly gave us a discounted charity rate.
  • Thanks too to all our speakers – Graeme, Fazilet, Oliver and Lucy - for joining us and sharing your stories.
  • Thanks to our fabulous events team – Brenda, Adam, Ebun, Nils, Bela, Chris, Sam and Anthony for making today happen and to the whole team for being here today to host you.

And of course, thank you all for coming.