Disability-Smart Awards 2018

Business Disability Forum is delighted to announce the winners for the 2018 Disability-Smart Awards, supported by Barclays.

The winners were revealed on Thursday 29 November, and presented by Silver Paralympian and TV star Stef Reid MBE and CEO Diane Lightfoot.


Winners and finalists included a wide range of organisations, from a Premier League football club, to tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook, to start-ups, government departments and a primary school in South London.

Most notable among the awards, and new for this year, was the Disabled People’s Choice Award for the most inclusive service provider, employer or experience. This award is reserved for organisations nominated by disabled people.


Business Disability Forum also gave special recognition to Stefan Springham, Diversity Manager at Royal Bank of Scotland, with an award for ‘outstanding contribution to business accessibility and inclusion’. This award recognises that so much good work is done within organisations by diversity and inclusion professionals who often receive little recognition and are rarely celebrated. This award was given to Stefan Springham for his tireless work and quiet leadership from within which has seen RBS transform from a compliance or “fixing broken windows” level (to use Stefan’s own words) to a leader and innovator in the field of disability and inclusion and Gold in the Disability Standard 2017. It is more remarkable as this was done during a particularly challenging period for the bank but Stefan never allowed the focus on disability and inclusion waiver.

Another special Business Disability Forum Award was given to Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, for being a ‘Global Leader for Business Disability Inclusion’ for his work in bringing disability to wider stage at Davos.

In making this award Business Disability Forum is recognising that more and more of our Members and Partners have a Global presence. Disabled people of course live and work all over the Globe. We want not just to change Britain but our ambitions go beyond that. We want to change the world by talking to businesses and leveraging the individual and collective power that our Members have in this country and across the world to transform the life chances of disabled people.

Paul Polman has been given this award because at One Young World in 2017 when Caroline Casey launched the #Valuable campaign, he was the first global leader to and join her on stage and answer the call to stand up and be counted. Another 11 business leaders then followed suit. However, one year on, he is the only one of those 12 who is not only still involved but very active.

He has been instrumental and vital in getting other global leaders on board such as Richard Branson and Omnicom. He was also the only private sector business speaker at the main DfID summit and again issued a call to arms and a public commitment for Unilever.


The winners of the awards were as follows:

Disabled People’s Choice Award for the most inclusive service provider, employer or experience finalists:

  • Liverpool FC
  • Crunch Digital
  • London Borough of Hounslow
  • Brunswick Park Primary and Nursery School


Winner: Liverpool Football Club

The Premier League football club won for its “amazing” team of Accessibility Stewards some of whom attended the ceremony, who work hard to make sure all fans have the same excellent experience, even accompanying fans to away games in Kiev.


 Winners at Business Disability Forum Disability-Smart Awards 2018: Liverpool Football Club

Senior disability champion of the year finalists:

  • Tim Fallowfield – Sainsbury’s
  • Sir Philip Rutnam – Civil Service


Winner: Sir Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary, UK Civil Service

Sir Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary of the Home Office and Civil Service Disability Champion, was awarded in recognition of his ongoing commitment to championing employment opportunities for disabled people across all levels of the civil service, and for embedding disability inclusion in organisational culture.


Sir Philip Rutnam

What the judges said:

We felt that Sir Philip has really driven the disability agenda across the civil service and used his position and seniority to effect real change.

Tim Fallowfield has shown real leadership by not only embedding positive change within Sainsbury’s but also seizing the political agenda and being a Business Leader for Disability Confident. Extending the scope of the disability agenda to include a focus on carers is also to be commended.


Inclusive service provider of the year finalists:

  • BT
  • 24/7 Recruitment
  • Gatwick Airport


Winner: Gatwick Airport

One of the busiest airports in the world, Gatwick introduced a disability lanyard scheme aimed at giving people with non-visible disabilities the confidence to fly. The scheme has since been adopted by all UK airports as well as several international airports.


Winners of inclusive service provider of the year: Gatwick Airport

What the judges said:

This was a very close call but ultimately we decided to that Gatwick Airport stood out because of the potential for their lanyard scheme to be rolled out nationally or even globally and so improve the travelling experience of disabled people everywhere.

BT are finalists because they impressed us by the distinction they made between disability and vulnerability. This is an incredibly comprehensive offer which is very forward-looking.

24/7 were to be commended for embedding positive change within their corporate culture.


Positive cultural change of the year finalists:

  •  EY
  • West Midlands Police
  • Guidant


Winner: West Midlands Police

The police force won in recognition of their work on combatting historic stigma around disability and mental health, while introducing a range of measures to better support employees across the force.

 Winners at Business Disability Forum Disability-Smart Awards 2018: West Midlands Police

What the judges said:

We were looking for the capturing of hard data that demonstrates real improvements in the lives of disabled people. The winner West Midlands Police were able to demonstrate this with key performance indicators, clear measures for improvement and performance monitoring embedded as part of ‘business as usual’ governance meetings at Board level’ . This combined with visible leadership from the top from the Chief Constable leading and communicating the strategy and a comprehensive action plan embracing the work of the force brought West Midlands Policy just ahead of EY who came a close second. We are taking a slight leap of faith in West Midlands Police as they are at an early stage in the delivery of their strategy, but were impressed by their approach and the challenging context within which this step change in approach has been made.  We look forward to seeing their entry next year and the strong results that will flow from the strong foundations they have laid.

EY are finalists because of their focus on a condition which can often present as a hidden / non-visible disability – hearing loss and deafness - and the particular challenges the firm had to address in putting measure in place that would make a positive difference for their employees. Their entry shows how much can be achieved by a condition specific network.

Guidant are finalists because they have embedded their approach within their 3 year business strategy ‘People; Lead; Growth’ and researched how they can improve further improve the number of disabled jobseekers they are working with as a leading recruitment firm.  Engaging both external experts and most importantly disabled people themselves to refine and improve their approach.


Workplace adjustments innovation of the year (sponsored by Microlink) finalists:

  • Financial Conduct Authority
  • Shell
  • Sainsbury’s


Winner: Financial Conduct Authority

This award was given to the Financial Conduct Authority for achieving an office move of 3,500 employees, which took into account all different types of disability, and, in particular, neurodiverse conditions and mental health problems.

Disability-Smart Awards 2018: Winners Financial Conduct Authority

What the judges said:

Shell are finalists because we recognised the impressive steps the company are taking at a global level to put in place end-to-end inclusive disability practice in order to drive universal improvements in the delivery of workplace adjustments and the experiences of their disabled employees.

Sainsbury’s are finalists because of their investment in engaging their entire retail workforce in conversations about workplace adjustments and their investment in learning to build disability confidence in line managers across their business.

Both Shell and Sainsbury’s provided compelling headline information and testimony from individuals but what made the FCA’s submission stand out was the innovation and quality of the evidence they shared underpinning a major office relocation involving over 3.5k colleagues, including a very comprehensive Disability Impact Assessment for their office relocation. That combined with the reach of their consultations, taking into account the needs of people with non-visible disabilities including mental health and neuro diverse conditions was accomplished.  Embedding a continuous feedback loop for everyone affected, weaving in a ‘golden thread’ of neurodiversity and wellbeing design elements into their plans took them from a business as usual approach to an impressive level of innovation in this area.


Influential business of the year finalists:

  • Virgin Media
  • KPMG

Winner: KPMG

KPMG used its platform to make a high-profile call for businesses to nominate disability champions by 2020, and was even cited by other Disability-Smart Award nominees as an influence on their work.

Mark Russell (right) and Tony Cates (left) winners of Disability-Smart Awards

What the judges said:

This was a hard decision with two strong candidates for the Award. Virgin Media has used their influence and resources to sponsor the activity of others which is to be commended. They were, however, pipped to the post by KPMG who have taken a real lead in bringing businesses together in best practice in the Wharfability project and by cascading their influence through their supply chain. We noted that two submissions by other organisations also cited KMPG as helping them to effect change.


Technology initiative of the year (sponsored by Microlink) finalists:

  • Microsoft
  • Neatebox
  • Facebook


Winner: Microsoft

Nominated alongside Facebook and Scotland start-up Neatebox, Microsoft won for applying cutting edge technologies to ensure their widely-used products were as accessible to as many customers as possible.

Disability-Smart Awards 2018: Microsoft Winners Hector Minto left, Michael Vermeersch centre and Nasser Siabi

What the judges said:

We were impressed by the way that Neatebox harnesses the power of disabled people to effect change in the businesses they want to visit. We were looking, however, for the greatest impact on the lives of disabled people which brought it down to being between Facebook and Microsoft. Both provided evidence of detailed work in this area and innovative use of AI to involve disabled people.

Microsoft wins because of the way in which it has involved disabled people in the development of their technology and their huge reach which has a significant impact on the everyday and working lives of disabled people.


The judging panel for the awards included leading experts in the area of disability, representatives from BDF's Member and Partner organisations and disabled opinion leaders:

  • David Brindle – The Guardian
  • Geoff Adams-Spink
  • Kamran Malik – CEO Disability Rights UK
  • Mark Lomas – HS2
  • Nasser Siabi - Microlink
  • Paulette Cohen – Barclays
  • Bela Gor – Business Disability Forum


Audience at Disability-Smart Awards 2018

Diane Lightfoot, Chief Executive Officer at Business Disability Forum, said:

“Through the Disability-Smart Awards we aim to recognise those individuals who work tirelessly, and often with little recognition, to create a more inclusive environment for disabled people.

“We received an overwhelming number of entries for this year’s awards, especially for our inaugural Disabled People’s Choice Award.

“Such was the variety of the good work being done that we have seen multinational companies, tech start-ups, councils and football clubs standing shoulder-to-shoulder in our group of nominees.

“All of their work has been excellent, and competition was incredibly tough this year.”


This year will be opening the submission process from Monday 13 May, with our entry deadline Friday 20 September. The award ceremony will again take place in Autumn, details to be released later in the year.