31 August 2023

Paralympian highlights value of disabled employees as she joins forces to deliver an inclusivity workshop.

Louise Hunt Skelley PLY, the former British wheelchair tennis player, is joining forces with HR expert Rachel Weaven to deliver an inclusivity workshop. Its aim being to highlight the benefits of hiring staff with disabilities.

Inclusivity has been high on every company’s agenda recently. Yet, as an evolving area, it’s not always easy for businesses to be sure about the reasonable adjustments that need to make to make their environments more inclusive for both their staff and customers.

Paralympian highlights value of disabled employees - Louise Hunt Skelley PLY and Rachel Weaven who are holding a workshop for employers and managers on inclusivity in the workplace, focusing on disability.
Paralympian highlights value of disabled employees – Louise Hunt Skelley PLY and Rachel Weaven who are holding a workshop for employers and managers on inclusivity in the workplace, focusing on disability.

Misunderstandings abound

Louise says there’s much misunderstanding around what’s required.

‘Businesses often assume that making changes will be time-consuming and expensive. This isn’t the case,’ she says. “Often it’s small changes that don’t cost anything or have a minimal cost that make the most difference.’

Louise says she often encounters businesses who want to be inclusive and accessible but haven’t consulted with those most affected. And that means that basic adjustments get missed.

We’ve designed the workshop to educate and inform around this in an open and accepting way.

‘We want to get across that there are no stupid questions,’ she says. ‘What matters is that businesses are open to learning from our experiences. That way it’s possible to included everyone in what they have to offer.’

She recalls an example of a hotel room she stayed in, marketed as being accessible. Although the doors were wide enough for her wheelchair, she was unable to close the curtains because of a desk positioned in front of the window. A mirror fixed to the inside of the wardrobe door, made it impossible for Louise to use. Why?Because there wasn’t enough space for the door to be open with the wheelchair in the right position. And the toiletries fixed to the wall in the shower meant that, seated, Louise was unable to reach them. She could take a shower without using any shower gel or shampoo.

‘These things were not difficult to solve,’ she says. ‘And when I pointed them out to staff, they immediately understood and couldn’t believe they hadn’t thought of them before. The fact is, if they’d consulted a disabled member of staff before labelling the room as accessible, they’d have had these points addressed from the start.’

A safe place

Louise is clear that the workshop is not about pointing the finger at businesses and criticising their inclusivity efforts.

‘We want it to be a safe space, an environment. One where people can ask questions that they may be afraid of or discuss concerns around these areas. The hotel staff, for example, were helpful and open to making changes once they understood the issues. It’s this outcome that matters.’

Rachel Weaven, of face2face HR in Swindon, will bring her years of HR expertise to the workshop. Rachel is passionate about making learning in this field more open and progressive.

‘I like to take a proactive approach to inclusivity, focusing on more than the legislation,’ she says. ‘I’m keen to promote the benefits of inclusivity in a fun and engaging way. When Louise and I first met, we started talking about inclusivity. And we immediately clicked. Running this workshop was the obvious next step.’

Both Louise and Rachel feel that many employers are hesitant to employ people with protected characteristics or disabilities. That reluctance comes from concerns around their ability to support them. But that once they’re armed with more knowledge, this will change.

An example

Louise uses the example of a colleague who is autistic and was struggling to manage their workload.

‘The problem was a feeling of overwhelm’ she says. ‘As soon as he received tasks to complete one at a time, rather than an entire list at the beginning of each day the problem disappeared. And further his productivity went through the roof and he was able to complete more because he wasn’t feeling overwhelmed. He became an incredible asset because his ability to concentrate for long periods of time was greater than most other employees.’

Employees who’ve experienced discrimination on the basis of sex, religion or disability, often make the most loyal employees when reasonable adjustments are made to accommodate them, say Louise and Rachel. And there are broader, ongoing benefits to everyone in making a workforce inclusive in this way.

‘Being inclusive isn’t about making things more accessible for disabled people. It’s about making things accessible for everyone,’ says Louise. ‘Any company or person in a role who cares about their workforce and wants to make sure they are getting the best out of them should sign up for this workshop. Similarly, anyone who wants to make their environment more inclusive but isn’t sure how to do that would also benefit from coming along.’

The workshop will take place at Cotswold Park Barns in Woodmancote on Wednesday September 20th. Booking is here: https://www.tickettailor.com/events/face2facehrswindon/985188

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