Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Can you really have too much of a good thing?

Simon about to go on stage at EY, with a poster
quote above him asking 'why do uncertain
times need the certainty of purpose?'

It's been quite a start to the year. Various projects were postponed from the end of 2018 and like a concertina, they bunched up into the start of 2019. That meant a lot of travel, including two trips to Berlin, one to Munich, then to Zurich, one to Australia and one to the USA all before April. A trip to a very cold Berlin, in January was for pleasure as was the long trip 'down under', but the remainder have been work. 

I love travel and working abroad. You can read how much in a blog from last year. Indeed, I've recently written a chapter for a forthcoming book about international consultancy and diversity with Middlesex University. However, on the final trip when I was in the USA I got what I only can describe as travellers’ blues. I've talked about it on stage at a few conferences subsequently with Clifford Chance, PwC and the International Underwriters Association. I had a more in-depth two way conversation with Phil Friend on our podcast about it too. The blues lasted 48 hours. I think tiredness, loneliness, apprehension, jet lag and missing home were all instrumental. It reminded me of the maxim, 'be careful of what you wish for'. As a 25 year old, to travel and work was my dream and here I was, not enjoying it. My solutions were spontaneous - numerous WhatsApp messages to understanding friends in the UK, changing my hotel room to a brighter, larger one and a little talk to myself in the mirror (I really did do this) asking 'What's up?' and telling myself 'It'll be ok'.

That I am now reading a book about the meaning of life might well be connected. I'm throughly enjoying 'Every time I find the meaning of life, they change it' by Daniel Klein. As a youngster and when a philosophy student, Klein used to jot down short phrases from philosophers and great thinkers. He believed his specially curated quotes had inherent wisdom, a life understanding or some wit. Now in his 70s he is re-visiting them and asking if they still are valid and, inevitably, did he live his life well? He has asked more than once whether there should have been more hedonism in his life. Can you have so much joy that it becomes redundant? Or did he expect too much happiness, thereby resigning himself to disappointment? 

It's an accessible philosophy book, like a non-preachy self-help book, full of reflections and considered thought. It's funny, human and relatable. I have laughed a few times, I even dropped the book, gasped and put my hand on my forehead after reading one line.* I now look forward to picking the book up at bedtime. It is packed full of quotable lines, not surprising as Klein is all about quoting great thinkers. Here's one, about the value of thinking and reason, and how lucky we are as humans to be able to do this.  

Simon speaking at the PwC Dawn
Network in May 2019

[Bertrand Russell] wrote, “The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. . . . [But Philosophy] keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.”

The next six months are shaping up well. More work travel, yes, and I think I'm better prepared this time. I even have a new toiletry bag which will make all the difference. **

If you would like to listen to me interviewing others or chatting away do check out the two podcasts I co-host, links below.

* The sentence that made me gasp and pause for thought? It seems so obvious, so simple now but I've missed it up until this point in my life. Klein says 'When Camus wrote Youthful Writings, "You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life," he was suggesting...the meaning of life is not something we look for, it is something we create."

** It might help. Being with more of my familiar items and extra space for treats sounds sensible to me. And necessitates a better toiletry bag.

The Phil & Simon Show  Audioboom   Spotify    Apple Podcasts

BBC Ouch                        BBC Ouch! 

Monday, 17 December 2018

Talking Loud and Clear

Not so much a blog, more to let you know about what I fear might be too many podcasts! 

My regular monthly ones, BBC Ouch and The Phil & Simon Show have cracking new shows out. There's also a new one, where I am a guest. This podcast is called WB-40 and I was interviewed by the most excellent Matt Ballantine who was asking how comedy and humour can be used to influence people. I've put links to the shows in the title and links to the individuals by clicking on their name. 

If find yourself needing a distraction from Christmas television or want to try out the new headphones someone gave you as a present, take a listen. Let me know what you think. 

                  BBC Ouch

Photo of seven people including Simon, Kate Monaghan, Purple Space Kate Nash, make up and cover girl Lucy Edwards, pianist Derek Paravacini, author Christian Donlan
                     Left to Right - author Christian Donlan, co host Kate Monaghan
                     Purple Space's Kate Nash, co-host Simon Minty, Derek's assistant
                     pianist Derek Paravacini and make up and CoverGirl Lucy Edwards. 


Matt Ballentine and Simon Minty smiling
Matt Ballantine and Simon Minty

               The Phil & Simon Show with Susan Scott-Parker

Left to Right - Phil Friend, Susan Scott-Parker and Simon Minty

Friday, 5 October 2018

Names Not Numbers

This time last week I climbed aboard a coach to travel to conference called Names Not Numbers held at Oxford University. Now in its 10th year, it is a remarkable conference with a remarkable group of people. It is both professional and personal, about networking and connections. 

The conference theme was 'Judgement' and each speaker or session incorporated the concept in some way. As the conference began, I soon found myself instinctively jotting down notes - pithy sentences, profound points, startling facts and emotive thoughts from the various speakers. My intention was to able to reflect on them at a later date. 

However, I've changed my mind and I have set out some of them here. That’s a risk as it might be a case of 'you had to be there'... how can they have the same impact in a blog when compared to hearing them from the person’s own voice, in the context of the rest of their talk? Worryingly, such excellent speakers might be a tad unimpressed that I've filtered down hours of their work to a sentence or two! My hope is that they don’t mind this nor that their wit and wisdom is shared with you. 

I've put a link after the person's name so do look them up and check out their work in greater detail. If I have made a mistake, please do let me know. 

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC 
& Charles Handy. 

Authenticity and facts are not the same. You can have your own opinions but you can’t have your own facts. 
Sir Mark Walport @UKRI_CEO

Look at the body of research not just the latest research. 
Sir Mark Walport @UKRI_CEO

What is an authentic painting in the mass production and collaboration of today? 
Alice Sherwood @AliceVSherwood

Checking facts has never been easier. Authentication is harder. 

Alice Sherwood @AliceVSherwood

Neat shortcuts help our mind misjudge people. 

Mary Ann Sieghart @MASieghart

Unconscious bias isn’t so unconscious with women. 

Mary Ann Sieghart @MASieghart

Cognitive dissonance, if you voted to remain then someone who voted to leave must be shallow and ignorant, and so we justify our belief that they are wrong. 
Michelle Baddeley @mcbaddeley

We are in need of mavericks and contrarians otherwise group dynamics kick in and it becomes the same. With mavericks and contrarians we explore more. 
Michelle Baddeley  @mcbaddeley

Sir Simon Schama interviews Sir Martin Sorrell.
What gets more research, a man's orgasm or a woman’s? There's 8000 nerve endings in woman's clitoris and 4000 in man's penis. That actually refer to a ewe's clitoris and ram's penis. And that needs to be verified. 
Stephanie Theobold @stephotheo

When I was a child, my dad said, 'If you want to say something important and serious you need some entertainment in it." 
Sir Simon Schama @simon_schama 

I wrote The Story of the Jews book as increasingly I felt they are seen as victims or bullies. The book is about vitality not mortality. 
Sir Simon Schama @simon_schama 

Allow people to make mistakes without other people knowing. Then they can correct them and learn. That’s hard with modern management and the speed of communication.
Charles Handy 

We need to teach for uncertainty. Not certainty. 
Charles Handy

Business schools are teaching an orthodoxy that is fading. 

Charles Handy

Tell me, what is it you plan to do 

with your one wild and precious life? 

- The Summer Day, a poem by Mary Oliver 

On authenticity, 'If I may quote myself.' 
Peter York @PeterPeteryork

Surfeit of a safe space can be awful. We still need to get out there and experience the rough and smooth. 
David Aaronovitch @DAaronovitch

Populism is about flattening things out, exclusionary, as you must fit it. 
David Aaranovitch @DAaronovitch

When you wake up in bed one morning and you are content and think everything is right...then it is time to change and get that mild anxiousness back, to show you’re alive and progressing. Charles Handy

L- R Angie Hobbs, David Aaranovitch,
Hannah Crabtree, Julia Hobsbawm

Photographer Liz Handy would get her subjects to gather five objects that represent their life. Can you get five objects to do that? Photographic work by Liz Handy

There is the 'golden seed' the thing that is special inside of you. You might not know what it is, indeed it is unlikely you do. Often others identify what it is about you. So, not as analysis, but go and ask fifteen people who know you what one thing they think you're really really good at. It might be different to what you think it is! 

Charles Handy 

A life line might be long line with peaks and curves. It dips before it goes up which is where there's a change, you re-train, something alters in your life and it stops climbing for a while. That’s the investment before you hopefully head up on a second curve. 

Charles Handy 

I was told, "Do the best at what you're best at, for the good of others." 

Charles Handy 

Julian Hobsbawm (centre) is congratulated by
Alice Sherwood (L) and Sir Simon Schama (R)
Much of online chatter, Facebook or tweets becomes digital dust. Some of it however becomes huge and then we have large outfits that become significant players in our political world. 
Helen Margetts @HelenMargetts  

Everybody is able to do everything. But some are magnificent at it. 
David Fickling @DFB_storyhouse

We know what good writing is even if we can’t explain it. 
David Fickling  @DFB_storyhouse

I worry that there might be thirty or so, 40-year olds making huge decisions about our lives in a boardroom. 
Sir Nigel Shadbolt @Nigel_Shadbolt

Technology is too often presented as too difficult to understand. 
Sir Nigel Shadbolt @Nigel_Shadbolt 

It's good to know many hundreds of years after the earliest of the libraries was first built, it remains a place of learning, of quiet reflection and students are increasingly coming back to it. 
of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford 
Richard Ovenden @richove   (From my memory, not a direct quote) 

Some people I would like to mention, who I enjoyed speaking with in the in between moments and are worth you checking out too:

My co-speaker, defence journalist and consultant, Alexander Woolfson @DasWoolf  

Digital and people person, Matt Ballantine @ballantine70 

Funny person, a poet, Mr Gee @mrgeepoet 

Has philosophy at her fingertips and is immensely articulate about it, Professor Angie Hobbs @drangiehobbs

Thoughtful and with some great questions of me, author, Ziyad Marar @ZiyadMarar

Funny, always thinking, writer and performer Rohan Candappa  

A former advertising exec, now a creative person, a fine person, Marcus John Henry Brown @MarcusJHBrown 

Names Not Numbers at 10 28 - 30th September 2018     #NNN@10

And what is this all about?

Names Not Numbers is one of several activities its parent organisation, Editorial Intelligence provides. It is the work of the amazing Julia Hobsbawm @juliahobsbawm and her excellent team. Their mission statement is "Editorial Intelligence is committed to helping individuals and corporations seeking personal and professional excellence, by developing deeper personal connections and having a more profound understanding of today’s information overloaded landscape."

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

'That's not normal!'

The team are lined up. Georgie and Juliette on each end standing, Simon standing in the middle and Ben and Donsat either side.
Acting on Disability team, 
L-R Georgie, Ben, Simon, Don and Juliette

Just back from a trip to the USA to provide training for a global tech firm. The Sminty team, all five of us, decided to walk the ten blocks from our hotel to our first event in downtown Manhattan. We thought we would make a striking alternative to the famous Reservoir Dogs photo - two men on mobility scooters, two women with hidden disabilities and a man who has Aspergers. 

As we walked I was talking about how polite New Yorkers were, how they move out of the way for wheelchair and scooter users and often say hello or smile. An older lady, wrapped in a thick scarf in sweltering heat, saw us. She stopped and as we passed her, pointed at me and yelled ‘Now that is not normal!’ My fellow scooter user waited a moment and then asked me ‘Well how do you feel about that?’ I paused to process it and then answered, ‘I feel I should be angry or upset but actually I am rather pleased. I now have an opening line for the event we’re about to do’. And so it proved to be. 

This trip had a few firsts for me. I wasn’t alone and had a team of talented people alongside. What was more familiar were the demands, many hours of flying in short space of time, delivering two three hour events in different locations, being New York City and Silicon Valley. Then there was the client: they employ the brightest of people and there was a subtle but evident pressure. Before the trip, they were extremely thorough: scripts and slides had to be approved by many of their people. I'm not used to that.  

Ben and Juliette stand near one another, Juliette has a scrip in hand.
Ben and Juliette on stage
We were delivering Acting on Disability, a form of training using interactive theatre. The actors play out management scenarios, live in front of an audience. As MC, I interrupt the scenes at specific moments to ask the audience for their thoughts, what they think of the manager's behaviour, what could be done better. Whilst writing the scripts, I researched common first names used in the US, what American companies call departments such as UK ‘occupational health’ being 'employee benefits' in the US. Place names were changed, for example we talked about Whole Foods not Sainsburys. This helps the audience to identify and adds to the realism. 

This style of training is highly interactive, it can pack a dramatic punch and more importantly, it is practically helpful. I like it when a member of the audience puts their hand up to say ‘The manager has a point, and yet I can understand what the individual is saying. I’m not sure what to do!’  Many years after such an event I’ve had people tell me ‘I still do that thing suggested in the scene’. 

This performing of complex but relatable situations allows us to develop the skills of the manager, showing how they can navigate their way through what might feel like an impasse. Sometimes making an adjustment ('accommodation' in the US) is simple, but you don’t need training for that. We’re more about the shades of grey, when personalities and assumptions override need and impairment. Making an adjustment can affect other people, it can be complex and awkward to talk about and the question of reasonableness is part of managing disability at work. Individuals can be forthcoming or secretive about a disability. That’s the stuff we like to talk about. 

All of the Sminty team have a disability or impairment. It’s one of our professional rules. So if a character has sight loss or a mental health issue, so does the actor. That can make it hard to find the right skilled people but I constantly search, assess and collect email addresses. The insiders' knowledge they bring adds depth to the scene and delivers the most impactful moments when they step out of character and talk of their real life experiences. 

Simon is on stage, dark background. He is looking to his left with his left hand on chin and has a half smile.
Simon on stage, looking thoughtful and happy
Our team comprised of me, a short person who uses a mobility scooter, someone with cerebral palsy, someone with sight loss, someone with mental health issues and someone with Aspergers and dyspraxia. The trip included three 7 plus-hour flights, multiple transfers and never more than two nights in any one location. A combination of detailed forward planning and open conversations with the team about needs and preferences allowed the trip to pass smoothly. A brilliantly helpful airline in Virgin Atlantic (thank you, thank you!) lovely staff at Yotel in New York (one offered to walk three blocks with me just to hold an umbrella) and Aloft in Silicon Valley (those big rooms, a pool and a robot that delivers items to your room!) Plus, a diverse team where one would support another if needed as we played to our strengths. 

Feedback has been amazing. In New York they’d had the cast of Hamilton and Hilary Clinton visit in recent months, tough acts to follow, especially with the word 'disability' in your title. Satisfaction scores for our events, by asking attendees ‘was this worth attending? would you recommend it?’ were 98%. Being the perfectionist task-master that I can be, I want to know where we lost the 2% but I’m wise enough to know this is pretty good. 

This type of training might seem risky for the client, for their teams, their reputation. They’re bringing over people from a different country to talk directly about a difficult subject. But sometimes taking the greatest risk gives the greatest reward. I received a lovely compliment  from the individual at the tech firm who asked me over to do this work. I was told during the planning there was concern, even hesitation, about the project. My supporter apparently said ‘It’ll be ok, it’s Simon’. In fact, it wasn't just me, I had a great team alongside me. And thankfully I was told this bit afterwards. 

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Disability training, Abnormally Funny People style

A little while back the great people at Skill Boosters approached me to see if I'd like to make a training video with them. The topic was to be disability, employment and customer service. 

I said I'd be interested, but how about we do it a little differently? I suggested we make it with Abnormally Funny People, the comedy team I'm part of. To my delight, they agreed. I'm pleased to say after a lot of brilliant, creative, hard work, it is ready. 

Below is the promo video. If you want to know more, contact Peter Thorpe, at Skill Boosters 020 3859 4308 

There are dynamic subtitles included and the next sentence is a link to the transcript if you prefer.  Transcript of Skill Boosters disability training video made with Abnormally Funny People 

Thursday, 22 February 2018

International work

Whilst chatting with a long standing client she exclaimed “Simon, I had no idea about your work internationally. You need to tell people about it!”  

We were attending a meeting at Middlesex University to hear about new research in to how diversity strategies have been implemented in global organisations. I was invited by the British Council, an organisation I've worked with for many years, who had commissioned the research. I was asked to speak outlining my experience and the work I’ve done. This is work I love and have enjoyed immensely over the years. So here we go...

Simon is greeted and shaking hands with a number of Hong Kong people.
Meeting bankers in Hong Kong
I should clarify I specifically work in field of disability rather than the broader diversity arena. I have been working internationally since 2002. Around half of those trips have been because the British Council have asked me to go to a region. The other half has been for a range of organisations including Bank of America, Google, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and McDonalds.  I’ve a long term relationship with Community Business in Asia who ask me to help out from time to time. Finally I’ve chaired international conferences or hosted a Dining with a Difference event for senior leaders. 

Much of this work is speaking, be it a keynote or within a training course but it’s not just that. Dining with a Difference has become something rather special when I'm abroad. I host the dinner, provide structure, take feedback and keep things on track but individual tables are hosted by a local disabled person (whom I've briefed beforehand) and they lead the discussion on their table. It's been amazingly powerful, impactful on the night and a starting gun to longer lasting change. Consultancy projects pop up from time to time, be it writing a disability and employment guide for the Bulgarian government or creating a disability and media organisation with Disability Rights and Education Fund (DREDF) in Berkeley, California. This project was to show US news media how to be more accurate and inclusive when reporting disability stories. I met with the Washington Post at their offices, and was overawed by the journalistic history. As a comedy fan, meeting with television executives at 30 Rockefellar Plaza was a treat.

Enough of the work, tell me where you've been, I hope you're asking?  

Simon in the middle of five Google people, after a dining event
With the Google team in California
Albania, Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Croatia, Denmark, Dubai, Egypt, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Japan, Jordan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Ukraine and the USA  Several of these I’ve visited multiple times. 

What have been my observations? 

A different country often means a different cultural view of disability and of disabled people. I try to understand this approach, see where it is strong and useful to progress towards the independence and inclusion of disabled people. I also look for where it’s a hinderance, often where disabled people themselves have not had input. The cultural differences fascinate me, and they can frustrate me. I cannot ignore them, nor assume I have all the answers. If I arrive and expect the same as the UK and don't develop my thinking, I will miss a trick. There’s diversity in disability! 

Some of the eye opening conversations have included the impact of religion in a country, and how this informs how disabled people are viewed. Some cultures see disability as bad karma, paying for sins in the past. Perhaps the biggest hurdle, and not unique, is the soft bigotry of low expectation*. This is not limited to overseas of course, nor to just non-disabled people's thoughts - it can be the disabled people themselves. If you’ve had a limited education, been excluded, not spent time with independent minded disabled people and been wrapped in cotton wool, or worse, hidden away by a family or in an institution, maybe you won’t think you can do much. 

Simon sitting on some conrete steps, with an Egyptian man wheelchair user and two other people
In Cairo, with some trail-blazers
Then there are the trail blazers. There's a pride and kinship that swells up inside me when I connect with another disabled person in a very different country, and realise they ‘get it’. They’ve learnt to how to achieve change, often in extremely trying and isolating circumstances. Their aim to remove barriers to enable them to participate. They know how to educate people of their abilities. Medicine, religion, charity might try and help, but sometimes hinder. In the meantime, the trail blazers want to get on the bus, get to the University, the shop, the local council meeting, earn a living. They want to be included, be productive and engaged with society. They want to be able to make decisions for themselves. I’m not one who goes in for inspirational fluff, however I have met half a dozen accidental role models who in incredibly difficult circumstances are leading the social and cultural change towards disability in their country. Their brilliance, skill and resilience impresses me no end.   

In the UK we can be a little complacent, or better put, our expectations are high. Nothing is perfect but access has improved, we have funding for adjustments in work, an enviable car scheme to keep us mobile, accessible buses and taxis too and for some, welfare support. We have anti-discrimination legislation, disability is recognised as something that needs legal protection. Slower but ever present, are a multitude of schemes aiming to increase employment and service provision for disabled people. We have funding for our Paralympians and disability art. These existing measures I suspect is why United Nations efforts, such as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities haven’t gained real traction in the UK, although that is changing. Travel abroad, particularly to the countries that don’t have anti-discrimination legislation or positive action programmes, and the UN efforts become a big deal. They are solid, internationally recognised symbols that can help focus the mind and help individuals to bring about change. 
Eating out in Guangzhou with Fiona

Often, it’s down to individuals interaction with one another that gets things moving in the first place. At a dinner event in Paris one (not disabled) person said to me, ‘Ah, but we’re different here. We don’t like talking about this stuff, it’s awkward. Not like you British people.’ I smiled and said it was the same in the UK, people tend to feel awkward. As I explained to her, my worry is if we never speak of it, will anything change? I quoted a gay Italian friend who spoke about the development of gay rights and he suggested to me, ‘Simon, sometimes you have to make it an issue, and only then can it become a non-issue.’ 

In Tirana, in Albania, I was asked to speak at a theatre with seats for 300 people in the round. Ten minutes before the start time, there were perhaps 30 people there. Of course I was disappointed with the low turn out but from experience I know that a smaller group can mean greater interaction. However, with barely a minute to go, 200 people turned up. As they filled the seats I felt some apprehension, this was a big crowd. In my speech, amongst other things, I suggested putting people in care homes wasn’t the best way. I said the right equipment and technology can improve disabled people’s lives, if they could just access it. The atmosphere turned frosty, almost hostile. Several hands shot up and people angrily disagreed, saying ‘You’re wrong, we care for people, not push them out. That is what our politics stand for!' Or 'Technology isn't the answer. You're cold, and not helping these poor people!’ I acknowledged their points but suggested there were problems with such an approach, as it continued dependency, and asked them if they’ve spoken with disabled people? The atmosphere didn’t improve and I wondered if I might need to make a hasty exit. Luckily, two women who worked with local disabled people stood up and eloquently explained that those they worked with, provided services to, wanted what I was suggesting: independence, equipment that helped. Of course, human help was part of that but the thinking needed to change. I finished my talk and was very happy that many in the audience came over to continue the discussion. I'm still friends with the two women who rescued me. Later that day, I found myself in the front row of a live broadcast of Albania’s version of BBC's ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. Well, I was in the front row but a teenage Albanian pop star turned up and I was bumped to the second row. It was one of my more memorable working days and reminded me of the fun of working abroad, you never know what might happen next. 
Simon on a stage,  in a suit, arms raised mid speech
Charing a conference in Qatar

A small but important victory happened when I visited Oman. I met with a Facilities Manager for an international bank. He arrived, sat down letting out a weary sigh. He started by explaining to me I didn’t understand the country. Specifically he told me that the system worked differently there, there were bank branches in remote mountainous regions and wheelchair access wasn’t at the top of his priority list. He was resistant, reluctant and couldn’t wait for our meeting to be over so he could get back to his real work. Between you and me, these are the people I quite like. They tell me exactly what they’re thinking and what’s important to them. I can work with these people. It’s the ones that nod, weakly smile and say a few platitudes that are harder. I can’t quite remember what I said to him, I know I acknowledged his position and the local differences. However, within thirty minutes he had completely changed and became an evangelist, wanting to change things. I like to think somewhere in Oman there’s a remote, high on a hill, lonely branch of a bank that now has good wheelchair access.  I might not have changed the world but such changes may mean the world to someone. 

*A quote from Susan Daniels, a US civil servant and disability campaigner.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Disability: To some it identifies what's wrong in the world, to others it represents what's wrong with themselves.

In the summer of 2017 I hosted an event for the Business Disability Forum in London. Below is the significantly modified speech I made there. It's a thought piece really, me trying to work something out. It got people talking and I'd love to hear what you think. 

Hello, my name is Simon Minty, I am your host this evening. If you don’t know me, I’ve been an associate to the Business Disability Forum for twenty years. 

Asda supermarket sign with three symbols of a man, woman and wheelchair user with the words Not every disability is visible and Accessible Toilet
Asda toilet sign - disability is very broad these days but
have those identifying as so, kept pace?
It’s great that you are here and great that you do the job you do. I suspect some of you came to this disability or diversity role by accident, or maybe it was on purpose as it looked interesting? Maybe some of you are directly affected so have a personal interest. Dare I suggest, maybe one or two of you are after an award from the Queen! I know most of us do this work because we want to see change. Working with the Forum, such change is about improving how organisations operate in the workplace and how they interact with their disabled customers. 

After several years in banking, I became professionally involved in disability equality. Luckily for me, the changes needed were pretty clear plus there was new equality legislation to help. Skilled, knowledgable and confident people, (many of whom had visible impairments and identified as disabled) advised on how things could improve. If you were around in the early noughties, you had legally enforceable rights and were part of the conversation and informed the plan.

It wasn't all rosey. Then as now, a lot of disabled people (legally at least) prefer to keep quiet, they're embarrassed and don't want to be treated differently. The law didn't even come in to it. More significantly, they didn't see themselves the same as those who used a wheelchair or a guide dog. They were something separate and different. 

A round street sign with a red edge, inside it has multiple stick people all the same. Underneath the sign is a notice saying May contain hidden disabilities
Many people have conditions that are a disability
under the law but the condition is not visible.
In the last few years, there has been an increased openness about non-visible conditions, be it mental health, neurological or long term health conditions. That's great! But many affected people don’t speak so they don't get the assistance that could make their life easier or them more effective. They remain fearful of the word 'disability' and use a lot of mental energy trying to avoid it. So it makes me wonder, does anything unite the visibly disabled and those with something invisibleit?  

It's hard to give a straight answer. I think there is but it's complex and nuanced. It might be a perception of the self, a feeling, noticing you might be treated differently. Or, you behave differently to fit in. It's knowing you think about something that no one else does (except for those with exactly the same thing who get it instinctively). I think the fear of a loss of independence is part of it. 

Why am I asking what do we have in common? Does it matter?

A man sits underneath a white horse shaped animal. He is half way through painting black stripes on it.
Is it a horse or a zebra?
As we focus more on non-visible disabilities, we don’t have an agreed unifying model across all disabilities. Plus ca change! That's not unique and other strands of equality don't all agree on everything. The differences might be greater than the commonality but there is commonality. If the plan for those who can, is to hide it, will that just re-enforce the stigma? How do we reduce the shame for those who actually need a little help? They don't have wear a t-shirt but surely in 2017 they should be able to speak for themselves.

In the past twenty years, for some the word 'disability' helped identify barriers. Now some reject it, it's not about them. In the 90s, the word 'handicapped' was replaced by 'disability'. We may move on to a new word but is the word is the main issue? To some it identifies what's wrong in the world, to others it represents what's wrong with themselves. Can Harry Potter save us here? In the books, characters say 'He Who Must Not Be Named' as they were scared. (Spoiler alert) Harry Potter was one of the few who did say the name 'Voldermort' and Harry was the one who defeated him. I think it's a state of mind more than a word. I worry we may be setting ourselves adrift in to individual units. We must allow for our individuality, but I think finding, celebrating a commonality is desirable too.     
A photo of Simon, who is short statured, talking to someone. Simon is in a brown suit and shirt and smiling.
Simon Minty, a disabled person
and many other things.

I hope amongst the many challenges facing us in this field of work, we continue with one of the aims of the Business Disability Forum, to allow people to be themselves at work or out living their lives, to reduce the stigma of disability, but not to run away from it. 

Business Disability Forum is unique, we’re unique, let’s not be nervous, let’s be proud.