Special Episode – Disability: Champions, Challenges, and Change

Share:

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

To celebrate the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics we honour the might and tenacity of every disabled athlete. In this special episode host Julia Streets returns to the ever important disability discussion. She is joined by eight time (at the time of the recording!) Paralympic champion Sophie Christiansen, who is also a software developer at Goldman Sachs.  They discuss the recruitment and employment of disabled people, flexible working, the application of  the UK’s Equality Act, best practice and the use of technology within financial services.  In the second part of the interview, Julia welcomes Christiane Link, the Founder and Director of Ortegalink, an inclusion and accessibility consultancy. Julia and Christiane discuss mobility, disability culture and the importance of valuing disabled financial services customers and outlines best practice for recruiting and retaining disabled employees. 

Sophie Christiansen CBE

Sophie Christiansen CBE is a British dressage rider who has competed in four successive Paralympic Games and is currently an eight-time Paralympic champion and has won multiple World and European titles. In 2016, following her success at the Rio Paralympics, she placed fifth in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year the highest placed female and Para athlete. Sophie was born two months prematurely with Cerebral Palsy and suffered from other health problems including jaundice, blood poisoning, a heart attack and a collapsed lung. Aged 6, she started riding for physiotherapy at the local Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) group. ​She first competed at the Paralympics aged 16 and was the youngest athlete for Great Britain at the Athens Paralympics in 2004, coming away with an unexpected bronze medal. Not just an athlete, Sophie also graduated with a First Class Masters degree in mathematics from Royal Holloway, University of London in 2011 and now works as a software developer at investment bank, Goldman Sachs.

Christiane Link

Christiane Link is the founder and director of Ortegalink Ltd, an inclusion and accessibility consultancy. Christiane was a journalist for more than 20 years. She is originally from Germany and worked for leading British and German news companies, even started her own German-language newspaper which she published for 5 years, and covered current affairs and news events around the world for German media outlets. She loves travelling and is passionate about access to transport for all. In accordance with this belief, she started her own consultancy business Ortegalink Ltd to enhance the customer experience for disabled customers. She has developed disability equality training strategies for major airlines, airports and transport providers and supported organisations of all sizes to improve their customer experience for disabled customers. As a wheelchair user herself she strongly believes in the social model of disability which means the environment and the society has to become accessible and inclusive. You can follow Christiane on Twitter: @christiane

Special Episode - Disability: Transcript

Julia: Hello. My name is Julia Streets and welcome to DiverCity Podcast. Talking about equality, inclusion and diversity in financial services. On the podcast we seek to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus and offer lots of ideas to help drive change.

Before we get started today, I just want to take a moment to thank our friends at CityAM for their continued support of DiverCity Podcast. Publishing and promoting both our episodes and supporting our blog series, so their readers can stay on top of the very latest diversity and inclusion debate. You may also want to check out CityAM’s own podcast called The City View for all the latest news and opinion from the city because we at DiverCity Podcast are huge fans.

Now in the series we don’t talk nearly enough about disability and particularly in the context on what’s been happening with COVID and organisational structures as we think about returning to the office. This episode is timed to coincide with the Paralympics so we welcome insights, perspective and advice from two important voices, Sophie Christiansen CBE and Christiane Link.

As you’ll know in series 11, we’re actively seeking input from voices around the world and to bring in two guests sometimes doesn’t always work timezone wise. But never to be deterred, this episode is a two-part interview and it gives me great pleasure to welcome Sophie Christiansen CBE.

Sophie Christiansen is a British dressage rider who has competed in four successive Paralympic Games and is currently an eight time Paralympic champion and has won multiple world and European titles. In 2016, following her success at the Rio Paralympics, she was placed fifth in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. The highest placed female and para athlete.

Sophie was born two months prematurely with cerebral palsy and suffered from other health problems including jaundice, blood poisoning, a heart attack and a collapsed lung. At age six she started riding for physiotherapy at the local Riding for the Disabled Association Group and track forward from there, she first competed at the Paralympics aged 16, the youngest athlete for Great Britain at the Athens Paralympics in 2004 where she won a bronze medal.

But not just an athlete, Sophie also graduated with a First Class Masters Degree in mathematics from Royal Holloway University of London in 2011, and today she works as a software developer at the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Sophie, welcome to the show.

Sophie: Thank you for having me on.

Julia: I’m so looking forward to this discussion and as I always ask our first guest, in that mix, I’m really keen to hear what you’re focused on right now.

Sophie: I knew that I needed to get a job to fund my sport. My sport is the most expensive sport you could have, funding and looking after horses, so from a young age I knew that if I was to continue in the sport, I’d have to do it alongside working. I think that it’s given me a really, really great platform to speak about my two different lives. I love being a software developer because it gives that element of flexibility, not only to be able to keep training and competing, but also, due to my disability, I can work from home, I can go into the office if I want, even before the pandemic.

Being an eight time Paralympic gold medalist, I think it’s given me a lot of responsibility to speak about having a disability because we watch the Paralympics and see these amazing disabled athletes at the top of their game, doing incredible things that actually, the reality is, before we even get there, of having a disability. The UK is so inaccessible and it’s so important to speak about that and I do feel disability is almost the forgotten diversity group in the city.

Julia: Well there is so much in that I’m really keen to unpick.

First of all, let’s start about the fact we don’t talk about disability nearly enough and I know you’ve had some thoughts about the Equality Act for example and within banking and finance, given our audience is financial services as well, I’d love to hear your thoughts about, when we say we’re not talking about disability more, what would you like to see?

Sophie: I just think the simple fact is, it’s lack of knowledge and lack of role models. There is a really big difference between paralympians and the disability community and we really need to showcase role models outside sport, so that’s what I’m trying to do. Is there a perception other diversity groups are easier to handle? Is it changing attitudes? Is that perceived as almost easier than doing the physical changes needed for physical disabilities? I think that is the perception.

When we look at disability, do we have the statistics with gender, BAME. Looking at the statistics, does it show us something? Most disabled people don’t disclose their disability because it’s seen as a weakness and just because we don’t disclose disabilities doesn’t mean that companies don’t have a responsibility.

Can we learn from the stats that we have? Why don’t we have disabled employees? Why don’t we have disabled customers? We must be doing something wrong and examples of making life working as a disabled person, we have so much content now. You asked about the Equality Act, to me I feel the language, the legal language, is not clear. What is a reasonable adjustment for disabled employees or customers? Disabled people really don’t want to go down the legal route, but I feel change is just not happening quick enough. I fear we might have to. So is your company liable? I honestly don’t know the answers to that, but obviously your case in law company has to.

So yes, we don’t want to use the Equality Act. Companies should make everything accessible for disabled people just by going back. I do feel in the UK currently, there are a few legal cases going on because of inaccessible content. Do we have to go down that road to force change? I hate saying that but we might have to.

Julia:

It would be very interesting to see how organisations are, well internally. In fact, I shall ask this question more often, inspired by your thoughts there, because you would like to think that organisations are reading and taking the Equality Act as seriously as they might claim to in their marketing literature when they talk about accessibility and their attitude towards diversity and inclusion. I think we should be holding organisations to greater account to demonstrate that actually, this is fully accessible for all and disability is a very, very important angle to that.

Sophie: The trouble is the Equality Act is just not enforced by our government, so businesses have been getting away with things for years and years and all of a sudden, if a disabled customer comes along and says, “Wait a second, I can’t get in your building”, it should not come as a surprise.

Julia: I think we’re at a very interesting pivotal moment because if we think about the pandemic, and we think about how people access financial services now. Of course, so much of this is digital so your point about “can I get into a branch? “But actually, how I access banking and financial services has really undergone a massive change over the last year particularly. I know that digital accessibility is something that’s very much at the forefront of your thinking and how it makes the workplace, financial services and day to day life better for disabled people. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how can digital platforms and financial services can assist with better inclusion.

Sophie: The digital boom, if you like, has been a real lifesaver for people like me with physical disabilities, if I can’t get into your branch because you’ve got a step outside. I can do it online, but obviously what if you’re visually or hearing impaired? Can you access the same content? I’m not just talking about your online app or website or even social media, but also internal communication. I’ve seen a lot more visual and audio content that there wasn’t before.

For example, if you were visually impaired, how do you access photographs? Well on images there’s a tag called alt text which you can edit and describe the photograph, and a screen reader will read the alt text aloud or convert it to braille for people with visual impairment. Also, videos, if you’re hearing impaired, subtitles will help you access. It’s not just like auto caption, Facebook and YouTube have auto alt text or auto captioning and quite often it’s nearly there, but not quite. Especially as I find with my speech impairment, the auto captioning is all over the place. It’s so important for me to edit that kind of accessible feature yourself. This is a perfect example of education because obviously I don’t have any sensory impairment. I can see, I can hear, but I’ve educated myself on what it’s like for other disabilities.

Julia: It’s important that we do educate ourselves about other disabilities and these are really practical things. I’m sitting here listening to you thinking, I think we should have a look at the DiverCity Podcast content and hold ourselves to higher standards as well. I think the internal communications as much the external communications really matter. I wonder to what degree that is being overlooked because people say, we’re doing it for our customers but are we doing it for our staff. I wonder if we could, on that point, just talk about staff, and talk about engagement, recruitment and also, how do we motivate and inspire and retain a disabled talent in organisations as well.

Let’s start with the recruitment point of view. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what can we be doing to improve our recruitment processes of bringing in disabled talent and are there any outlets and areas that businesses are still continuing to overlook?

Sophie: Yes. Firstly start with, what’s the representation like on your website or social media. With Black Lives Matter there’s been a big increase in seeing different ethnic looking types on social media content, but what about disability. Is the wording you’re putting out there going to attract disabled employees? For example, if you’re saying, after the pandemic, we’re all going back into the office, that would put a person like me off from going for a job at your company because I really need that flexibility because commuting into London, for me, is awful in my wheelchair.

Representation is absolutely key. When you look at your recruitment process, is it accessible? For example, if you have tests, do you supply extra time for some people going for it? Is your recruitment process accessible with screen readers? Do you advertise where disabled people can see what you’re advertising? And also language, if you’re advertising a job role and you simply put “we’re open to making these kinds of arrangements for disabled people to apply.” I’m so much more likely to want to work for you.

These are really simple things that often get overlooked and also each round of schemes that will help, there’s the employer and employee. In the UK we have a scheme called Access to Work which will help fund reasonable adjustments for disabled people to access work. We need a lot of understanding about how starting somewhere new can be full of uncertainties. I’ve been to interviews where we’d been told about graduates going to visit Head Office for a couple of weeks which can be exciting to a young, able bodied 21 year old, but when you’re disabled you think “what about me? I need a carer. How am I going to fund that?” It’s that kind of level of understanding that would really help recruit more disabled people.

Julia: That’s really interesting. Part of the feedback we get from a lot of listeners is how much they enjoy the opportunity to read links or read insights as well. Thinking about where we can educate ourselves better, are there any books, documentaries, podcasts, like ours, that you’d point people to, where they can really educate themselves better about disability and the steps they can take to drive change?

Sophie: There are loads of charities out there that help train the employment gap for disabled people. For example, Scope is a good one to offer help and advice. Also I think empathy is so key for everyone involved. It’s unreasonable to ask everyone to have knowledge of every single disability on the planet, but if you put yourself in their shoes. For example, when you get into the office in the morning, do you ever think about how much energy it’s taken a person next to you just to get into the office, whether it’s a mother trying to get her two young children ready to get out the door, or it’s a person in a wheelchair trying to get a ramp on their train taking you into work. I do think quite often we are in our own little world half the time when we come to the office. It’s so important to ask people how they are.

I’d really encourage people to follow disabled influencers on social media just to get some understanding of what it’s like living with disabilities. Talking is the most important thing. Quite often I see a lot of companies not ask the disabled person so for example, I got told this story of a guy in an electric wheelchair who was coming to work for a company and there were getting ready for him going round the office just seeing what they could adapt. But they were able bodied, they didn’t even ask the disabled person coming in, what they needed. We are experts on our own disability and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to say what we need.

Julia: I couldn’t agree with you more and it’s really fascinating. If I’ve learned anything over the last however many years it’s been, of interviewing people in the industry, never be afraid to ask. Right? I think your point about, we don’t expect everybody to know everything, so therefore ask and truly listen.

Your point about empathy really resonates because in the conversation about what leaders need, the skills that leaders need in terms of driving high performing teams, returning financial performance, that’s really why diversity and inclusion matters, because of its contribution. Certainly we know that in the world of financial services that you out-perform but it’s so important to have the empathetic skills to be able to talk to your workforce about what they truly need every single day. Really important thoughts.

Sophie: It’s so important even if you’re not disabled, to have that level of empathy and care. It’ll make your employees work so much harder for you if you understand what they’re going through. Yes. Not just about disability. Everyone can benefit from talking.

Julia: Absolutely. I’ve been thinking a lot about what the remainder of 2021 is going to hold and particularly as we are navigating really interesting economic times and I wonder to what degree D&I is going to fall down the corporate agenda. This is a question I’m asking all our guests. I’d really love to hear from you about why it’s essential that D&I remains high on the corporate agenda.

Sophie: I’m told a lot about types being disabled employees, but what about the disabled customer. We have money and we want to spend it. We want to help the world get out of this pandemic and help the economy work, but we cannot help your business if you don’t let us. In the UK we had COVID officers going round businesses, helping them make sure it was safe for their customers and employees, because of all these new rules coming in due to the pandemic. Why can’t we have accessibility officers? We have the same for health and safety officers as well. I’ve spoken a lot about almost the knowledge needed for accessibility. I think we do need these kinds of employees, these officers, to grab hold of accessibility and make it their own, and make sure your company is not breaking the Equality Act, but also making the amount of disabled employees you have, customers and making the world a much better place. We’re proving that we can adapt and we can be flexible throughout the pandemic, but why can’t we do the same for disability.

Julia: Sophie, it’s been a most incredible conversation. Not only have you given us compelling reasons for change in the conversation about the Equality Act, you’ve reminded us that, at a time when we’ve been through such extraordinary corporate change, that we can certainly continue that journey. Accessibility matters and I love your point about accessibility officers. It’s been great to have you on the show. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Sophie: Thank you.

Julia: My second guest today is Christiane Link. Christiane Link is the Founder and Director of Ortegalink, an inclusion and accessibility consultancy. She was a journalist for more than 20 years, originally from Germany, and worked for leading British and German news companies, even starting her own German language newspaper.

She loves to travel and as a wheelchair user herself, is passionate about access to transport for all. In accordance with this belief, she started her own consultancy to enable the customer experience for disabled passengers. She had developed disability equality training strategies for major airlines, airports, transport providers and support organisations of all sizes, to think about and truly improve their customer experience for disabled people all around Europe and the UK.

Christiane, it’s wonderful to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.

Christiane: Thank you so much for having me. I am delighted to be in this podcast.

Julia: Fabulous. I can’t wait to get in the conversation, but first of all, tell me, what are you focused on right now?

Christiane: At the moment I’m very much focused on railways actually, so I’m having a strong aviation background so I helped a lot of airports and airlines before. At the moment I work with big transport providers to improve their accessibility in inclusion for disabled passengers because I think it is really, really important that everyone can travel when and how they want and that includes, of course, disabled people.

Julia: Let’s get straight into it. When you talk about access availability of transport for all as well, this comes down to customer experience ultimately and I’m really keen to hear your thoughts about why paying attention to this customer service really matters, particularly right now. And also because we’ve got a financial service’s audience, what can the bank and financial institutions learn from this?

Christiane: I strongly believe that mobility is a human right. It is very important for everyone to have access to mobility because it opens up so many areas in life from employment, to leisure, to meetings friends, having a social life, and so on, and staying active when you’re older. Especially in an environment like London, not having access to public transport is a serious issue. It is really important that people can travel and can actually participate in life.

I always say, disabled customers are the canary in the coal mine. If you get it right for disabled customers, you get it right for everyone. They are the first people who will notice if something’s not right in your organisation, if your customer experience needs improvement, because they rely on staff, often they may need some guidance, some assistance.

If you get it right for disabled customers, and they are an important and big customer group, very often underestimated how big this group is, you get it right for everyone. But of course, why would someone say, I’m not interested in every fifth customer I could have because they are disabled. That makes no sense from a business perspective. I think that so many reasons why disabled customers should really be a focus of every organisation, also to get it right for every other customer, because we, as disabled people, realise pretty early if a customer service, customer experience is in a good place or if it needs improvement, long before most of the non disabled people. If something is wrong with the organisation, it is important for organisations to notice that as early as possible, so focus on disabled customers and you will learn something.

Julia: Wonderful. Tell us about best practise. When you look at organisations that have really got this down well, keen to hear what we can learn from others.

Christiane: My experience is that an organisation and customer service is only as good as they are in crisis. I had a horrible experience. I got stranded in 2019 for five and a half hours on a train because of this electricity issue they had in summer 2019. Everyone could leave the train except me, even so that was a horrible experience. The train staff, the onboard staff, they were so good and so nice to me and really tried to make that as nice as they possibly could.

They cooked dinner for me because it was so long. I had to wait until we could move again, they cooked dinner for me. They served me every drink I wanted to have, they were just very, very nice. Even so normally an unpleasant experience, nobody wants to get stranded on a train for five and a half hours, this made a difference. I will never forget that day but not in a negative way, but in a positive way how good the staff were and I tell this in every training and talk I give. You can make the difference if you treat disabled people with respect in a crisis. Then you know your staff is well trained.

Julia: Can we explore that a little bit further? When we think, particularly around the pandemic crisis, people are now thinking about return to work policies and what they could have learned during the pandemic in thinking about their disabled customers and also employees, to recognise that actually some best practise has revealed itself, that they should embed in their return to work strategies as well.

Christiane: Yes, it was quite interesting to see. For decades or at least since the internet was a thing, disabled people were asking to be able to work more flexibly, to work from home, to attend a conference online and so on, and that was always rejected. On the day when non disabled people couldn’t go into the office because we had CoronaVirus, this was all not a problem. We really have to learn a lesson where the priorities are and to make things happen. Whenever we speak about inclusion, it is not about window dressing.

People have to understand that it is actually making things possible and do the work. Not just talk the talk, walk the walk and it is work. You have to put some effort in it and you might need to change your processes and so on, but in the end, everyone will benefit from it because you get very loyal employees and you get overall a welcoming company culture which should be the aim for every organisation really. Who wants to work in a toxic environment? But making things possible, that’s what we can definitely learn from the CoronaVirus.

We made a lot of things possible overall in the work world, in the business world, so why can’t we be more flexible and more hands-on in the future as well. I think disabled people would benefit from it massively.

Julia: It’s really important isn’t it? Immediately, when you talk about that in terms of thinking about digital access and thinking about, of course, you said it, the internet has been an amazing enabler in enabling people to continue to do the jobs they need to do remotely.

I’d also like to talk about just general accessibility as well, I know that’s something you think about in terms of partly the workplace and organisational structures and buildings as we’re returning into them, but also in terms of what financial service’s firms could be thinking about as well.

Christiane: In the past 10 years, web accessibility is a huge focus and it is important because it really opens up, especially financial services, banking services for blind and visually impaired customers, but also for people which might have difficulties going to their bank branch and it’s just unnecessary any more but they might use assistive devices. If the website is not written to a certain standard, then they will struggle to use the service in the first place, which makes no sense, and there are thousands of other reasons why websites should be accessible.

The experience in the past 10 years, especially for blind people when they wanted to use their bank services. My partner is blind, for example, and he asked his bank a couple of years ago if he could get his bank statement as a PDF. Today that sounds like something they could do. They said no, we only offer braille. But only 10% of all blind people can read braille because most of them become blind during their life. They had some solution but they never looked into it, if that is really the solution the customer wants. It was more like a box ticking exercise without thinking if that is really what is needed by 90% of blind people, or if just providing a PDF would be much easier where he can use his screen reader on his own computer and go through the statement as people who can see as well.

Funnily enough, the same banks, my feeling is the same banks who struggle to provide accessible services 10 years ago, are now struggling to keep their normal customer base because they struggle in general to listen to their customers early and then act on it. So this simple example of, can I please have my statement as a PDF, 10 years ago, shows if they would have listened, that if the demand for everyone to have their statement in PDF. It’s normal now. Nobody would even question that anymore. But no, my partner never got his statement as a PDF because of this inflexibility and I think that’s exactly what I’ve meant before, that the customers are the canary in the coal mine. Serve them and you serve everyone.

Julia: It’s really interesting listening to you talk because I chair so many discussions about financial organisations and also many in the world of fintech and financial services talking about customer-centric strategies, customer experience, user experience. But actually, how much is at the very heart of the reality of the user experience which is really fascinating to hear you talk about that as well.

Christiane: It is always linked to operations. Very often the brilliant strategies written, and I’ve nothing against strategies, you need the strategy, but then you have to deliver them. That is where a lot of organisations are failing because the practical approach is then missing. What will the customer see? Is that good enough? Is that really what the customer wants or not? That’s where the real work starts then and I think that is the whole discussion about inclusion. We have to do the real work, not just the strategy papers.

Julia: And to think about the disability requirements early, not at the end of the journey.

Christiane: Absolutely right. It makes no sense, especially in times where we have an ageing population, to think, oh we are just serving a minority. That is not true today. It is quite a large group and people also have non visible impairments. That is why we have the wrong impression that disabled people are a small minority. Not everyone is a wheelchair user, but if you get it right for wheelchair users, you get it right for a lot of people who might struggle with steps as well. Get it right for them and we have an ageing population so we really have to think hard about how we service in general and if that is in public transport, if that is in finance, if that is in retail, will look like in the future if we don’t want to lose this customer group. Basically, I think we can’t afford that because this group becomes so big now businesses have to change their strategies if they want to be future proof.

Julia: Imagine the economic contribution. Imagine the potential to launch and drive businesses. Imagine the potential to fund and invest them and to enable all the banking services that go round that as well. Really, really interesting.

Christiane: That’s another aspect. Disabled customers are very loyal customers as well. If you get it right, they stay. I can give you an example out of my own life. I travel quite a lot and love to try new hotels. But as old as I get, I get less adventurous I must say and then I stay with a hotel. If I know they have a decent accessible room, the surrounding are okay and the staff is well trained and just delivers good customer service, I will stay there for years.

I travel to Berlin, if we don’t have CoronaVirus, four times a year minimum. I have one hotel now that has a customer for life because they have a great room and they were amazing. I was so tired of bad hotel rooms, bad designed hotel rooms when it comes to accessibility that I saw this new hotel when I was in Berlin. I just went to the reception and asked them, can I have a look at your hotel room because I might stay there in four weeks time, I’m here again in Berlin.

They were amazing. They didn’t find that weird. They fully understood why I was asking that so they showed me every single accessible room they had. I made a note of the best room which suits my needs best, and I book this room now, I think, to the end of my life, because the staff was so nice and the stay itself was great as well. That is what I mean with loyalty. If you get it right once and you are serving this customer well in the future, you might keep them forever.

Julia: Really interesting. Thank you so much for your thoughts on that. So much of this is very, and it sounds like an obvious thing to say, okay, but this is a very human-centric conversation.

I want to really talk about, if we can just pivot the conversation slightly into the conversation about talent, disabled talent. This is a talent pool that I fundamentally believe is untapped and I would love to hear your thoughts about what organisations should be thinking about in terms of the processes of recruiting disabled people. What could we do to improve? Where should we be looking to find our talent and what are businesses at risk of overlooking?

Christiane: I have a very strong opinion on that because what organisations at the moment don’t realise is that there is a lot of window dressing going on, and in fact, they alienate disabled people with window dressing approaches. If they don’t treat their disabled customers well, they will never cause an interest in getting them as employees. That is a totally misunderstood way. There are these initiatives which lights buildings once a year purple, just to make people aware there are disabled people. I don’t even understand what they actually want to say, to start with. But, it shows to me as a potential disabled employee, we are window dressing. It has the totally opposite effect to me personally, that’s just my personal opinion.

What’s really important is to see organisations targeting disabled customers. Valuing, appreciating disabled customers, because even if these people are not customers themselves, they witnessed that, they noticed that. It’s like, “this is a great organisation, I want to work for them”. It’s a huge barrier because of the experience of discrimination in the past, to apply for, especially for big organisations, a lot of disabled people even expect to get discriminated, even if they get an interview.

It is so bad. Discrimination is so bad and it is really important to get the message right in general, as an organisation. So not doing inclusion whatever posts on LinkedIn or something like that, that doesn’t convince me, I must say. I want to see what you’re actually doing. Tell me how many of your offices are wheelchair accessible. How many disabled people are already working for you? That’s interesting information. Welcome me in the job description already, so not just this standard sentence, “We are inclusive” Everyone has that and then in fact, that doesn’t actually mean that you are welcoming, what does it actually mean? How should I know if that is actually true or if that just looks nice, or something like that?

Again, we are at this topic, walk the walk, show that you are an inclusive organisation. Offer accessible events. Make your website accessible. Use the right tone and the right language. Stop being patronising to customers and also disabled employees or applicants. That will all make the huge difference. It is not done with posting on LinkedIn, we are inclusive and we want to see more disabled people in the organisation. I’m afraid that is not enough.

I’m a big fan of events, so a lot of the organisations have now started recruitment events specially for potential disabled employees, and I find this very important because that is the chance where the organisation can actually show and really present what they have already done. This lowers the barrier massively for disabled people to come forward and say, well I’d consider a job change, or I consider applying in the first place, or whatever it is. It’s a really good tool where employers can show what they have done and what their culture is. But again, no window dressing at this event either. It will not work.

Julia: Yes, absolutely. And it’s fascinating isn’t it, because a lot of the banks and financial institutions will have these big job fair days. What we’re saying is, basically, think about that in a slightly different way and think about job fair days for people with disability. I think that’s amazing.

I love this. Not only does it completely support what I hold to be very true which is, window dressing is one thing. What’s the lived reality, and the lived reality is experienced by your customers and your employees hands down, and that’s the number one opinion to pay attention to with this. But also, the fact that it’s very practical and we love it when our listeners can go away and really think about things they could do tomorrow.

I’d love to ask you another question as well, which is, where should we go to educate ourselves? What website, books, resources would you recommend we call upon?

Christiane: There is so much around. What is really lacking at the moment is that, yes, I would even call it the disability culture . There is something like the disability movement but nobody’s actually talking about that. And that leads to organisations really don’t understand who we are, especially the younger, middle aged disabled people becoming more and more confident and they expect service and that is a good thing. Honestly I think the best source for me personally, but what I would recommend is to go on Twitter. The disability community is on Twitter. That’s where they communicate with each other, especially about transport, but also other areas. You will find the most shocking experience on Twitter, but you can learn from it as well.

If I would have to pick one book I’ve read last year, I would recommend to read the autobiography of Judith Heumann and the title is Being Human. Basically she’s the mother of the ADA in the US and she explains very well what battles they had to fight for equality and what the disability movement is, and how empowering this community can be. For me, it is the community but it is also important for businesses to understand the culture behind it, that it is not about pity. It is really about encouraging people, empowering people and the time of pity is over.

I always say actually, pity is the worst enemy of good customer experience.

Julia: Could not agree more. I think a lot at the moment about these changing times. We’ve talked about the return to work. We’ve talked about what organisations are thinking about as they come out of the pandemic. One of the things I’ve been thinking about as we’re going through interesting changing economic times, and we talked about the return to work. We’ve talked about customer experience and how people are now experiencing financial services and all manner of services from organisations as well.

Julia: But I do worry that the conversation about diversity and inclusion can fall down the agenda, particularly when we’re paying attention to tough times. I would love to hear your compelling reasons as we wrap out the show today, about why this conversation about diversity and inclusion really matters right now.

Christiane: It’s very much linked to how society looks like today. No business can afford any more, even in bad times, to exclude disabled people. They are a customer group which is underserved, underestimated and better to chance there are so many gaps in the market when it comes to disabled people and good customer experience, there doesn’t have to be a special product or anything like that. You just have to have this group in mind when building projects and develop products and whatever it is. It is good for the economy as well to service this group. It makes no sense not to serve them. That would be the same as saying, ignore women. So why would you do that? That makes no sense and disabled people have buying power. Their family have buying power.

I closed a current account years ago and it was the first current account I ever had in the UK and because the bank had a battle against an 18 year old wheelchair user because the branch was not accessible, they’ve lost the case. So I closed the current account. I’m now 50 years older. I have a good income. They lost me forever. It makes no sense. It really makes no sense not to serve this group.

Julia: Christiane It’s been a joy to have you on the show. Thank you so much for taking time to be with us today.

Christiane: It was a pleasure. I really enjoyed that.

Julia: As always, thank you to all our listeners. I hope you’ve enjoyed the show as much as I have and we look forward to bringing you another episode of DiverCity Podcast very soon.

Kieron: This episode of DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. You can find out more about the guests on this week’s show on our website, divercitypodcast.com, and that’s divercity with a C, not an S. Whilst you’re there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates. All our episodes are available in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast app. If you enjoy DiverCity Podcasts, remember to share on social media and give us a rating or review. It really helps promote the show to a wider audience. Finally, our Twitter handle is @divercitypod. Thanks for listening.