Including Lived Experience

This is the sixth and final in a series of short blog posts sharing an overview of content explored on the Empowered Employers learning programme.

As part of the Empowered Employers campaign, we have been delivering a learning program for a range of employers across Gloucestershire. The learning program is unique in that it has been co-designed by Jane Hatton (CEO of Evenbreak), Experts by Lived Experience, and commercial employers from across the county.

In the sixth of our miniseries, Jane Hatton looks at how we include lived experience.

How do we include lived experience?

Sometimes employers say that they can’t start attracting or employing disabled people until they ‘have everything in place’. On further questioning, this means they wish to remove any potentially disabling barriers that could possibly exist in the organisation before having any disabled people in their workforce. A worthy intention, for sure, but fraught with problems.

Firstly, the business will almost certainly be employing disabled people and attracting disabled candidates already. Around 80% to 90% of disabled people don’t have outward visible signs of their condition (e.g. autism, dyslexia, diabetes, chronic pain, mental health conditions and so on). If they don’t know you are disability-friendly, they may just choose not to tell you.

More importantly, the assumption is that you will be able to identify those potentially disabling barriers you haven’t yet thought about, without involving disabled people themselves. This is not something you would do in any other circumstances. You wouldn’t bring a new product or service to market without first doing much market research, including talking to potential customers.

By not involving disabled people in decisions which will affect them, you will need to rely on untested assumptions about what disabled people might need. You may get some of them right, but it will be more down to luck than judgement. A much more accurate way of ensuring that your recruitment and employment practices are inclusive and accessible is by involving people with lived experience of disability right at the beginning. One company bought a new employee pair of those expensive reading glasses that convert the text that the person is looking at to speech, and relays it to them through speakers near their ears.  Whereas, actually, the new recruit had brought a magnifying glass with her, which is all she needed. Making assumptions can be expensive and embarrassing.

So, how do we gain the value of lived experience?

Employ More Disabled People

As simple as that. Do all of the things suggested in these blogs, and attract, recruit and develop more disabled people. Create a safe culture for people to be open about their disability, and demonstrate how important their voice is.

Create/Support Employee Resource Groups

Encourage disabled employees to engage with each other and with the organisation so they can collectively feed back improvement suggestions to you. Have an executive sponsor who will ensure they receive the resources they need, and that their voice is heard in the board room.

Reverse Mentoring

If your senior leadership team lacks personal lived experience of disability, consider reverse mentoring, where disabled employees further down the organisation meet with senior leaders to share their experiences. This needs to be carefully managed, so that both parties gain something meaningful from the experience.

Staff Surveys

If you carry out staff surveys, monitor the responses by diversity characteristics to see if there are any patterns from particular groups. This only works in large organisations where individuals can’t be identified because of their characteristics.

There is a saying in many activist groups, including disability activists, which says “Nothing about us, without us”. However, tapping into lived experience goes far beyond making you a more inclusive employer. It means you can build inclusion and accessibility into everything you do – marketing, product/service design, technology. Around 20% of the population (i.e. your clients, customers, suppliers, potential employees) are disabled or live with long-term health conditions. It makes perfect business sense to ensure that everything you do works for them, too. It’s much easier to build inclusion in at the design stage, rather than trying to retro-fit it afterwards. People with lived experience can help that happen – if they have the resources, and support and if their voice is genuinely heard.

Jane Hatton

Photo of Jane Hatton, CEO of Evenbreak