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Civil Service

What we did on International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Philip Rutnam, Perm Secretary for the Department for Transport and Civil Service Disability Champion
Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary for the Home Office, and Civil Service Disability Champion

In a previous blog, published in December, I asked for details of innovative activities that departments or agencies had organised to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

I am delighted to say that I received many positive responses. Here are just a few examples.

Nellie the interactive dinosaur

In Temple Quay House, Rivergate, Bristol, members of staff disability networks and PCS Union Learning Rep staff from the Planning Inspectorate, HM Revenue & Customs, and OFSTED, got together to run a Disability Awareness Day.

Cardboard dinosaur
Nellie the interactive dinosaur

They came up with the idea of a large, colourful, friendly and interactive dinosaur, called Nellie. A member of staff had built Nellie in her own time out of disposable cardboard boxes and the coloured cardboard inserts used in paper files.

The design was highly creative, conveying the subtle message: “Look at me, I may come across as big and strong but I have several non-visible disabilities.” Visitors to the stand were invited to lift up flaps positioned all over Nellie’s body to reveal details of specific non-visible disabilities. Pens were also provided for visitors to write on Nellie details of any other hidden disabilities that they were aware of. Green crepe paper was used to make it look as if Nellie was hiding in the jungle, drawing parallels that many disabilities are also hidden.

The event generated a lot of interest. Visitors to the stand took photos of Nellie and discovered useful information on resources such as the Workplace Adjustment Passport and the Civil Service Learning offer on ‘Becoming Disability Confident’.

Ask. Listen. Act.

During the week commencing 11 December, the Ability Network In the Department for Transport (DfT) launched an ‘Ask. Listen. Act.’ campaign based around the network’s definition of a Disability Confident DfT. The aim was to build on the department’s recent accreditation as a Disability Confident Leader; so that everyone - disabled staff, managers and colleagues - genuinely feels comfortable with and confident about disability. 

Staff were asked to adopt the simple message, Ask. Listen. Act., to help everyone in DfT to be more Disability Confident. This campaign is about starting a conversation and is the first of a number of initiatives that DfT will be pursuing over the next few months:

  • Ask: if anyone in your team has additional needs – make this a standard question and it will become easier for everyone to speak up.

This does not mean it’s okay to ask someone how they became disabled or, “what’s wrong with you?”. It means asking, “What can I do to help?” or, “Is there something we need to do to make sure you’re included?”. It is intended to empower disabled staff by making it easier to talk about their needs. This is also not intended to push disabled staff into talking about their personal issues - unless they want to - but to help create an environment where it’s comfortable for them to do so.

  • Listen: to what disabled people tell you – listen to their views and understand how disability affects them and what they need to be included; understand too that they might not want to talk, and that’s okay, especially if they know that if they change their mind, you’re ready to listen.

This means not assuming you already know what someone needs.  It’s good to have some background knowledge about different needs, impairments and potential access solutions. But if a disabled person says that something isn’t going to work for them, respect that. 

  • Act: on what they tell you, and champion their and others’ needs.

This means exactly what it says on the tin.  If someone does explain what their needs are, then respond appropriately, remember to do it every time, and remind others to do the same.

A news story and a blog from an Ability Network member and her manager about their experiences were published alongside top tips and links to useful resources. Purple badges and lanyards were issued to Ability members and allies to spread the Act. Listen. Act. message to get people talking, and to start turning DfT purple. 

Purple power

HSE staff at a 'purple power' event

HSE (Health & Safety Executive) partnered with the Office of Nuclear Regulation to hold a series of 'purple power' events. They lit up their headquarters in Bootle and Merseyside purple for the week and involved their area offices by distributing purple power packs. These contained useful resources such as posters, coasters, links to internal and external sources of advice, alongside purple sweets and fruits, for area staff to use on event stands.

Staff were encouraged to wear purple and to hand out coasters as a prompt to start a conversation about disability.

A keynote event was organised, including speakers such as Nikki Fox, the BBC Disability Correspondent. The event was linked to HSE achieving Disability Confident Level 2, and included a forward look on actions necessary to become a Disability Confident Leader (Level 3).  

The feedback has been excellent, and has continued to raise the profile of disability issues in HSE. 

It is great to hear about these innovative initiatives and my thanks to all those individuals who contacted me to share their stories.

Sharing and comments

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  1. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you sharing these great examples of how we can become more Disability Smart.

    It is really encouraging that Mental Health is being acknowledged as a non visible disability.

    It is also good to note that more focus is being made on the language that we use when discussing disability and that we talk about the person in the first instance and then the issue that they mau have.

  2. Comment by Satnam Bassi posted on

    Re Ask.Listen.Act - I would just like to say that a disability doesn't always have to mean a physical disability; a person can have a mental or psychological disability that is not always visible. Thus, a person can experience difficulty in understanding and/or carrying out a task and may require help or additional time or a different way of doing things. It is helpful if we can all keep an open mind; "just because we can do it a certain way, doesn't mean everyone else can do it just the same".
    S Bassi, Type 1 Diabetic

  3. Comment by Nikki Burns posted on

    As an HMRC employee it would have been encouraging to see something from this Department . As pointed out, the Department does not score highly in the Civil Service staff survey. Staff who are subject to office closure as part of the "Building The Future" programme and have disabilities, have very real concerns about the likelihood of the employer giving full consideration to the very real impact on them. They have genuine worries whether that they will be fully supported and enabled to relocate to new work sites so that they can sustain their employment with HMRC. Many will have already found out about the mechanistic approach to sickness absence at HMRC. Quite a way to go I think, and looking forward to change.

  4. Comment by KD posted on

    I too applaud the continuing efforts to make disability a part of everyone's mindset.

    This can deliver real change to the way we all interact at work, how we recognise the barriers colleagues may face and how we can avoid the robotic implementation of performance and sickness "guidance".

    Given the People Survey results, has there been any thought to initiating and intensive series of such events in those areas of the Civil Service (HMRC springs to mind), who have consistently underachieved in terms of woefully poor discrimination results, which impact the reputation of the wider Civil Service as a disability friendly and engaged employer?

  5. Comment by Kevin Oliver posted on

    Great to see so much going on. As a core member of the DWP Disability Engagement Group it's good to see so many Allies joining us in various Departments.

    Here in CMG Leicester we had a "Purple Ronnie Treasure Hunt" and joined in the CMG Central "Wear Purple" event. It's just a shame that the colour purple was used, as a lot of people who have to deal with colour blindness can't actually see it effectively (Colour blindness is also a disability).

    OK, so I accept that just wearing purple doesn't in itself change things, but in order to get change, you first need to raise awareness.

    Treat people fairly, and " Be the person your dog thinks you are ".

    I'm always willing to work with other Civil Servants, just give me a shout.