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A look back at International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2019

Colleagues from the Health and Safety Executive and the Office for Nuclear Regulation celebrating International Day of Disable Persons and the 25th anniversary of the Equal network for disabled staff
Members of the Equal network for disabled staff celebrating its 25th anniversary

The annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) was observed on 3 December 2019. The focus was on empowering disabled people by implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, ensuring that all areas of an individual’s life, such as education and employment, are fully inclusive and equitable. This is part of a broader aspiration to 'leave no one behind'.

I am delighted that this important annual event, alongside the Purple Light Up initiative, are now widely celebrated across the Civil Service. Individual departments and agencies have contacted me to let me know how they marked the day and I would like to share a few examples.

The Department for Education (DfE) made December a Disability Awareness Month. Their Disability and Neurodivergence Champion launched the activities with a blog, discussing DfE's vision to become the most inclusive department, followed by a series of blogs, a podcast, talks and other events.

DfE’s Senior Leadership Group invited disabled colleagues from across the department to speak about their disabilities and experiences. They asked DfE directors to keep the conversation going and to feed back common themes or issues to inform an action plan.

Disabled colleagues held weekly drop-in sessions, where they and line managers shared their insights and experiences of what works really well and what additional support could be provided. IT colleagues were also on hand to demonstrate assistive software and hardware, as well as answer questions about assistive technology and smarter working.

Other activities included a disability awareness market stall, and talks from inspirational speakers such as Kelly Monday, Global Account Director at Microsoft. She reflected on growing up with dyslexia and how harnessing creativity in everyone can support inclusivity. Jon White, a former Royal Marine turned leadership consultant and triple amputee, shared his personal story to inspire others to think less about limitations and more about possibilities.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) Disability Network arranged for the department’s Petty France canteen to be decorated in purple for the day, and MOJ D&I Team organised talks on Normalising Conversations around Disability, with Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, and Neurodiversity in the Workplace, with Nancy Doyle, CEO and founder of Genius Within. The latter included an insightful discussion on workplace adjustments, linking them to increased productivity, and the value to non-disabled staff of tools such as voice recognition software on computers and laptops. These were all live-streamed so that colleagues based elsewhere could participate. 

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, speaking at a talk organised by the MOJ D&I team on Normalising Conversations around Disability
Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, speaking at a talk organised by the MOJ D&I team on Normalising Conversations around Disability

Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) used International Day for Persons with Disabilities as a hook to pose the question: What does inclusion mean for individuals in DHSC? The main event of the day was the 'Disability – different perspectives’ radio show, organised by the disability network EnABLE. The event was accessed via Skype and held in the style of a panel radio show. The keynote external speaker was award-winning disability blogger, Chloe Tear. Other panellists were employees from the EnABLE network, talking about their lived experience, and the Head of the new Cabinet Office Disability Unit. They also organised speed mentoring sessions with a D&I Focus in Leeds and London, with mentors drawn from SCS D&I Champions and Network Chairs.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) partnered with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to celebrate both IDPD and the 25th anniversary of Equal, the network for disabled staff. They combined the celebrations with their first full disability history month series of blogs – tackling language, micro-aggression towards disabled people and the history of disability. Presided over by HSE Chief Executive Sarah Albon, and ONR Chief Executive Adrienne Kelbie, the set-piece event included a This is your Life-style audience with comedian, writer and actor Laurence Clarke, incorporating a history of the issues Equal has dealt with over the last 25 years and consideration of the issues disabled people will face in the future. Dave Bench, HSE Disability Champion, closed the event and looked at what lies in store for Equal.

In Temple Quay House, Bristol, by popular demand, Planning Inspectorate recalled Nellie the Dinosaur via an informative PowerPoint slide deck, to raise awareness of non-visible disabilities. The Disabled Staff Network marked the event with a display on the history of disability language. Acknowledging that many non-disabled people can be nervous about speaking appropriately to someone with a disability, the event offered advice on general terms to avoid, such as ‘brave’ and ‘special’.

Leading disability organisations and charities sometimes hold different views. It can be a matter of personal choice but, if you are worried about what language to use, the advice was to simply ask the individual concerned what they prefer. 

Other examples of activities within departments include:

  • A panel discussion in the Cabinet Office, entitled “Unlocking Potential”, featuring the award-winning cross-government Autism Exchange Programme, to showcase the talents and skills offered by autistic colleagues.
  • A staff event in the Department for International Development (DfID), led by Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft. It included a panel discussion with disability rights leaders from around the world, who shared their top tips on inclusive development and set out a challenge for DfID to “leave no one behind”.
  • Government Legal Department colleagues - and some of their four-legged friends - celebrated International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the Purple Light Up movement by wearing purple and sporting purple balloons.
  • My own department, Home Office, staged joint events with the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in our central London Office, and ran storytelling events about disability around the UK.
  • The Ministry of Defence flew the purple flag above their main London building for the third year running, and held various disability awareness events and exhibition stalls staffed by disability networks, offering information on support and services available.
  • The Scottish Government marked the day with a Disability Staff Network Conference, involving the key theme of how disability and mental health intersect. Speakers included Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans; Disability Champion Malcolm Wright; and Oxana MacGregor-Gunn from the Scottish Association for Mental Health Network members shared their stories of disability, emphasising their lived experience.

These are just a few examples of activities that I am aware of. If you did something to observe the day in your department or agency, why not post a comment to let other readers know. 

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