News & Updates
December 2, 2020
On behalf of Purple and Purple Tuesday I am very proud to be supporting International Day of People with Disabilities. As a disabled person working in the sector, I have been involved in the celebration for over 20 years and can see how much it has grown as an event. Disability is a global issue with 15% of the world’s population having an impairment – this equates to over one billion people with a purchasing power of $8 trillion.
I am so pleased hidden disabilities is a core theme this year. In the UK over 80% of disabled people have hidden impairments but yet so many choose not to declare. We know the global Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating the rise of mental health conditions, and we must make it our collective responsibility to eradicate the issue as taboo as we move into 2021.
As part of Purple’s commitment to the International Day, we will be releasing a series of four videos, from tomorrow, to help you learn the alphabet in British Sign Language (BSL). Our thanks to Liyah from St. Anne’s Preparatory School for her assistance. We will then want you to use your new language skills to take part in our BSL Christmas crossword which will be coming to you soon.
Today I am going to be busy. I am taking part in a Channel 4 4Talks webinar changing the conversation on disability and then joining the RIDI Awards later in the day to celebrate the achievements of the recruitment industry to attract and retain disabled talent.
A lot has happened in 20 years. A lot more needs to happen in the next 20 years to permanently change the disability conversation.
3 December 2020
December 1, 2020
Waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat is not pleasant. Not just a bead of perspiration but a fully blown stream that stings the eyes which have been rudely opened. I didn’t have a fever. It wasn’t the radiators belting out heat. It was the simple realisation that I may have been found out.
Earlier that day I had been running a training webinar for one of our clients. There were over 50 participants online which is double the number that would have attended the traditional classroom based session. We were talking about those customer service approaches, which would make a difference to the disabled customer experience. One participant bravely came off mute and nicely, but bluntly, pointed out they had won awards for their customer service, and they simply needed to apply the same principles to all customers and job done; the trick is not to treat disabled customers differently.
To a large extent they are absolutely right. The Purple, and Purple Tuesday messages have always been very simple and straightforward, and hence being found out. It is us as a society, as businesses and as individuals who have made it so complex, and created a career for someone like me!
The following morning it made me think very hard about where I can add value to the changing disability conversation? The economic and social arguments are compelling and, I think, people in significant numbers get it. I landed on a couple of areas.
Firstly, my stories, my lived experience, can bring the theory to life. I can vividly explain how going into 27 shops and being utterly ignored and overlooked in 22 of them made me feel as a customer. And how this experience influenced the spending of my purple pound – five shops did very well that day. I can talk about my day out at a theme park for my son’s 6th birthday where I was banned on going on any ride – including the sedate Tea-cups – for health and safety reasons. Yet a few weeks later I was rattling around Thunder Mountain in Disneyland, Paris. I couldn’t explain to my son, why.
I can bring authenticity. I have lived with a physical disability all my life and can explain exactly what it means – all the positives and challenges.
I am able to talk eloquently about the 80% of disabled people who have hidden impairments and the rapid growth of people experiencing mental health. The 83% statistic of people acquiring a disability is a powerful one. But all of these points are overshadowed by hearing the lived experience, collectively, of those individuals with hidden disabilities.
Over the past few weeks I have co-delivered a Power of Choice training programme for senior individuals wishing to accelerate the growth of their career. All of the participants had a self-declared impairment and I think all had hidden disabilities including neurodiversity conditions. And all were utterly inspiring and provided insights I would never gain simply from books. For many their disability was a battle: I leave my disability at home when I go to work; I was so nervous about self-disclosing; I feel a fraud being on a disability participant training programme.
I have not yet seen the full evaluation but I do know they have all been on a journey. No longer living in darkness but in light, and I will bring my whole authentic self to work from now on, are two powerful statements that will remain printed in my mind.
Next week I will share their voices, their stories with you. Through vignettes and poetry. I have been inspired and so, I think, you will be too.
Perhaps I haven’t, after all, been found out. But better understand where I can add value to the changing conversation and when/where others should tell the story. And perhaps, knowing that, will lead to a better night’s sleep.
1 December 2020
November 24, 2020
Standing in the pitch black. In a park, alone, for 45 minutes feeling pretty vulnerable and increasingly cold. Plenty of time for reflection. I wasn’t looking or thought I needed it. I wasn’t expecting it. And at that exact moment I definitely can tell you I didn’t think it was good for me.
Let me wind back the clock to recount how I got there. I have spoken previously about the trials and tribulations of my car. Following my faulty fob I had booked the car in for its service and MOT. I arranged to get the fobs sorted at the same time. Two immediate issues. The garage could only change the battery in the fobs and a major problem with my crank shaft had been identified, which would need fixing before passing the MOT. So it would be back to ‘chez garage’ where the fobs could be replaced and re-programmed.
I spent the intervening two weeks talking kindly to a piece of plastic each time I opened and locked the car door – the fob is also the mechanism for starting the engine. Some hairy moments when I thought it wasn’t going to work but we got there.
However, when I arrived back at the garage, I was informed they didn’t have any fobs in stock, they could order some in but I would have to come back again. It got a bit heated and language was used that sounded like ‘fobbing’, but wasn’t! I explained I did the school runs, had four kids and couldn’t run the risk of breaking down. The headline response being it was unfortunate but if anything did happen I would have to ring the RAC or AA. And with that the Customer Service Advisor proceeded to take staff drink orders while regaling stories of his weekend escapades – and all in front of me and other customers. He did ring the following day and said it would be another eight days before the car could come back.
You really don’t need me to tell you what happened next. In fact, it was four days later. A late Sunday afternoon and we had decided to take the kids to the park for some fresh air and lockdown exercise. Just as the sun was setting and before their tea. Returning to the car after a nippy 20 minutes, it happened. Both fobs gave up. I could see through the window the dashboard telling me key not detected. I used the emergency key to unlock the car and with a very high-pitched alarm annoying the entire neighbourhood we got the doubly buggy, wheelchair and two car seats out. It was a long walk home.
The breakdown service was brilliant. I rang. They were caring, kind and responsive to my situation. They agreed an estimated time to get to my car and I got a taxi there to meet them. They rang once to see how I was and a second time to say the driver was running late from a previous call out. Hence the 45 minutes in the pitch black as I waited.
This could have easily descended into a woe betide me post about how terrible it all was but perversely I am glad it happened. For the first time in months, life just stopped. The brakes jammed. It was pitch black, silent and no mobile reception for online distraction. I was forced to think. Reflect. And realise life was good, I was very lucky and very privileged. I could gently scold myself for not ringing to confirm everything was ok in advance of me going to the garage. It was that important, I should have checked. I didn’t. I was too busy. A reminder about important versus urgent tasks. And we had left all the family mobile phones in the car so real problems if we hadn’t opened the car. I like not always having my phone but in the circumstances we faced, an unnecessary risk that day.
And the biggest reflection. The customer service from the garage and breakdown service was not about money or resources but attitude and approach. No cost but a big price. Purple Tuesday demonstrates every day that improving the disabled customer experience is about attitude and approach with funding a long way behind in terms of enabling changes. In this situation I suspect it didn’t matter if I was disabled or not – the same outcome would have happened.
In a world of four children, a busy job and everything else, the 45 minutes was unique. The circumstances could have been better but I learned a lot. And yes, my car did eventually pass its MOT!
24 November 2020
November 16, 2020
It is almost three years to the day since I attended an e-safety session for parents at my daughter’s school, who was 10 at the time. As a total novice to the online world I found it fascinating but equally scary. Sitting downstairs while your child is potentially being groomed in the security of their bedroom was simply a frightening prospect. I am now hugely embarrassed to admit my raised eyebrow when the discussion moved to the damage caused by a need for likes, comments and reactions. Surely not. Don’t allow yourself to be so shallow. And clearly shallow I have become! As a recent poster on LinkedIn, I have become obsessed with how many views for each post I get, how many reactions, and if anyone shares my post. I tell myself it is about understanding the data, understanding a new audience, knowing how to deliver messages about disability which people will understand, etc. Of course some of that might be true but I also need to get a grip. Or as the e-safety tutor said, ‘there is a need for common sense and resilience’.
Over the past few weeks myself and the Purple team have needed resilience in bucket loads as we were locked in a rollercoaster in the run up to Purple Tuesday. We crept in just before the second lockdown although it was surreal being back in London which has become a ghost town. The pre-recorded Sky News interview was never shown – a national broadcaster is crucial for media exposure – due to the Vienna terrorist attack the preceding evening. The torrential rain on the morning as we drove in had just about abated by 8 am. And the videographer struggling to get parked 8 minutes before we live streamed the big reveal at Piccadilly Lights.
But yet it happened. Purple Tuesday got a bigger audience (up 51%) than the previous year. More organisations participated. More commitments to improve the disabled customer experience were made than ever. The profile of online accessibility, and its importance, has finally come through. And the feeling is Purple Tuesday is now seen as a 365-day activity and not merely a one-day awareness celebration. As Pike once famously said: “Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring”.
For me, personally, I have drawn heavily on the insights of Marcus Child and his five fibres of resilience. At its heart is the need for spiritual; having a purpose, a cause. Purple Tuesday is about improving the disabled customer experience from which other benefits will flow. I am often told my passion is infectious. Delighted to be guilty as charged. That is the emotional fibre. But emotion always needs to be harnessed and complemented by mental and physical fibres. The former is about clarity of decisions under pressure. On the Saturday before Purple Tuesday when the second official lockdown was to be announced, the press release was re-written four times. The tone had to be in tune with the wider nation. And keeping up momentum is a physically gruelling marathon with mini-sprints included. The final fibre is social. Building alliances with those that get it. The sharers in the online world. And taking others on the journey. The 5,000+ conversations using #PurpleTuesday are clear indicators of a new social movement making real change. And the organisations that get involved benefit commercially as well.
As we take the next step to ensure Purple Tuesday becomes the norm 365 days a year, these fibres will need to be working in concert; for me, the Purple team, every organisation involved and disabled customers. For all of us it will require resilience. I will need to kick bad habits that impede my resilience. I hope you will like, react and share this post but I will make a point of not looking!
For more information about the work of Marcus Child go to:
17 November 2020
November 10, 2020
Purple Tuesday has purpose. It is focussed on changing the customer experience for disabled people and their families. It is making organisations more accessible and opening up the £274 billion disability market. And it is showing staff (50% who will have a disabled relative or someone in their close network), they work for an organisation that care and share their inclusion values.
For all my words over the last year, I could not have put it better than a comment received from a Purple Tuesday participant last week:
“Would love it if all businesses would shine a light on providing a good customer experience for disabled people all year round, not just on Purple Tuesday”.
Purple Tuesday has grown up and, as they say, cut through. Last Tuesday:
- We achieved a media reach of 17.4 million, across 272 pieces of media, up 51% on last year.
- We were trending in the top 10 worldwide on Twitter for a large part of the day. Extraordinary when you think it was US election day, two days before the second Covid-19 lockdown and the morning after the Vienna terrorist attack.
- A post from me got 28,500 users (and rising) and over 900 reactions. Two weeks ago if 400 read my posts I was skipping!
But it will all count for very little if Purple Tuesday is perceived as a one-day awareness event and disabled people don’t feel, see and hear the impact. It will count for nothing if Purple Tuesday doesn’t take on board the very loud feedback from organisations across all sectors, particularly SMEs, who say we get it, want it, but need some support and guidance to do it right.
One week on and we have listened. Today we are launching Purple Tuesday 365, a subscription service (starting 1 January 2021) to support organisations and their staff to access knowledge, understanding and practical approaches to make a better disabled customer experience 365 days a year a reality.
For all the details you need for your organisation to make it a reality go to Purple Tuesday 365.
Talking reality, we understand the difficult economic times at the moment.
For organisations with under 50 staff, Purple Tuesday is an investment of £1 a day (plus VAT).
For organisations with over 50 staff, it is an investment of £10 a day.
Last week I was a presenter on a global webinar and a wise individual (not me) predicted this was the decade of inclusion, and that if you didn’t have inclusion credentials then you would struggle to survive as consumers switched brands.
Purple Tuesday works for your disabled customers. It will work for your organisation. And its purpose will be expected by your staff.
The world is changing. Be a part of making disabled people central to that change.
10 November 2020
October 29, 2020
An ability to predict the future. I am certainly no Mystic Meg! I might as well gaze at an old football in the garden than a crystal one.
Back in May – which seems a lifetime ago – I wrote three posts (Purple Tardis, Purple Tardis – Part 2 and Make Do and Mend) which looked forward to 3 November and how Purple Tuesday might unfold. In terms of predictions, I would say it was a mixed bag.
I made the assumption Purple Tuesday would happen. There have been many days and nights this has been really tested over the past few weeks. Purple Tuesday works well as an online celebration. It was more about whether any organisation would be interested and/or have the energy given so many other distractions and restrictions.
Only one participating organisation from last year has said no. Hundreds of new organisations have registered. And from more sectors than ever. And of all sizes. Four clear reasons. Organisations see Purple Tuesday as a way of connecting or reconnecting with their disabled customers. Some relationships have got frayed as disabled customers went back to being ‘vulnerable’ customers. Purple’s recent poll with disabled people has revealed this being a major factor in switching brands. And brand is important. Demonstrating social impact is becoming a necessity for organisations and Purple Tuesday delivers.
As I rightly predicted (and you didn’t need to be Mystic Meg) the issue of mental health has become mainstream for most organisations. A huge level of Purple Tuesday commitments are focused on this issue from awareness raising to training of staff. The final issue also relates to Covid-19 insofar as the limitations of online accessibility (including online bookings) have well and truly been exposed. Purple Tuesday has been saying this for three years (since it was created). The ClickAway report has evidenced the £17.1 billion loss to the UK economy through disabled people leaving a website before making a purchase. And the added disproportionate isolation for disabled customers over the last seven months as basic online information has not been accessible. Again, many organisations are now committing to putting this right. Both commercials and public opinion are demanding it. The Purple Tuesday Piccadilly Lights showpiece will be shown from 8am on 3 November for half an hour. It has taken Covid-19 for us to realise the potential impact of live streaming the event which should boost our chances of beating #3 worldwide on Twitter this year. But I won’t be then whizzing down the road and into the television studios. That was very clearly a naïve prediction. I do think Purple Tuesday will get national broadcast coverage. I have already written the headline in my head: Purple Tuesday Trumps US Election. You now see why I am not involved in the marketing of Purple Tuesday!
And what I didn’t predict at all. The absolute buy-in of disabled people to Purple Tuesday this year. Disabled customers, and their insights, are the piece in the jigsaw that will take Purple Tuesday from being a good initiative into a truly transformational one, for both disabled people and organisations – and the positive economic and social knock-on effects.
Over 200 disabled people have shared their lived experience of being a customer which are and have informed our resources, guidance, approach and messaging. Our eight brilliant Ambassadors have enabled Purple Tuesday to engage with tens of thousands of disabled people and to reach into different sectors. And our Purple Tuesday advert, which was premiered last night on ITV3, is reaching out to the wider general public about why this issue is so important.
With five days to go I am still not entirely sure where I will be on the day. I am very much hoping to be in Piccadilly Circus for the light up, hoping to be on your TV or radio talking about the issues, and then finding a quiet oasis to read and watch the thousands of pictures, stories and videos from you as the day unfolds.
We will make it a success. You will make it a success. Roll on Purple Tuesday.
29 October 2020
October 26, 2020
Visiting castles around Aberdeen. The banks of Loch Lomond. Gleneagles. Downtown Glasgow. A long weekend in Edinburgh. As a disabled tourist these are all the places I have visited across Scotland in the last two years. To be more precise, the 18 months prior to Covid-19 in March. And all in the off-peak season. By the way Gleneagles was for a work conference and I stayed an extra night to explore the wonderful surroundings. Apart from Scotland being my favourite country to visit, it was the staff at the tourist destinations that made me feel so welcomed.
At the start of this year the tourist industry – along with wider UK business plc – was making such good progress with bringing to life disability inclusion. Businesses that understood ‘accessibility’ were starting to tap into the £274 billion Purple Pound, the consumer spending power of disabled people and their families. Organisations like VisitScotland proactively support the tourism sector with advice, guidance and resources. For tourism this is so important. If destinations are not accessible for me, then my family of six will not be coming. A commercial opportunity is missed alongside the social impact. We know tourism enriches lives, connects people to places and creates lasting memories.
Disabled people have lasting memories. I know how I am treated determines whether or not I will return to a place. Businesses have the ability to become more accessible and therefore more attractive to 22% of the population. It is an incredibly hard environment at the moment and probably will stay that way for the immediate future. However, there are simple things businesses can do now to support your recovery plan, and to make that recovery plan inclusive.
In summary they are:
- Making your built environment accessible in a socially distancing and Covid-19 restrictive world. It can be as simple as ensuring accessible parking spaces are not removed/reduced; ensuring accessible toilet facilities are available only to disabled people; ensuring any Plexiglass or Perspex used has clear markings to support those with visual impairments; and that a short accessibility guide is provided (online) which identifies the current restrictions and what disability access services are available. Disabled people do understand restrictions are in place but need to know these so informed decisions can be made.
- Making low cost changes to improve the accessibility of digital and online information, via all devices including smartphones. Websites have become the gateway to your organisation and if the gate is shut people will not come. There are very quick wins to be made.
- Ensuring disability awareness becomes an integral part of training your staff with new ways of working and not a bolt on addition – because it simply won’t happen. This can be as easy as case studies of customers with different disabilities (including hidden/invisible impairments) and the changes which make a real difference. It is back to the point about disabled people feeling welcomed and being a customer rather than a burden and risk hazard!
On 3 November it is Purple Tuesday (www.PurpleTuesday.org.uk), an initiative supporting businesses to improve the customer experience for disabled people through practical changes to their physical, online and staff approaches to accessibility. Every participating business is invited to make minimum of one commitment which could include practical adaptions to accommodation e.g. hand rails, better signage, improved accessibility of the website and other digital services, the introduction of the hidden disabilities sunflower lanyard scheme, plus many more. All these examples are low cost adjustments which can make a real difference to your customers and are becoming increasingly important to your staff – 50% of whom will have a disabled relative or someone in their close network.
Given the current situation, the Purple Tuesday message this year is to make do and mend. In the last two years over 5,000 changes to practice have been made. Adapt, adopt and borrow what others have done and apply this in your own environment. Purple Tuesday reached over 13 million people and trended at #3 worldwide on Twitter in 2019. This November the intent is to go one better.
As I have said disabled people have long memories. They will know which tourist destinations are accessible and/or are making the commitment to change. They will reward them with their Purple Pound.
If you are reading this post make a commitment today to improve your accessibility and become the destination of choice for disabled customers.
Mike Adams OBE
27 October 2020
October 20, 2020
Smooth operator. Coast to coast LA to Chicago, western male. Across the north and south to Key Largo, love for sale.
A classic line from the 1984 hit by Sade. Some of you will wander down memory lane. Others should download and listen. I was shocked when I heard the album did not make the top 10 of the best from the 1980’s. It was definitely up there in the vanguard.
I recently went coast to coast when I met a whole bunch of new partners from across the States who are resellers or work for Smartbox. It was part of a series of get to know you events as Smartbox joined the CareTech family. Purple is part of the CareTech family. So technically Purple has a sister. Not just any sister but a creative, vibrant, warm and utterly caring sister. And a very successful one too in the field of assistive technology.
Let me introduce you. Smartbox is a market leading creator of software and hardware focused on supporting disabled people without speech, or where speech is challenging, to have a voice and to live independently. The technology is astonishing – it makes communication quick, simple and effective using a powerful specialist computer with fully accessible software and content for people using symbols or text.
It is estimated more than 50 million people globally could benefit from augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Smartbox’s flagship ‘Grid’ software supports more than 10,000 children and adults with the use of AAC every year and has already been translated into over 30 different languages.
Purple is deeply rooted in enabling disabled people to have a voice to change the disability conversation. Purple and Smartbox are now officially related but are kindred spirits with a very clear sense of purpose. Along with colleagues from the States I have also met the UK Smartbox staff, key stakeholders and a significant number of disabled customers from across the world.
I am genuinely excited by what we can do together. The opportunities are big. The need is even bigger. As I have repeated on numerous occasions Covid 19 has shone a very bright light on the inadequacies of accessible technology and the cause of disproportionate isolation throughout the pandemic. With disabled people unable to access basic information, buy goods and products and connect on social media with friends and colleagues.
Assistive technology is the enabler to unlock technology for millions of disabled people and for them to play a full part in an increasingly digital reliant world – 50 million people in the AAC community alone. And so many more disabled people who can benefit from the technology. What a powerful voice we can help to create.
This post cannot do justice to my new sister so take a look at this short video that describes who Smartbox are and what they do. It will redefine your perception of voice.
Although Sade didn’t make the top 10 albums of the 1980’s there was a chap called Prince who led the way on all things Purple. But even he can’t take the credit for Smartbox.
Mike Adams OBE
October 13, 2020
Science. Cookery. Or Food Tech as it is now called. Two core school subjects that are analogues in painting the picture of modern-day parenting.
Science is about experiments. You normally know the outcome before the test but need the evidence before being too forthright. When something happens, or needs to happen with the children, you need to be clear on the outcome and generally speaking, the interventions needed. Unlike science, parenting is clearly not binary. There is rarely an absolute right or wrong. Black or white. Parenting operates in the shadows – in that vast area of grey.
Looking at my 13-year old’s homework for science, if you follow the formula you can pretty well predict the outcome. From experience, the results from parenting are much more volatile and not necessarily within a standard margin of error.
And cookery. You know the ingredients, you follow the recipe and the end product should be sure-fire. But often the cake has not risen, the Yorkshire pudding is dough and the rabbits would struggle to gnaw their way through the steamed carrots. The taste is not necessarily what you would hope or expect.
Last week my 13-year old was set the task of making nuggets. In this Covid-19 world they are not made at school, but at home. They are not taken into school for the teacher to try, but for parents to delight. The evidence of homework completed is now a photo sent on email.
As I closed my eyes and became the official tester, I told her that I could see and sense the Golden Arches right before me! There was a lack of breadcrumbs and the chicken was a bit pink but otherwise she could be running a franchise from our very home!
So, what does that teach us parents? I have tried the bohemian approach and going with the flow. I have also tried the more instructive approach on the basis you will be grateful in the coming years. I have landed on somewhere in grey – a large landmass which gives me room to operate and manoeuvre given the set of circumstances in front of me.
Rather than school subjects perhaps the better analogy is fruit machines. From my childhood, and summers playing Jackpot in Southend arcades, it is more about push, hold and nudge. You always think you can beat the system. You crane your neck to see what is next in determining whether to use your one or two nudges, or to cut your losses and cash out. Very rarely do you hit the jackpot.
And this is where parenting is different. For me, it is more akin to geography; exploring the vast terrain and everyday finding something different which mostly makes you smile but sometimes makes you grimace. With four children (teenager, 8 year-old and 16 month old twins) my geography is their first words, a hug (as somebody with no arms having someone wrap their arms around you is special), a good school report or simply achieving something new for which they are proud.
As a parent, life is one big equation.
The answer: 2a + b + c = Jackpot.
13 October 2020
October 5, 2020
“Mike, Last but not least it is now your turn”. I remember those words as if it was yesterday. A tingle still shivers down my spine.
The date: Summer 1992. The location: An airfield somewhere in the West Midlands. The occasion: A freebie day out organised by a brewery looking to get a naïve Students Union Executive (and its innocent President!) to sign them up on a contract for the following year. Lucrative. And so no turn was left unturned in creating joy and entertainment, or so they thought. And no Gifts and Hospitality register in sight.
Alongside the all-day free bar, everyone had the opportunity to experience a ride up in a glider, complete with loop the loop. As President it was right to stand aside and let all my colleagues go before me. It was equally right to pray all day that the light would close in before it was my turn. My prayers were not answered.
As they helped me into all of my kit, the organiser said I would be sitting in the front seat. I quickly retorted that everyone else had been sitting in the backseat. ‘With due respect Mike you are unable to pull the parachute chord so there is no point giving you one. And on that basis, you might as well enjoy the better views from the front’. Not a Health and Safety risk form in sight.
I was reminded about my own disabled student experience by recent coverage of students having to self-isolate at universities. We know during the pandemic disabled people have been disproportionately isolated, and I wonder (and worry) that disabled students are feeling the same.
I survived the glider incident – although my credibility stock with peers was never the same again – and went onto being one of the first Disability Officers at a UK university. This was very new with a primary focus on ensuring physical access around the Campus, including the Halls of Residence. From my own personal experience, I knew the greater challenge was not if I could get through doors, but could I be on an equal playing field in accessing the curriculum. After making some progress, I became part of a National Disability Team (for higher education) and went to Australia to import back their progressive approaches.
The world at this time was beginning to embrace online technology and universities were starting to move away from only the traditional lecture, seminar model. The most wonderful organisation, TechDis, was created which enabled the fusion of accessibility from the outset. It was also the first time I had experienced assistive technology and saw just how much of an enabler it was and would become.
At this current moment in our history online teaching and learning is the go-to method of delivery. We know accessibility of mainstream websites have been exposed as woeful. I hope there are voices in the higher education sector raising these issues and ensuring disabled students are having equal, albeit restrictive, access to their education.
For most students, higher education is about more than just academic progress. It is about growing up, gaining independence, making new friends, and enjoying the local pubs and clubs. For me at that time it was more about lock-in’s than lockdown. It was a rite of passage. I feel for all students whose rite of passage is going to be so different and potentially very isolating.
I have learned you can get through life without a parachute but to glide or gliding will never quite have the same meaning for me as the dictionary definition.
6 October 2020
September 28, 2020
Sods Law. We have all been caught. By definition you never quite know when it is going to occur, apart from the fact it will be the most inconvenient time. Response. Either you rage against the machine or tip your hat to its cleverness with a broad, wry smile. And if you have a Plan D you might even compute the situation into a hollow victory.
I was put to the Plan D test last week. It is not often I have a ‘free’ day. I am not moaning but I am busy. Both at work and increasingly as a taxi driver for my two older children and apparently as a ‘soft play’ apparatus for the twins. They find mountaineering over my tummy a challenge but fun!
Last Sunday we decided to get in early for Halloween rather than leave until the day before. Quite ironic as almost certainly there will be no trick or treating this year.
Delighted with what we bought, we got back to the car for the short drive home as we were having a traditional roast lunch. But the car would not start and up came ‘no key detected’. All electronic fobs now so clearly the battery had gone. Luckily, we were outside a DIY store so ten minutes later I had a new battery and following the car manual it was put in correctly. Nothing. The manual also said if this didn’t work then there was a likely problem with the electronic circuit board and to use the emergency key in the back of the fob. After carefully unclipping the fob there was no key. A serious question for Mr Ford Galaxy to answer!
So, to Plan D. Very unlike me I actually knew where my spare car fob was located in the house. A call to the kids Nanna and 20 minutes later she arrived with the fob – the benefit of having family nearby. And just like that it started. Everyone had remained calm, albeit a little hungry, and the reward was a Drive Thru lunch and watching a catch-up episode of Britain’s Got Talent.
During the afternoon I kept thinking about the ‘what if’s’. What if we had been a long way from home. What if I had been on my own.
That evening we went to pay some bills online. It was quite odd as it appeared our account was in deficit. And then I noticed some payments to what turned out to be offshore betting companies. The account had been cloned. All cards were immediately frozen with no access to money for five days. It is also good Nanna has credit cards to pay for the takeaway dinner treat we had planned for her that week.
I am very much in Plan D mode for Purple Tuesday at the moment. Plan A is the new ideal world but between now and 3 November we could get through a lot of plans given the changing environment on a daily basis. As a social media-based event now, there is a level of certainty. No-one might be going past Piccadilly Lights on 3 November, but we can livestream the occasion and still top trend at #2 on Twitter. The live interviews of Purple Tuesday Partners at Piccadilly Lights will become pre-recorded and will deliver the same message about the importance of the disabled customer experience. The planned webinar showing best practice and top tips can still go ahead, not in London, but from Purple HQ in Chelmsford. The magic of Zoom and Teams makes interaction and involvement a reality rather than ambition.
The unlocking of broadcast media opportunities will need to be considered. Zig zagging across central London into different national broadcasters will not happen but if the story is good (which it is) we will get the airtime.
I am quite pleased I don’t have another ‘free’ day for a while. The last one was expensive!
29 September 2020
September 22, 2020
I once met a man in a motorway service station just off the M25. Not any man, but the CEO of a large clothes retailer. I knew someone, who knew someone who knew him. He owed a favour, and this was cashed in on meeting me. It helped he had a real personal interest in disability and was intrigued to hear about this organisation promoting disability as a commercial opportunity.
I remember when we first met, he was pretty uncomfortable. It certainly was not due to the anxiousness of trying to identify a stranger in a busy café as I had told him I was quite recognisable! I suspect he was not used to meetings in motorway service stations over tepid cups of tea!
Once we started talking fashion the ‘being uncomfortable’ quickly shifted to me. Fashion and I have never been close, so when he asked about my style I simply stared and blinked a lot. I mumbled about how difficult it was as all my clothes needed adapting, so following fashion would have been an additionally expensive hobby for me. I failed to mention my characteristic flaw of not embracing change and preferring my tried and trusted clothes which I had worn perfectly well for years – complete with the odd small hole. His eyes lit up and he became animated when discussing how his organisation could engage with local tailors to offer a bespoke adaptation service to those customers who bought clothes from his stores. There wasn’t a market in bespoke clothes for people like me, but if he could offer discounted, high quality and speedy adaptions then it would encourage me to spend more.
I was reminded of this encounter not long ago when I went to my local tailor to pick up clothes he had recently adapted for me. I hadn’t been for a pretty long time – no surprise there(!) – but during lockdown I had been encouraged (coerced) to go through my wardrobe and found in a bag five work shirts, four t-shirts and two pairs of jeans accumulated from previous birthday and Christmas presents.
I remember the very first time walking into the shop – 5 Star Stitches – asking the question and receiving a very nervous, ‘of course’. But as a professional craftsman he took up the challenge with aplomb. He told me years later that his biggest fear was sewing up the wrong arm hole. Although I provided him with one of my older shirts to use as a template, he was insistent in making me put on each shirt individually and pinning it exactly. He would then cut, tack and I would then try on again before he finished off with precision. Meticulous, and by far exceeded my expectations as hitherto my clothes had not looked anywhere near comfortable on me.
Last week I attended the most impactful training session ever on service delivery excellence which made me think of my tailor. At the core of excellence is knowing a ‘satisfied’ customer is no way good enough. Exceeding expectations has to be the new norm. Purple is about to start implementing a seven-point plan with customer insight at its heart. To achieve this involves aligning your staff and customers. Being crystal clear on the purpose and what constitutes success. Not just hitting targets but at pace and informed by ‘quirky’ customer insights likely provided through your frontline staff who will know what customers require to be better than just satisfied – what is required to go that extra mile every day. We will introduce quarterly short videos for our key commissioners to complement written reports bringing the metrics to life, and at a push of a button being able to directly communicate with all their staff. Adding value, exceeding expectations. We can do more. We need to do more to just keep up and remain differentiated.
The current lockdown restrictions make it difficult to show off style. If you see me on a webinar over the next few weeks be sure to look closely as you might notice a new shirt!
September 15, 2020
‘Thank you, Adam. A really good presentation. And now if I may ask the first question?’
Apart from calling me the wrong name I thought the presentation had gone pretty well. It was last Friday, and I was representing Purple as part of the process for the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards. Purple is a Finalist in the Positive Social Impact category for our work on Purple Tuesday, which involved a 15-minute presentation followed by 15 minutes of Q&As by the judging panel.
I am realising awards are an important part of growth and have a huge ripple effect internally, for external stakeholders and the wider public. It provides recognition for what you are doing – an invisible kitemark and a nod for being on the right track. If you get it right all staff can feel a sense of achievement and pride. And it builds credibility in your brand and your organisation. As we grow Purple Tuesday and really transform the customer experience for disabled people these types of awards become crucial.
The importance of the Award meant the process was even more nerve-wracking. The guidance had been clear the presentation would be halted after 15 minutes regardless. My spare room at home had been transformed by a Purple Tuesday banner as the backdrop, replacing the clothes horse and kids toys. And I knew I had to work the technology including the slides in concert with the words coming out of my mouth.
There were lessons I had learned from being on the other side of the online table as a judge. Conducting the presentation sitting on a bed was a complete no no. As is temporarily pausing the presentation to answer the door for your Amazon parcel. Stroking your cat doesn’t earn many marks, nor does keep moving on your swivel chair. And finally reading from a script gives the strong impression you don’t know your stuff, however much it is a temptation to ensure you don’t miss key points and you stick to time.
There were other key principles I knew I needed to apply. Remember to smile and blink. If you view our Purple videos, for some reason I find it a real challenge. Keeping points short and sharp and making every minute count, without coming across robotic. Again, I have sat as a judge and after 15 minutes have been none the wiser.
The category was positive social impact and every point needed to be orientated in that direction. Purple Tuesday has led to changing activities on the ground by businesses which had directly improved the customer experience of disabled people, as identified in surveys and wider feedback. These activities range from online access audits, changing signage, frontline staff learning BSL words and staff wearing sunflower lanyards. The diversity of activities conveys the important point of Purple Tuesday impacting people with the widest range of impairments.
For business we could show a return on investment from the interventions put in place, and the increased confidence of staff in supporting disabled customers.
And for the wider public there has been increased awareness of the issues and brand recognition. Dropping in stats such as 13 million + reach and trending #3 worldwide on Twitter helps.
Talking stats, I also had to remember the key ones I have used for so long have recently changed. The £249 billion Purple Pound has increased to £274 billion; the percentage of disabled people in the UK is now 22%; and the loss to UK business from the Click-Away Pound (those people who leave a website due to poor accessibility/poor customer service) is now a staggering £17.1 billion and climbing rapidly. Purple will be producing some updated infographics which we will share with you in the coming weeks.
What would it mean for Purple Tuesday to win the Award was the final question. It would certainly accelerate the spread of growth – I estimated it would catapult our development by two years against current forecasts. It would be celebrated by over 2,500 organisations who employ over 1 million staff, who would have been part of that achievement. And it would lead to transformation – rather than improvement – in the customer experience for disabled people which is our mission.
I have been called many names in my life. At one government department the staff on reception called me Stephen for three years! If we win this Award, I might seriously consider changing my name to Adam. Watch this space, or more precisely my email signature.
September 8, 2020
Offended. Well slightly! When I wrote a short post in early August announcing I was taking a month off from my weekly blog it received triple the number of views over the preceding three months! I can take a hint. I will make them shorter, crisper and will slowly transfer to vlogs.
For all those who read my previous post, The Magic of Meatballs, I can confirm we did have Ikea meatballs but not in the conventional way I originally thought. A family relative went to Ikea to pick up a home desk (the dining table finally became too much) and brought us back meatballs and, more importantly, the sauce. They were as equally delicious at home as they are in store – and a lot cheaper as you don’t end up buying things you seriously don’t need!
They were not the only meatballs eaten on our family staycation. We could not go away, so away came to our home. At our Spanish themed day, we made Tapas including Albondigas, smoky Spanish meatballs no less. Very different but equally good. With my relatively new iPhone I was put in charge of the music for the day. After four increasingly louder renditions of La Viva Espana (the Rioja helps!) and La Bamba (not technically Spanish, I know), my Mum asked me to find ‘I met a man on a bus to Barcelona’ and preceded to sing along having learned all the lyrics for the occasion. It is actually more catchy than might appear from the title!
In a poignant tribute to Grandad we had a Cornish day with Nana as it was their favourite place in the world. We plotted all the places we want to visit in what we hope will be a ten-day tour next Spring. We ate Hog’s pudding for breakfast, sardines on toast for lunch, afternoon scones and Cornish tea, followed by Cornish pasties for dinner – washed down by a surprisingly vibrant Cornish red wine. We all watched a Cornish based film ‘The Kid who would be King’, which is a modern story based on King Arthur at Tintagel and had an Art competition. My harbour vista of Fowey came a long way last, beaten by stunning Tin Mines and cliff top views where Poldark apparently once roamed. It was a shuddering reminder of being 15 and my Art teacher strongly suggesting I focused my time on other subjects.
For Italian day we made pizzas from scratch and of all shapes, sizes and taste. The Chianti was nice!
We got out a couple of times with Storm Francis providing a timely and wet reminder of childhood British holidays. Our ham and rain drop rolls at Colchester Zoo stand out as memorable! Southend seafront with a double buggy and wheelchair in the teeth of 40 mile an hour winds defeated us after just 10 minutes! We then defeated 10 sugary donuts in the car within a further 10 minutes!
It was great to have a family break. Very different but very needed. It is also good to be back. Like my transition to vlogs my family are now experiencing change. My son, last week, moved to a new school (not knowing anyone and with Covid restrictions), the twins start nursery this week (lockdown meant we didn’t even visit and no settling in days), and Kristine returns to work from extended maternity leave (which included four months home schooling) at the end of the month.
Purple is changing the disability conversation and in spite of Covid-19 restrictions my diary is full until Christmas. There is a lot of work to do. Farewell summer. Adios meatballs.
August 11, 2020
I will be taking a break from my weekly post for the remainder of August. It has been a real privilege sharing my thoughts each week on a topic or two. The fact the majority of time has been during Covid-19 lockdown has added an extra dimension. I am grateful to those who have been extremely kind and have liked and shared accordingly. Equally, I have appreciated the constructive feedback about the posts being rather too formulaic (I agree with that – it is the only way I can write) and a bit twee (not done on purpose but will take on board).
Whatever you think I hope you will continue to read and share. The aim is to provide an insight into my life, what I think and most importantly the work of Purple and what we are trying to achieve.
I, like a lot of people, will not be going away this summer. Instead, as a family, we will be taking a number of days out. Building the itinerary has been very democratic. Each of us listed three things we would like to do – big or small – but all activities had to fit into the family budget. I will let you know what the meatballs are like these days at Ikea!
Have a great few weeks and look forward to catching up again in early September.
11 August 2020
August 4, 2020
Resilience. A few years ago, I was on the Board of an NHS Hospital Trust and sat on an interview panel for a senior appointment. The external NHS panellist spent all his question time probing the issue of the candidate’s resilience. Afterwards I asked him why when there were so many other areas and angles to cover. He was steadfast – at the level we were appointing all roads led to resilience.
Purple Tuesday has needed resilience in bucket loads this year. It has been an extremely successful initiative – the flagship for Purple – supporting organisations across all sectors and all sizes on practical approaches to improve the customer experience for disabled people and their families. These practical improvements have been shared through videos, case studies and resource materials, all of which are free for organisations to view and implement. And the vast majority of changes implemented have required little financial investment. Examples include painting Purple pathways from accessible parking bays into a shopping centre, implementing additional signage on accessible toilet facilities to reinforce ‘not every disability is visible’, to the adoption of the Sunflower Lanyard Scheme providing discreet support to those customers with hidden or invisible disabilities.
Purple Tuesday was ready to literally take off this year. The strength of the brand drove the decision to work with one strategic partner – a common method to accelerate growth and provide the funding to do so. We were ready to launch….. and then lockdown happened.
Four months on the landscape has changed, and we have had to adapt accordingly. Marketing budgets have been slashed and external expenditure has been paused. The need to demonstrate a return on investment has been magnified.
Social media works for Purple Tuesday. Purple Tuesday works well for social media. Last year Purple Tuesday achieved a reach of over 13 million people and trended worldwide on Twitter alone at #3. There were over 8,500 conversations that included #PurpleTuesday and over 130 items of media coverage including extensive national broadcast slots. Zoom will replace the TV studio this year. A set of numbers to prick the ears of Marketing departments wishing to differentiate their brand and re-position or reinforce their relationship with the customer.
In a small organisation you need to be an all-rounder. The butcher, baker and candlestick maker. You also need to know your limitations and seek the necessary expertise from elsewhere. My marketing module from an MBA 15 years ago only takes me so far. I am indebted to Duncan Tanner, a Communications and Marketing expert and committed to disability inclusion, for his frank advice and insight in reaching out to a new audience, for me and Purple Tuesday.
The partnership offer is now more reflective of the Purple Tuesday brand. The fee is at a level which is more inclusive to all and affordable. The opportunity provides a platform for the partners to share their disabled customer journey with the overriding message being one of progress, rather than best practice. The latter creating all sorts of potential risks to reputation and counter-productive to the objective.
Duncan was clear. All organisations want to demonstrate their disability inclusion credentials. The social and economic debates have been won. For Marketing and Communications departments, it is more about how you bring disability inclusion to life, and for Purple Tuesday, are there accessible assets to be used rather than being created from scratch. There is now, including a website banner, exclusive social media templates and a presentation slide deck for the Marketing and Communications team or relevant individual.
View here for further information about the Purple Tuesday partnership opportunity.
Please share with the relevant individual in your organisation who might not ordinarily read my posts or know about the potential of Purple Tuesday.
Mike Adams CEO
4 August 2020
July 27, 2020
It is no secret I am not an animal lover. At four-foot-tall, and with no arms, dogs smell the fear and even the most placid ones bark at me. During lockdown, I took my two eldest children for their once daily outdoor exercise (I am discounting Mr Wicks), which meant passing a house where to everyone, this dog at the window would be most pleasant, and then I walked past! Interestingly, on those occasions I was in my wheelchair for our longer walks there was no reaction. Hence, they smell fear.
My narrow view on animals. They shed hair everywhere, can be dirty, ruin your furniture and give the house a not so nice aroma!
For animal lovers I suspect the above will be enough of my post this week! This is also not a Damascene moment. But I did want to reflect on the power and importance of working animals and pets more generally.
Last week I watched an advert for a charity that supports blind people with guide dogs. Traditionally, these adverts have focused on the puppies to encourage you to donate. And very successful they have been. This advert was different. It told the story of a family man who woke up on the day of a milestone birthday blind. He had no warning whatsoever. His career as a tattooist was over, and the advert told the story of how he is using the guide dog to enable him to build a new life, with a new career and ongoing parental responsibilities. I like the subtle shift and the focus on the contribution to be made by an ex-tattooist to his family and community rather than pulling on the heart strings and turning him into a charitable case.
Everybody knows about guide dogs. More people are now aware of hearing dogs. There are other working animals as well, all of whom have been a salvation for so many people during lockdown. And for a lot of people the only source of comfort throughout Covid-19.
But you don’t have to be a trained animal to deliver real comfort and love, particularly through difficult times. Although I have always said no to a dog, we did acquire two outdoor rabbits a couple of years ago. Mochi and Boo have provided my 12 year old – who has struggled during lockdown – with structure (having to feed, clean and exercise the rabbits each day), has increased her responsibilities (in terms of looking after them), and provided her with two additional ‘people’ to talk to, and who don’t answer back (unlike her younger brother!). My mother-in-law who suddenly lost her soulmate a month before lockdown (RIP Badger) will openly tell you her two cats have provided unconditional love and company during the worst time in anyone’s life.
And a colleague who recently split with her partner after ten years, will tell you the lifeline of help afforded by her recently acquired pet dog.
The bond between a working animal and their owner is deep. The same applies to families and their pets. It is enduring and helps to build people’s confidence. I will be more confident the next time I walk down the road – and less fearful – and will let you know if the barking stops!
28 July 2020
July 21, 2020
Last week in my blog post, I referenced the film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I think it must have gone to my head. Ideas of grandeur, as my Mum would say. For the last few days, I have stepped into the role of Executive Producer and Scriptwriter as we created an animated video introducing Purple to organisations abroad, including a version with Arabic subtitles.
I must be honest. The painstaking wizardry has come from my colleague Nikita, who has literally taught herself to build animation and is even the narrator. An absolute great job she has done.
I have equally learnt a lot. In this modern era more people will watch a short video than read this blog. Uncomfortable, perhaps, but true. But that is life and if Purple want to change the conversation then we need to engage and adapt with the times.
I have said previously, adjustments for disabled people work for a wider audience. Any video should always have subtitles. For deaf people. Absolutely. But the evidence shows people will watch videos without sound at their desk or while on public transport, but without subtitles, they would simply scroll past and our message, missed.
Keeping it short is critical. Traditional presentations are 20 minutes, and my track record tends to be a lot longer. Versus a video lasting approximately 3 minutes. 17 minutes of filler then! I noticed recently on LinkedIn, videos are actively promoted for their brevity. We have been conditioned. Again, I might rage against the machine but have to comply.
Having such a short video focuses the mind and led to numerous edits from my initial meandering 8-minute script. Whole paragraphs were ruthlessly deleted and others much more to the point.
The use of visuals and images become really powerful and part of the story telling. It was interesting to note the difficulty of finding an animation programme a) that addressed disabled people and b) were not just the stereotypical wheelchair (not even with the person in it!). And how do you then not fall into the same trap but subtly highlight all impairments including those with hidden impairments? As stated at the outset the target audience for this video was international organisations which is why the $8 trillion Purple Dollar is referenced. It is why I have also, awkwardly, included mention of my honour.
Some of the organisations and countries interested in the work of Purple are earlier in their disability journey and we have reflected this in some of our explanations in describing what we do, and in the language we have used. Again, if people don’t connect with the message, then they simply will not engage at all. Issues of disability are far too important to allow that to happen. Conversely, it is important to convey disability as a social and economic benefit and not simply a commodity hard sell.
I am pleased with the outcome. It was produced totally inhouse and all within 10 days. I am less pleased I have started to use the phrase ‘it’s a wrap!’ That has to stop, otherwise my Mum will be proved right.
21 July 2020
July 14, 2020
Ennio Morricone. The maestro. Haven’t heard of him. Neither had I until last week when his death was announced. He produced the music score for the film which made Clint Eastwood famous, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Even though it was made in 1966 I bet you know the music. If not, you can listen to it here and will agree it is much more rememberable than the actual film.
The good. Over the last seven days there have been some really good things which have happened. My son, who is seven, has thrived in home schooling during lockdown (all credit goes to Kristine and his teacher, not me). His end of term report says how far he has come since the February parents evening. In part this is due to the focused support he has received. But also, the use of interactive learning on tablets which have utterly transformed his times table knowledge, fractions and multiplication skills. In English he has really enjoyed the topics and has been happy to write about his lockdown experiences – supported by virtual access to his friends and teachers through Teams. This blended method of learning works for him and I hope will continue to be used at school when he returns in September.
I am also privileged to be a trustee of the CareTech Foundation, which supports projects transforming the care sector, with a real focus on enabling beneficiaries of care to use their experiences and skills for those in the sector. The projects which have and are being funded are really making a difference, which is brilliant to see.
The Bad. For the first time in four months I drove on the M25 and M1 as my car adaptations (the electric steering system) desperately needed a service. It is a bespoke system, which means the only company that can complete the service is a 3-hour drive. It felt as if I had re-entered the rat race after lockdown and with the roads busy and there was a sense the last 4 months had simply evaporated. In the service stations there was little sign of social distancing and our collective resolve was dissolving right in front of my eyes. With 43,000 people having died and the number still rising we owe it to them to do better than that.
And the ugly. Perhaps ugly is too strong a word but definitely underwhelmed. After 17 weeks I finally had a haircut and beard trim. For those who have watched the Purple videos during lockdown I evolved from Mike Adams to David Bellamy through to Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses. During the war… (for the uninitiated, it was one of his most common starting sentences!). I thought I would feel liberated. Clean again. Smart. But actually, it was a symbol for the past few weeks which have been totally unprecedented, and I hope never repeated again in my lifetime. In a strange kind of way, I will miss my bouffant and wild appearance. The pictures will remain in my lockdown memory box, but the videos on YouTube!
I am not a film buff but I will make a point of watching Clint in action and paying special attention to the maestro that was Morricone.
CEO of Purple and Executive Director of CareTech
14 July 2020
July 7, 2020
“Giving disabled people a voice.” It was a sentence I heard spoken last week from an individual totally passionate about what he does, incredibly skilful and clever, and committed to supporting disabled people to communicate independently.
It made my heart miss a beat with excitement as I remembered the story of how Purple’s predecessor organisation, ecdp, was originally created. Back in the mid 1990’s at a health and social care conference, the day was spent discussing issues around disability. Only those talking were non-disabled professionals despite there being disabled people in the room. As the conference ended, Phil Miller metaphorically stood up (he was a wheelchair user) and announced the day had convinced him disabled people needed a voice and he would set up an organisation so the same thing would not happen again.
Nearly 25 years later Purple’s vision is driven by a mission to provide disabled people with that voice. But a voice in the modern world increasingly involves technology. Most people fully embrace the concept of technology being the great enabler, a gateway to communication, information guidance and the purchasing of goods and services. However, if the technology is not accessible at a basic level, the gate is firmly shut to many disabled people. At another level, the rapid development of assistive technology is opening up a whole new online world for people with the widest range of disabilities for whom the art of the possible has now become a reality.
My first foray with assistive technology was not a success. I tried one of the very early voice recognition packages and found it deeply frustrating. Although it was another F word that littered everything I wrote and indicated all was not well! Now, voice recognition is now pretty much standard and can be trained to a high degree of sophistication in less than 10 minutes. Wider assistive technology is prevalent in so many arenas. In education, it has brought online learning to life. Alarms can be set, curtains opened and closed, and lights can be switched on and off by the sound of words. And it has provided access to social media where, whether we like it or not, most people now use to communicate.
Not being able to communicate is hugely isolating. In a post COVID-19 world the need for more assistive technology becomes a necessity. Assistive technology can literally provide a voice. Think Stephen Hawking. Think Lost Voice Guy. Two brilliant leaders in their chosen fields but for whom without assistive technology would never have been heard. But it is also about the thousands upon thousands who use technology to say anything and which transcends choice and independence – two of the core principles for disabled people.
The spectrum of assistive technology is vast. The impact is enormous. From someone like me, who has a stylus with a mouthpiece which has enabled access into all things online in a low-tech way. To someone who uses their eyes to communicate a voice using high specification software.
So when that individual said giving disabled people a voice is what I do, we all seriously need to listen.
7 July 2020
June 30, 2020
Last weekend, my family and I took a trip into town. Not because we were intrigued about how the high street was organised in a lockdown easing world. Nor because we had cabin fever and needed to simply get out of the house.
My one-year old twins are starting to walk – not far off running – and we needed to get their feet measured as shoes were urgently required. I had rung the well-known shoe store that morning to understand the protocols. We didn’t need an appointment but only 14 people were allowed in the store at any one time, including staff. Being a family of six we were not far off having the store to ourselves when we entered!
I was hugely impressed. There were hand sanitiser stations at different locations in the store which you would expect. The staff were all wearing those face shields you will have seen from watching the news. The floor and walls were covered in markers and posters reminding people of their social distancing responsibilities. And then there was this portable Perspex screen which separated the customer and the staff member with a gap at the bottom where they could reach feet to measure and try on shoes. Not sophisticated at all but highly effective and made us all feel very safe.
I was very pleased we went as our home measuring apparently was two sizes out and if we had simply bought online it might have been another six months before they could have been worn.
As we walked back to the car, I kept thinking about how I would cope with a mask or a shield. With my family I would be fine. But on my own, impossible. My mouth is my hands. I know disabled people are exempt from wearing masks on public transport, but the overall guidance is for good reason. If I were to catch Covid-19 it would be difficult to say it was ok because I was exempt. The virus has shown nothing and no-one is exempt. And without a mask I would stand out like a sore thumb.
I have been really impressed with the work of Hidden Disabilities Sunflower, a partner of Purple and the creators of the Sunflower Lanyard scheme. The Lanyard provides a discreet but visible way to indicate the wearer has a hidden disability and may require additional support, help or a little more time. It is a cue for staff members to approach and proactively offer support without the individual having to initiate the potentially awkward conversation. The scheme has been adopted by an increasing array of organisations as part of their customer service. For many disabled people it provides a level of customer confidence.
In this current world of easing lockdown, Hidden Disabilities Sunflower have introduced the Sunflower shield and nanoweave snood. In addition, they have created a card which attaches to the Lanyard which explains the level of support needed in terms of social distancing. For example, a person with a visual impairment might find it difficult to estimate distance and the card would explain this if that is what the individual wanted.
As society re-engages and adapts to the new world, it is important that an inclusive approach is taken and those with hidden disabilities get the support they want and need – and most importantly, don’t feel further isolated.
As a footnote, my twins are also having to re-engage with society and people. For four months they have only known the immediate family at a time where development and social skills normally abound. They are having to be introduced to these things called ‘people’ and are being made to wear shoes!
For more information about the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower scheme and the wider work of Hidden Disabilities Sunflower go to https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/
30 June 2020
June 23, 2020
Taking a holiday is like putting fuel into a car. A necessity. It replenishes the body, provides an opportunity to switch off and recharge the batteries. I am mixing my metaphors now, but you get the point.
I was reminded of the importance of taking a break by someone I respect a lot as a leader. He can see I am tired and strongly suggested it is the only way to retain intensity and focus. And of course, he is right.
When the country went into lockdown, Purple went into overdrive in supporting our disabled clients and their carers. We agreed staff could suspend their planned annual leave if they wished. Some rightly took the opportunity to have a break, albeit a stay-cation during lockdown, but many staff decided to cancel their annual leave and work through a really intensive period. A distraction at least from the holiday that should have been.
With the exception of a couple of days over the Easter period, I have not had a break since I took two days off during February half term. A lot has happened since then, on both a personal front (see my RIP Badger blog) and at work where I have wanted to lead from the front.
Unlike most organisations, Purple’s annual leave year runs from July to June so there will be a lot of carry over when staff receive their new holiday entitlement later this week.
The issue of outstanding leave also raises a challenge for the organisation. It is not difficult to predict a flood of requests for two weeks off in the run-up to Christmas, and the same next Easter. If we are not careful, no-one will be around next June as people take their remaining leave before the cycle starts again and the normal practice where, if you don’t use it, you lose it, returns.
Back to the fuel analogy. I think it is probably right staff should use up at least their carry over leave before the end of September. And then start to eat into their 2020/21 allocation. This equally applies to me.
The problem is not knowing the impact of lockdown easing and the demands for our activities. Purple’s work with businesses simply stopped overnight. For a lot of reasons, we need to get it going again. Myself, like other colleagues, need to be around at the moment business picks up again rather than taking an enforced break. And probably a break which does not involve a holiday as we would typically recognise it.
For the last few years I have always taken two weeks leave when the children’s school finishes for the summer. My year is pivoted around this core break. It motivates me in the weeks leading up to it and keeps me going during the autumn and early winter. Nothing is currently planned, and the diary is starting to get busier already for July.
One of those activities I have agreed is a webinar organised by Visit England on accessible tourism (register here). It is one of the sectors hardest hit by Covid-19 and attracting disabled customers could be an important part of kick starting the industry once more.
I have been very privileged with holidays in recent years, but our favourite was our week to the Isle of Wight. There is so much of England, and the UK, to explore. Making UK destinations more accessible will open up these opportunities for me and for the 13 million other disabled people.
Taking a break doesn’t have to literally mean going away. I was reminded of its importance on Father’s Day when my entire focus was on my four kids and not glued to emails coming through my mobile phone.
I will think very hard about what I have just written when I go out later to fill up the car with fuel.
23 June 2020
June 15, 2020
I love sport. I thought I would really miss it. The thrill of 3pm on a Saturday afternoon glued to my phone watching the drama unfold as goals were scored, refreshing every 30 seconds. The whoosh of a golf ball being pinged 350 yards down the centre of a fairway. The sound of ball on willow and a split second later the applause as that ball crosses the boundary rope. It all seems a lifetime ago.
Despite my love of sport, I’m glad there hasn’t been any sporting events. Sport doesn’t really matter in the context of 40,000 deaths and rising. That is more people by far than can fill my beloved Brighton’s ground when it is crammed to the rafters. It puts it into perspective.
Football returns this week, so it was interesting to read a report by Level Playing Field, a live sport inclusion charity, which highlighted how the absence of live sport has had a significant impact on disabled fans’ mental health. On one level the report is reassuring. It reflects the mood of all fans. Just under two thirds of people surveyed said it would have a considerable effect on their wellbeing if there was no live sport for the rest of the year. 50% said they had concerns about returning to watch live sport in stadiums and 12% said the pandemic had put them off from ever attending live sport again. The major difference to non-disabled fans is the disproportionate number of respondents in what we know as the ‘shielded’ group. Reading between the lines there is genuine concern from disabled fans about whether the progress and levels of accessibility made pre-lockdown will still be in place.
Last week Purple set out its thoughts on how organisations can make their recovery plans inclusive (read the article here). That includes and applies to all those involved in sport. Will social distancing retain accessible toilets only for disabled supporters? You won’t attend an event if you can’t go to the loo. Will there be sufficient disabled parking or will bays be reduced to maximise queuing space? Will online ticketing be accessible enough to buy your ticket without having to speak to a member of the club office? Will details of inevitable restrictions be provided in an accessible format and be clear about the impact on all fans including disabled fans? And will the improved levels of customer service remain, or disabled fans simply become a vulnerable group which carry greater risk?
The frisson of live sport is not knowing the outcome and watching it unfold in front of your eyes and in real time. I am not a fan of the relentless replays that have been shown over the last three months. I have watched one. The FA Cup semi-final from 1983 between Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday. I was 12 and was there. It was my first live experience. It was a boiling hot day and as we got off the train we were herded by police almost two miles to Highbury – the previous home of Arsenal in London. The concept of social distancing didn’t exist. I can’t imagine we will ever go back to that kind of situation. It will change live sport forever.
We (Brighton) won 1-0 and the goal scorer that day was Michael Robinson, who sadly passed away a few weeks ago. No-one has said whether it was from Covid-19, but it is sobering.
I spoke to a fellow disability organisation CEO recently based in the North West. Back in February his staff team attended a conference where they had an information stand. Atletico Madrid fans were staying at the hotel where they faced Liverpool in one of the last games before lockdown. Four of his staff have since died of Covid-19. Not sobering. Extremely frightening and stark.
I won’t lie. I will be interested and follow events from this week. I will want to attend live events when fans are allowed to return. But I also know it won’t quite matter as much as it used to.
16 June 2020
June 9, 2020
Businesses have been increasingly interested in the neurodiverse market as a means of recruiting talented candidates. But what does neurodiverse mean? Also referred to as “neuro atypical”, we’re talking about people who experience the world differently due to variations in how their brain functions. Conditions include ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, dyslexia and dyspraxia, amongst others. Learning and thinking differently brings real, tangible benefits. In the post-Covid-19 economy, neurodiverse employees are particularly well-equipped to deal with some core aspects of how business now works, especially concerning remote working. Businesses can benefit, if they’re brave enough to champion these differences and change how they recruit and manage their employees.
Through a survey, we asked people who identify as neurodiverse to comment on their experiences as candidates. Key findings are as follows:
- Employer Brand
To candidates, two thirds of employers don’t visibly support neurodiversity, but when those candidates began working, they found that well over half of employers provide plenty of support. Making it clear that your organisations supports neurodiverse employees will give you immediate results with other neurodiverse candidates eager to join you.
- The application process
Application forms are hard to fill out, phone interviews aren’t helpful and there’s not enough support pre-interview. This is stressful and off-putting.
Assessments designed to catch people out or make them think on their feet are fine for neurotypicals, but this approach is incredibly stressful and counter-productive to neurodiverse applicants. They’re also not particularly motivated by a good culture fit. Better preparation is crucial, there should be minimal surprises, and use working interviews to take the emphasis away from competency-based Q&A sessions.
The choice of tests used are viewed as pointless, and seem to be designed to pick up on neurodiversity as a weakness; there aren’t enough provisions made for neurodiversity. Simple adjustments such as using different coloured paper make a huge difference; offer choices without creating a label or a bias.
Competency-based interviewing is ubiquitous, but for neurodiverse candidates, culture fit is irrelevant. Technical capability is much more important.
- Workplace adaptations
72% of respondents said that good support mechanisms had a positive impact on their effectiveness. Employers can make much more of their neurodiverse workforce.
So what is needed?
First, get your policies and procedures on diversity and inclusion clear, with solid practice foundations in place so you have a sound starting point. Purple is your best partner for this. Next, address practical steps to improving hiring practices. Make it clear that neurodiverse applicants are welcomed. State that a menu of assessment methods is available, including a working interview. Ask what support is needed, with absolute clarity that neurodiversity is celebrated, using current employees to back up that assertion. Train managers in how to interview and assess neurodiverse applicants. Interviews must be scheduled and reliable, with plenty of information up front. Ensure that post hire support is available with both visible means and better trained managers who communicate and support differently. All of this must be done with an eye on running everything online, fully fit for the new post-Covid-19 world.
Why do this?
Covid-19 has proved that rapid change can create opportunity. I’d like to challenge you to bring in people you didn’t have access to previously due to the way you hire simply not working for them. You can access a pool of talent that can alter your way of thinking, create new ways of working and protect your long-term future.
Forward-looking employers have tasked us, in collaboration with Purple, to create a “Covid-19-proofed” recruiting system that works better for neurodiverse candidates. Companies know they need to get this right during the pre-recruitment, recruitment and post-hire stages. They may want to tap into a different talent pool, or to do something positive in the disability space; the outcome is the same. A workplace that attracts, recruits and retains skills specific to the neurodiverse community.
9 June 2020
Quarsh is a recruitment specialist working in partnership with Purple to support businesses to attract, recruit and retain talented neurodiverse candidates. A more detailed outline of the survey findings and details of our proposition are available. Please contact Lucy James at Quarsh or Mike Adams at Purple.
June 2, 2020
A moment to capture, to savour and to put in the lockdown memory bank. Last Thursday was the last ‘official’ clapping for the NHS and all key workers. After the noise of saucepans being hit in concert with claps had died down a voice from quite a way down the street shouted out “I will really miss seeing you all”!
I knew the man by sight. I probably know the make, model and colour of his car better than his facial features, but yet had never spoken to him before. The realisation that, although we all tend to lead busy lives, I can’t help but think it feels a little rude that I don’t know very much about my slightly distant neighbours.
There has been a surprising amount of literature on isolation and the disproportionate impact on disabled people. This includes a lack of face to face contact but also online isolation to key information because of inaccessible websites. The recent reports by the United Nations and ONS are borne out by the stories on social media about how disabled people have been made vulnerable by the experience. I wrote about my own feelings of ‘vulnerability’ in a recent post, Make Do and Mend.
The experience made me think back to the start of my career in disability and the anchor of understanding the social model of disability. It is our society that disables people with impairments. I have no arms and short legs, but my adapted car enables me to get to and from work. It is the height of the door handles which are usually my undoing.
How can the lived experience of disabled people play a central role in the post lockdown recovery? How do recovery plans become inclusive?
An email from a disabled person last week provides an insight to where we should start. The individual has a visual impairment and expressed many of their frustrations around the current world of social distancing. The individual would normally have their shopping packed into a backpack and helped onto their back. This has been frowned upon due to social distancing protocols. They would typically use cash rather than card, but cash payments are being discouraged at the moment. The screens between tills are predominantly see through, making it easy for the individual to walk right into them. The ‘no touch without buying’ protocol is also problematic as the individual needs the product very close to their eyes to identify what it is. And in the early days of lockdown, empty shelves ruined the navigation system around the shop as they didn’t have items on the shelf as a reference point.
These are all difficult issues to address but made easier if the lived experience of disabled people were part of the solution. For example, if the plastic screens had markings in the middle and at the edge the problem would be mitigated. A Deliveroo style backpack which could be loaned out and routinely cleaned would aid the issues around packing and carrying. And people need to be more aware that social distancing applies equally to guide dogs as well as humans.
Purple has identified three core areas to make plans more inclusive. One is the built environment and mitigating the impact for disabled employees and customers. The issues and emerging solutions are illustrated in the example above. Small changes can make a big difference – and within the new and required ways of operating. The accessibility of websites is fundamental to many, when retrieving information, or increasingly purchasing services and products online. Again, a lot can be done overnight and at no cost. And finally, disability awareness needs to be an integral part of the new customer service training which all staff will need. These three areas are not the silver bullet or a pass not to do more. But if they are done properly, they will certainly go a long way to improving the experience for a lot of disabled people.
I might not be on the doorstep at 8pm this Thursday, but wherever I am will be doing my own version of clapping. Clapping with my feet. Happy feet!
2 June 2020
May 26, 2020
“She was brave. Courageous. Really determined”.
“No, she wasn’t. She cheated and should have stopped like everybody else”.
Welcome to my kitchen for a family dinner conversation. The person in question was Paula Radcliffe. The event was the London Marathon a few years ago where she went to the loo while running in front of a TV audience of millions.
So why were we talking about Paula Radcliffe over dinner? It was to spark some creativity with my 12-year old daughter who was less than enthusiastic about obtaining her Media Critic badge from Girl Guides during lockdown. The task was to identify people in the public eye, to state their attributes that she admired and identify which of those attributes she didn’t feel she had but would like. The purpose to develop self-reflection techniques. Clever.
Paula Radcliffe was quite an ordinary athlete by elite standards for quite a chunk of her career. She came fourth a lot. But she went away and did something about it and turned talent into becoming a winner – both on the racetrack, on the road and then as very good pundit.
The example of Paula sparked my daughter to come up with Roald Dahl and David Attenborough. For the former it was about his patience, his attention to detail and his ability to sit in his shed day after day writing and writing. Oscar Wilde once said “The difference between an amateur and professional is an amateur writes when they feel like writing. A professional writes no matter what they feel”. That applied to Roald in bucket loads.
David Attenborough really did not need any explanation but simply animated nods in concert. He is Mr Nature. The oceans – as well as many other things – will be eternally grateful for his emphasis on educating humans on the dangers to wildlife when using and disposing of certain plastics.
My 7-year old son was clear that his idol was Steve Backshall of Deadly 60 on CBBC. Steve travels the world and focuses on endangered species, often endangering himself getting up close and personal. My son and I watched the episode on the orangutan and how you can balance the needs of humans and nature through – in this case – sustainable palm oil was utterly insightful to us both. Every product we now buy does not pass the front door unless it is palm oil free or is made using sustainable palm oil.
What runs through all these individuals like a stick of rock is passion. It iswhat all of us want to find in any walk of life. My partner, Kristine, spoke about the influence of Eliza Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and her not being afraid not to conform to social convention and to follow what she thought was right. It is no coincidence that one of my 11-month old twins, going by the same name, is following suit.
Kristine’s Mum, who is currently living with us for reasons outlined in my recent post RIP Badger, chose Chris Packham of Springwatch Fame. Again, his passion is wildlife and he doesn’t care what people think of him. Partly, perhaps due to being on the autistic spectrum, but definitely due to standing up for what he truly believes in.
What we all agreed is you don’t need to be in the public eye to be passionate or a role model. Over the last few weeks we have seen nurses, doctors, care workers, post people, supermarket staff and delivery drivers be totally inspirational and do as much for their professions – and society – as Paula, Roald, David, Eliza and Chris. I would also add to that list all of those volunteers like Guide Leaders who give their time and passion for others.
My12-year old daughter certainly has a lot of options to now choose from.
26 May 2020
May 19, 2020
Over the past two weeks I have used the Purple Tardis to look to the future and imagine the world in November 2020 – using the planned Purple Tuesday as the backdrop. I know no more than anyone who watches the news or reads what the journalists – from hugely different perspectives – think. The truth is, no-one knows what everyday life will resemble next month, let alone this November.
Writing these blogs has been an opportunity to reflect, to naval gaze. I think about the progress made in putting disability on the agenda over the last few years and the tangible differences I can see, touch, and feel. I really worry about the additional damage this pandemic will cause and I fear disability will go back to the end of the queue. But in quiet moments, I also see the positives this seismic pause could bring – if we get it right and everyone plays their part. My central reflection being everyone knows their lines, we simply need to deliver them with aplomb, in character and with impeccable timing in line with the well-known script.
My previous two blogs for the Purple Tardis, Part One and Part Two, set out what I think may happen. My reflections focus on some of the key issues that will determine whether this is anywhere close to reality for Purple Tuesday.
My first thought is an extremely selfish one, for which I apologise. I fear being forced to wear a mask on the train journey into London and in all public places (including Piccadilly Circus) where social distancing is not possible. This will disable me. I use my mouth for everything: holding a pen; using my mobile phone; paying for my ticket with a credit card and opening doors. Wearing a face mask will render me dependent and yes, vulnerable. I use this word with real hesitancy as it has been loosely banded about to describe disabled people as a generalised term. I don’t consider myself to be vulnerable and neither do many other disabled people, but in this context, it would make me just that and there is no easy reasonable adjustment.
I worry disability will return to a tick box exercise as decision makers decide in the grand scheme of things there are far too many other priorities.
I believe that putting more people in the society tent (19% of the population have rights under disability legislation) will make our society grow stronger with greater resilience. Using the principles of accessible design and an inclusive approach works for all. I have seen some great articles that argue remote working overnight has become the greatest reasonable adjustment and never again should this (not being able to provide appropriate adjustments) be used as an excuse to not employ disabled talent. And that many disabled people have lived in isolation for years, such as a BSL user in a hearing world. Will social impact sit alongside financials in organisations’ P&L on the balance sheet? Will a new order be established? Will the D be put in ESG or will it all fade away and evaporate as quickly as it has risen?
I believe a make do and mend mentality needs to be the driving force. In terms of the disabled customer, over 5,000 changes have been put in place over the last two years. No NIMBY’s needed here thank you! The greatest chance of retaining momentum is to establish inclusive recovery plans which incorporate elements of what has been proven to work. Accessibility of the built environment in a social distancing world; getting the basis of digital accessibility right; and incorporating disability language and etiquette in mainstream customer service training will be needed.
Some will say I am setting my bar too low and this will mean going backwards. I accept that argument. I am passionate for making changes yesterday – the economic and social narrative is overwhelming. I have waited 49 years but if we are too greedy our society could go back 25 years in a stroke. Better to consolidate and rebuild than roll the loaded dice.
It hurts, but in the here and now baby steps are needed. Purple Tuesday needs to be about promoting what already exists and helping others to adapt and adopt. No big gauntlet thrown down and not a media exciting story. Although of course it is if the lives of 13 million disabled people move forwards rather than backwards. Perhaps the second half of 2020 will be the story of social impact through implementing what others have done before.
A chink of light is if capital markets demand real social impact as a condition of investment. The disability metrics are already written and are easy to understand and apply.
Purple Tuesday 2020 – Make Do and Mend. I can see it now lit up in Piccadilly Circus lights.
19 May 2020
May 12, 2020
3 November 2020
8.47 AM: Sitting in the corridor on the second floor at the BBC with my finger pressed against an earpiece whilst gazing into an unstaffed television camera. The check-in process at reception was very different to previous years, which involved a temperature check and queuing at the door. Given the live nature of TV, these delays add an additional layer of pressure. At the lifts to access the second floor, I find myself negotiating with the security woman about the need to be accompanied. I absolutely get the importance of adhering to social distancing but worried reasonable adjustments, and common sense, are being ignored.
3-2-1 – We are live: My first question is about “vulnerable customers”. It irks as I feel we have gone back 10 years with the language used. So frustrating but I try not to let the eyebrow lift and explain disabled customers can be made vulnerable by providers – and Purple Tuesday is working to ensure this doesn’t happen. It leads nicely into my key message of supporting organisations to develop and deliver inclusive economic and social plans. I use a couple of powerful examples. The answer to social distancing with regard to toilets is not simply to allow everyone to use accessible facilities as evidence is showing disabled people are being put off visiting towns as they are fearful of not being able to use the loo. And, of course, inaccessible websites which are bolting shut gateways to online information and shopping.
9.27 AM Bingo!: The live national lunchtime news interview has been confirmed. The interviewee will be the business editor. The traffic on social media is buzzing with videos, resources and personal stories being shared and liked. Too many to keep up with in real time. One infographic catches my eye. It shows the results of a survey from a large retailer and the raising awareness and importance of mental health cases by their staff. One of the hidden repercussions of Covid-19.
My colleagues, Charlene and Nikita, have been speaking to listeners on local radio stations all morning. Charlene went ‘back home’ so to speak, with a four-minute interview with BBC Radio Ulster before speaking to the North West and West Midlands.
Before leaving the BBC, I am interviewed for an online article focused on digital accessibility. I am impressed how quickly these things get penned and posted.
12.06 PM: Not long arrived for the lunchtime slot. Again, the reception protocols are stark but feels like normal now. We, as people, have readjusted our lives very quickly. Escorted to the green room which feels more akin to an isolation unit. One chair, one table and not a lot else, including no gratis tea or coffee. The nerves kick in as I realise this is a great opportunity to speak to an audience who can take actions to connect inclusive plans and disabled customers. I point out the rising share price of three or four companies who have done just that. I acknowledge this is not totally down to disabled people but an inclusive approach to diversity has been a contributing factor.
I managed to deliver my soundbite. Disability is about what you do 365 days a year. This drives customer loyalty, and longer-term loyalty of your staff.
2.18 PM: In a boardroom at the HQ of a large corporate near the Barbican. A year in planning for a roundtable on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) disclosures. Although it was starting to climb the corporate agenda, Covid-19 has literally catapulted it to near the top. In the capital markets if you want investment then you do ESG. Not just stating you have recycling bins or employ a disabled person. But cogent and ambitious plans and deliverables. The speed of its prominence has focused the minds on disability which have always seemed the bridesmaid. Today is about firmly putting the D in ESG. The participants include representatives from financial institutions, company secretaries and those senior managers at the sharp end of implementation. The metrics discussed include disabled representation in all key staff and management groups. I nod to the great work being undertaken by Purple Space. A focus on the recruitment of neurodiversity talent and a nod to our work with Quarsh which is rapidly growing traction, and targets arising from AI technology and the employment of disabled people in particular. Not all directly related to Purple Tuesday but definitely about disabled people.
There was a promise to write up, circulate and post the findings to meet the needs of a rapidly growing audience. And a commitment from the host to hold another meeting in the summer of 2021 to review tangible progress made at an individual organisation and sector level.
5.04 PM: Finally on my way home but not before one final pit stop in another coffee shop to swap notes and stories with colleagues. There had been visits to a number of events promoting Purple Tuesday including a school where the choir sang and signed in Makaton. Another roundtable but this focused specifically among the insurance industry and some lower key than originally planned awareness raising events in shopping centres.
One final radio interview pre-recorded from the taxi taking me home. I cover most of the same ground, but it is interesting (and pleasing) to note the line of questioning around hidden disabilities. Promising.
Too tired for any reflections which will have to wait for another day.
The Purple Tardis is part crystal ball gazing, part successful implementation of plans and partly informed by past experience.
Mike Adams OBE
12 May 2020
May 5, 2020
3 November 2020
6.29 AM: I am literally standing outside Café Nero waiting for it to open in one minute. It is cold but I feel relieved. I have just walked across from BBC Broadcasting House where I discussed disability inclusion on Wake Up to Money on Radio Five Live, and I don’t think I fluffed my lines. I feel a little fraudulent as I use most of the core statistics I have used the previous year, but I don’t think the presenter had come across them before. She agrees the Purple Pound, worth a staggering £249 billion is a huge opportunity for businesses, in a market which incorporates 20% of the population. She wonders why 90% of businesses have no plan at all to access this market. I nod to her question which is not particularly good for radio!
I was able to highlight the ONS data from April this year which showed a disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on disabled people and access to goods and services as customers. I draw my own conclusions about the poor accessibility of websites in those lockdown days. I had started to talk about the emerging success of Purple’s digital offer when she said we had run out of time, thanked me, and in the blink of an eye today’s weather was being announced. A media lesson learned: make the evidence point short and tell the audience you have the solution.
6.38 AM: Sat in Café Nero with a strong coffee and a Danish pastry. I have a look at Twitter but not a lot to report as most people are not yet up. And then I think back two years to one of the ‘Purple Tuesday moments’. A couple from Lincoln had been listening to me on the same Wake Up to Money show and decided this was the day they were going to revisit the town’s shopping centre after nearly a 20-year absence. They later explained their last experience was so poor it had put them off for life, but Purple Tuesday had convinced them to try again. The shopping centre welcome was superb, they were introduced to shop mobility scooters and left saying they would be back every Saturday.
But that was two years ago. Back to the task in hand today, the 2020 Purple Tuesday celebratory day. Not quite as planned since all those months ago in January when Purple Tuesday was going global, had planned for four simultaneous workshops, which were going to take place in various locations across the UK as well as having sector sponsors present who were going to do most of the talking rather than me. The global pandemic re-wrote these early set plans and instead, it is mainly a social media event, with the exception of a social distanced Piccadilly Lights display and a roundtable later this afternoon, putting the D in ESG. More on that later.
Despite the Covid-19 restrictions, the mothballing of the economy for over three months and the subsequent levels of unemployment and continuing social distance restrictions, there is a strong message here. Purple Tuesday is reconnecting businesses to their disabled customers. New models of working are starting to attract new disabled customers and evidence is starting to show that disability has driven best in class inclusive recovery plans.
7.49 AM: Have taken the short taxi journey from the coffee shop to Piccadilly Circus ready for the Piccadilly Lights to display Purple Tuesday for 30 minutes from 8 AM. There are stickers all over the pavement indicating two metres, a stark reminder of the huge change in our lives. There are visibly less people around at this time from the previous two years, and the 24 hours non-stop news tells us that remote working is becoming the norm for most people for at least two days a week. The Purple Tuesday coterie is also smaller, but we are streaming the event live, so there is no need to get up and venture out into the cold when you can see it all from under the duvet at home.
The cameraman doubles as the interviewer and one of the team hold the boom. Due to it being live there is no room for retakes, and I am reminded to be short and in time for 8 AM. I welcome viewers and describe the thinking behind what they are just about to see. A set of graphics, that links Purple Tuesday to a UK inclusive economic recovery plan. More interesting than it sounds in written form. It sets out the three disability standards Purple Tuesday suggest are key to an inclusive plan: accessibility of the built environment – making the new world work for disabled customers and employees; accessibility of websites – the 10 things to do first; and disability awareness as part of new customer service training.
If Purple Tuesday is to be a success, I will need to explain these three standards ad nauseum throughout the day but with the passion and conviction of saying it like the first time.
8:00 AM: To the second, Piccadilly Lights becomes awash with Purple Tuesday. It looks magnificent. I think the different hue of purple has worked. It comes across as new and fresh. Passers by look up and I hope they make a mental note to google Purple Tuesday when they get to their office or on the way home.
No time to bask in any glory as it is back into a taxi to the BBC for a live TV interview.
The Purple Tardis is part crystal ball gazing, part successful implementation of plans and partly informed by past experience.
Follow Part Two of the Purple Tardis next Tuesday (12 May).
5 May 2020
April 28, 2020
Knowing what you are good at and knowing how you can improve is an important skill. You tread the line between ego, confidence, hubris and an ongoing commitment to development.
Equally important, is knowing what is more of a challenge, the underlying reasons for this challenge and how you can overcome this. Knowing things are a challenge is not good enough.
Last week, I came face-to-face with one of my own challenges – the ability to teach. As schools are currently closed, like most families, armed with worksheets provided by the school, we have taken teaching into our own hands. After the Easter break, my two eldest children went back to the routine of home-schooling and we are conscious to try and keep things as ‘normal’ as possible for them. In light of this, they have a full daily timetable, lesson plans, an audio of each lesson and Microsoft Teams as a tool for communication. For a few days before the Easter break, we had a dry run, but it was new, the adrenalin was flowing and the worksheets were limited.
For Daniel, my seven-year-old son, his first lesson was English and the task was to write about ‘what you did at Easter’. After biting my lip as he reeled off getting up, getting dressed, having breakfast, etc, he then remembered the Easter bunny had visited and he completed an egg hunt with his three sisters.
After some more thought, he then said he wanted to write about the letters he had sent and received to various friends and family. I realised that apart from thank you cards he had never written a letter before this time.
The first letter was to his cousin who he would usually see regularly but hasn’t seen for a month due to the virus. Daniel told him what he had been up to and hoped he was ok and said he was looking forward to playing Goat Simulator on his cousins X-Box soon. The response from Daniel’s 17-year-old cousin was humbling. He was touched beyond belief, and my brother said he would always treasure the letter Daniel had sent. His cousin wrote back a long letter in response telling Daniel he was ok and was looking forward to seeing him again soon.
The second letter was to two long standing family friends who are in their 70’s and struggling with isolation. He included a rainbow drawing for them to put up in their window, which they duly displayed with pride. The neighbours subsequently knocked to say how nice it was and suddenly they did not feel so isolated. A trend in their cul-de-sac then followed with all windows in most houses being filled with bright pictures.
Daniel also sent letters to my techno-phobic parents who only have a landline and letters to communicate. My Mum said she looks forward to the post person arriving every day, and uses her daily exercise to post letters herself.
The final letter – or technically a poster – was to the post person which Daniel stuck to our front door to say thank you for the job they do. A relatively silent group of key workers who are doing an amazing job putting a smile on the faces of so many people as the post hits our door mats.
And Shelly – our post person – was so happy she posted a note through our letter box giving Daniel the thumbs up.
Why have letters made such a positive impact? They are personal and handwritten, which always say so much more than just the words written on the page. It also shows effort and a want to communicate. And not just a push of a button like an email or text message, but the need to address the envelope, buy a stamp and physically place in a post box demonstrates much more thought and effort.
And I have learned just how expensive a stamp is! Double the cost since I last knowingly sent a non-work letter but it has been worth it and we will ensure letter writing is maintained long after my teaching career is over.
27 April 2020
April 21, 2020
This week, my parents sent me a letter and included a photo of me from when I was seven. I think they wanted to make my kids smile seeing their Dad so young. For me, it evoked mixed feelings. I had a great childhood and was very happy. But it was different. At six months old I was separated from my family and sent to a ‘special’ school as the doctors felt it would be best for me, my parents and my older brother and sister.
For these reasons I have always consciously shied away from programmes such as Born to be Different. Better left in the ‘do not disturb’ box. The programme is a Channel 4 documentary series which follows the lives of six disabled children born in the millennium. Series 10 is now showing and following the individuals in their late teens. As expected, the first few series focused on the issue of disability through the eyes of the parents and medical fraternity but certainly the current series is through the lens of the individuals themselves.
Zoe is now in her first year at University and the impact of her disability has put her in the hinterland of needing care (or not) on campus. She has chosen not to. The programme shows her doing her own laundry using her feet and the mechanism she uses to put on her socks. In my experience, I didn’t have a choice as I needed carers. Personally, I had a great experience and the carers helped me to facilitate my independence. I was always told from a young age that independence should not be defined solely by whether you could put on your own socks (I can) but having the choice or getting support from someone else. As I watch, I just hope Zoe has made the right decision and not felt socially pressured to do everything herself.
My life also resonated with Hamish, who at the time of filming, was training for the Paralympics in Tokyo in swimming. When I was at University, I had an outside chance of representing Britain in swimming at the 1992 Barcelona games. The problem (or not!) was I was coming in from a night out at the same time I should have been getting up for training! A different kind of independence.
Emily’s story perfectly represents the messages Purple are trying to convey regarding the employment of disabled people. She is dedicated, motivated and passionate about being a nurse and has a commitment to the hospital where she is on placement, despite living with a highly invasive hidden disability. Zoe coincidently has the same impairment (arthrogryposis) as my childhood best friend, Ian, who I wrote about in my recent blog.
Tragically, the programme also covers the uncomfortable truths of life limiting disabilities as Shelbie reached the end of her life before the age of 20. Again, this sadly resonates in my own life as over half the children in my class at school had passed away before I reached the age of 16, which evoked tough memories again.
As a father of four – all non-disabled – I have watched the episodes through the prism of being both a parent and a disabled person. As a parent, you worry about your kids. My brother once said, ‘When you have kids you never stop worrying, the worries just change as they get older’. As a young disabled person, I didn’t worry about the future. I had dreams, expectations, and left the worrying to my parents. This strong sense comes across in the programme.
I will reply to my parents – by letter – thanking them for doing all the worrying and allowing me to be different, but me.
Chief Executive Officer
21 April 2020
April 15, 2020
I have one leg longer than the other. I have no arm on one side and only a finger on the other and I have one eye much stronger than the other. I am in many ways unbalanced but somehow it all works. I work.
Fortunately for me it is not all one sided. My left leg is longer and my finger is on my left but my right eye is much stronger, which I believe compensates for my left side. The human body is generally very clever and has worked well for me over the last 49 years.
I am currently seeing the same principles of imbalance within Purple which includes similar positive outcomes.
Purple has a clearly defined ‘left’ and ‘right’ side. On the left, we have a set of services that are focussed on supporting disabled people to have direct choice and control over the type of care they receive through our direct payment support services. And on the right side of Purple, we indirectly support disabled people – both as customers and employees – through our capacity building activities with organisations across the private, public and voluntary sectors.
Our direct payment support services have been operating over 20 years (through previous incarnations of Purple). And our corporate services have been operating for around three years, drawing on the equivalent of nine staff, while our payment service is very people dependent with upwards of 25 staff. Currently the direct payment side of the business surpasses the scale of our corporate services, but if our original forecast continues to be true, our work with organisations will grow exponentially and will soon meet, and later exceed the level of income of that in payment services. However, it is unlikely that the business service side of the organisation will require 25 members of staff like the payments team. That is not because one is more productive than the other but is simply due to the nature of the activity. Despite the different sized teams and varied roles, Purple is equally balanced for everyone. We are still one organisation.
Over the last three weeks, our work with business has virtually come to a standstill, as the country and economy has gone into lockdown. And never has the demand and pressures on our support services been so high as we continue to pay carers who support disabled people to live independently.
How have the Purple team responded? Our business services staff are adapting to a ‘new normal’ and have become part-time online presenters providing online training to clients which would usually be presented in the usual fashion, but due to lockdown is no longer a possibility in the immediate future. Additionally, they have become part-time day bookers ensuring invoices are logged and new tax codes for carers are updated. All our staff have taken flexible working to the limit, learning new skills (to me, four weeks ago, Zoom was just a song by Fat Larry’s band*), working late into the night on weekdays and through the bank holiday weekend. And crucially, everyone has learned to appreciate what others in the same organisation do. The respect for colleagues has gone through the roof and Purple has been able to reset the foundations of what we do, and why, because of it.
Earlier this week a number of our staff from across the organisation formed part of a collage to support the #SparkleForSocialCare campaign which recognised care workers across the UK. If this is the type of outcome imbalance creates, then let Purple grow with one leg longer than the other which is fully compensated by a stronger corporate eye.
* In my view, Zoom is in the top 10 songs of all time!
Chief Executive Officer
14 April 2020
April 7, 2020
Vanity is not a good trait. But like many others, I am guilty of it. I blame the fact I have 10-month-old twins as well as a 7 and 12 year old. I am also on the wrong side of 45 but just the right side of 50! My hair is more chestnut than grey, and this requires some imagination and a bottle of something when I go to the hairdressers. In the current climate this is not possible and so, like many others across the world, I am returning to my natural tint.
My confession has come about having seen myself on camera this week. Like a lot of organisations Purple is adapting to the ‘new normal’ and we are therefore re-purposing many of our materials to be accessed online and we have found that using video content really helps to brings these materials to life.
The main way in which we have done this is by producing a set of online modules as part of an e-tutorial focused on disabled customers. The target audience is staff working in organisations on the shop floor (in supermarkets), delivery drivers, call centres or any other environment where there is a direct relationship with customers. The modules are short. Are framed as top tips and I hope relevant with the examples used. The topics covered include disability language and etiquette, working in an office environment and online web accessibility. We have also produced a quiz and some key statistics which make the case for why it is such an important issue.
Purple has decided to give these resources for free as staff need them in the here and now and raising purchase orders will cause unnecessary delays in this current crisis. We intend to release three modules this week and three next so look out for them via our social media channels.
In a separate online recording, we produced a live webinar for the staff at Landsec in acknowledgment of World Autism Day. However there was a crucial twist and a total first for Purple. As staff would be watching from home, it was decided to ensure the material was age appropriate so staff could watch with their children, creating an educational piece for the whole family. So workplace adjustment was widened to include classroom adjustments that could be made by pupils to be more inclusive too. My ability to walk the walk was stretched by the need for plain English, no jargon and making complex issues understandable. Purple co-presented with the brilliant Ambitious About Autism through their trainer Roisin O’Brien.
I am hoping this webinar will be the first in a series of resources to be delivered to Landsec staff. I hope other organisations will follow suit and invest in their staff at this time and see inclusion as a core part of recovery plans. And I am personally hoping that it won’t be too long before some of the current restrictions are safely lifted otherwise turning grey will only be one of a number of problems with my hair!
Mike Adams OBE
7 April 2020
April 2, 2020
March 31, 2020
Social convention dictates that when someone is sad, you make them a hot beverage. Anyone who watches The Big Bang Theory will recognise these words of Sheldon Cooper, one of the best characters and programmes ever made. And the most positive representation of individuals on the autistic spectrum on TV. It continues to make me smile and laugh out loud which is incredibly important in these difficult times.
Autism is a condition which ranges broadly and is characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and non-verbal communication. For Sheldon, he understands the convention, and when to apply, but sometimes doesn’t fully grasp the reason why.
This week is autism awareness week. And given the current crisis it is probably more important than ever that we take note, raise awareness, and apply a high level of understanding.
Across the UK there are around 700,000 people who have an autistic spectrum disorder. Of which, only 15% of working-age adults are in full-time employment which is significantly lower than the average for all disabled people (53.2%). Despite this, 79% of disabled people with autism are not in employment but would like to be.
Like Sheldon Cooper, for many people with Autism, they excel in a very particular area. The most common areas being in mathematics, art, music, spatial and mechanical abilities. This is known as savant abilities, which are not just special; they are extraordinarily special abilities that cannot usually be duplicated by most other human beings. For Sheldon this, this area is science and more specifically, string theory.
Given the spectrum can vary so much, it is wrong to generalise all individuals with ASD to have the same traits, however it is fair to say a that recurring theme of a need for a level of routine it apparent. Over the last few weeks, in some cases days, for everyone working at the moment, routine has been blown to smithereens as organisations transition their operations to remote working, if working at all. For people with autism this has a disproportionate impact and can be extremely destabilising and runs the risk of people leaving the labour market never to return. A ‘new normal’ is critical. For most line managers the current environment is one of survival and this leaves a group of individuals increasingly vulnerable, at a time when they could add so much value with their analytical minds and approach.
The major disruption to normal life is equally difficult for customers on the autistic spectrum. Dealing with so many restrictions and changes – limited opening hours, queues, empty shelves – could put off the individual ever shopping again.
Purple Tuesday has shown just how far organisations had come to improve the customer experience for those people on the spectrum. Not only had ‘quiet hours’ become the norm for many organisations, but a deeper understanding that dedicated hours in the afternoon worked much better for people with autism than hours in the morning and so were changed to reflect this. Since the current crisis, it is highly likely that many organisations have had to abolish these hours as a temporary measure. My fear is these changes will be swept away and not necessarily first in line when the recovery starts.
It is so frustrating. With our partners Quarsh we were just about to pilot a new service to organisations – driven by demand – involving a review of policies and protocols and training of both hiring managers and line managers to support the targeted recruitment and retention of talented candidates who happened to be on the autistic spectrum – and seen as an asset to the organisation because of their condition. Again, I hope when the economic recovery starts, we can pick up where we left off to drive this forward.
People with autism – and the wider disabled community – can play a central and valuable part of the UK recovery. Use awareness week to review your emerging recovery plans, check in with your staff and your customers as you move to your ‘new normal’. If Sheldon was advising you, he would say the solution is so straightforward with no hot beverage needed on this occasion.
March 24, 2020
As this blog is posted (Tuesday 24th March), I hope I am at the funeral of Nick, my partner Kristine’s Dad. Extraordinary to say, surreal. But reality, in terms of hope.
Given the current situation, funerals may have to be unattended. Yes. That means no-one, apart from the funeral workers, will be allowed to attend. The best we can hope for is, a maximum of five people being present for the service.
The funeral has already been pulled forward by a week to give us a fighting chance to attend. Whatever the fears, the pain and anxiety for our family, we know for the people to come there won’t be any hope. Not for a while. People are dying in hospital and their families are not allowed to be there. From a public grieving process, closure doesn’t even start.
Nick’s death pre-dates the coronavirus in the UK. It was just over a month ago and we, as a family, were out enjoying a toasted tea cake and cup of tea. There was no warning, no indicator. He was a healthy man of 64 who had regular checks at the doctor. And it was brutal. One minute we were talking about going on holiday this summer, two hours later he had gone.
Nick was a very kind, gentle and caring man. I can only imagine, as a father myself, the conversation Kristine had with her father when she told him about me. I imagine it would have gone something like this:
Dad, I have met a man.
He is a lot older than me.
And he works where I do.
And he has been married before.
And has two kids.
And is only 3 foot 11.
And has no arms.
You get the picture. He rolled with the punches and came back for more. He would like that analogy as he enjoyed Boxing.
Nick made me feel so welcome, and Ruby and Daniel, his two step grandchildren, doted on him. And he doted on them too as well as his two new 9-month old twin grandchildren, Evelyn and Eliza.
His friends and work mates of 30 years all call him Badger. I assume because of his love of wildlife and animals rather than the changing colour of his hair! The likelihood is they won’t be able to say goodbye to him, probably until September.
RIP Badger. Grandad. Husband. Dad. You will be missed but never forgotten.
Mike Adams OBE
24 March 2020
March 17, 2020
‘Dad, can I help you wash your finger’.
This is not a trite or flippant quote. The seriousness of what is currently happening to our world and lives cannot be understated.
The quote tells you a lot about the current psyche of our country and, in some ways is reassuring as the messages about washing hands is starting to really hit home.
Two things. Firstly, this is what my 12-year-old daughter said to me last Friday. And from a girl who you usually have to coerce and cajole to see cleanliness as the default option. Second, if you don’t know me, I have no arms and just one finger and it was her own way of trying to keep me safe.
Our lives are going to change over the coming weeks. For me, making those adaptations to what I normally do is going to be even more challenging.
I use my mouth to do most things – with a little help from my finger. They are in constant contact. Opening of a door, eating, drinking, driving and moving around my office. It is almost impossible for me to operate independently without them working in concert. But it will need to happen, and I have already learned the art of pushing down a door handle with my chin. And funnily enough I didn’t realise what a powerful advocate a strong but nimble shoulder can be.
I will adapt and survive with a level of independence intact, but I need others around me to retain their manners. Two examples last week where I am starting to worry that self-preservation is starting to trump kindness. And both involve taxi drivers who I have generally found to be wonderful, which is good given the amount of travelling I do.
I was asked to get out of a taxi last Tuesday because the driver had turned off the meter even though he and I knew we weren’t directly outside the address – I cant find it he said but it must be the building next door. He knew it wasn’t. With my briefcase over my shoulder and mobile phone in my mouth talking to the office who were talking to the actual venue destination I navigated the 250 additional metres.
I felt vulnerable, and in a way I hadn’t for a long time. The previous week I had travelled to Exeter and back (15 hours round trip) without concern. The following day I was back in London and got dropped off at the end of a road (near the Bank interchange if you know it). I was told my destination was only 25 metres away around the corner – he couldn’t drop me off as taxi’s had been prohibited from accessing the road. 25 minutes later I made it on foot to the venue, exhausted, only to stand as a stream of taxi’s passed by me.
Bad luck. Coincidental. I hope so. In these tough times we all need to stick together and be supportive.
After a tough week I did have to laugh when someone mentioned their concern to me about getting hand gel in my mouth, and my 7-year-old son said they shouldn’t worry because ‘dad likes alcohol’!!
Be safe and be kind.
Mike Adams OBE
17 March 2020
March 10, 2020
We all like our comfort blanket. It provides us with a level of confidence. An anchor. A protector. And a safety net if needed. In my world, and especially in terms of presentations, my comfort blanket is my notes that sit beside me when I am on stage. Because they are there, I don’t need them. If they were not there I would dry up, my memory would disappear and suddenly my thread will have been lost.
I am about to say goodbye to my comfort blanket, with or without notes!
On 26 March I am presenting at the ATEC National Conference in Coventry. I lived in Coventry for over 15 years so you would have thought a seasoned hack like me would see that as a comfort. But the conference is on technology – and the application of assistive technology at that – and the audience are…. assistive technology experts. For those of you who know me well, will know that I’m a bit of a technophobe, I like what I know and I tend not to stray away from this, so you can understand how that comfort blanket is being torn away from me!
I know the stats. The recent click-away pound report shows the loss of revenue to UK PLC has increased from £11.75 billion in 2016 to £17.1 billion in 2019, which is due to issues around web accessibility where disabled have left a website without making a purchase, despite having the intent to do so.
I can also put forward some basic examples to demonstrate what poor accessibility looks like. Words in capital letters which screen readers read as acronyms. Telling people to unplug their mouse and see how easy it is to navigate their organisations website. Letting people know the importance of a site map.
I am currently working on my angle – things I can say that will add value to the everyday work of delegates. It sounds obvious but digital accessibility doesn’t sit in a vacuum. You might be technical, but you need to take everybody with you on the journey – not only people who are digitally savvy but luddites like me.
The various digital elements within an organisation need to connect. From a HR practice that enables a disabled staff member to access information to the disabled customer who will simply click-away as the report says. Accessibility must apply to emerging technology. We know AI is predicted to lead to a tripling of disability employment in the next decade but only if the conference audience make it accessible. I suspect they may already know this.
My first presentation in a while without a comfort blanket. I think I am ok with this as long as I don’t get asked any questions!
10 March 2020
The ATEC Conference is an annual conference that showcases excellence in assistive technology that removes barriers to learning and work. The event is aimed at disability professionals and technologists involved in post 16 education and the workplace.
For further information go to https://www.ateconference.com/