“When we launched Enable in December 2020, we committed ourselves to raising greater awareness around disabilities and neuro diversity across Leonardo’s UK business. It’s part of us valuing all abilities and helping remove barriers,” says Enable network group Chair and Head of Internal Audit, Mark Conn.
Alongside Mark, Enable is led by Vice-chairs Bethany Colburn and Jo Meek. All three were motivated to get involved for different reasons. Mark’s interest stemmed from “seeing first-hand how a friend embraced their disability and their strength and determination to overcome any obstacles put before them. It made me realise that we are not making the most of the potential out there – so I wanted to get more involved and help embrace all aspects of diversity and inclusion for the better within Leonardo.”
Having lived with epilepsy since the age of 13, Jo, a Project Officer, recognised that she needed “to learn to be open about my condition” following a seizure at work. “During my 27 years at the company, I have spent a lot of my life worrying how people would judge me, so I kept my epilepsy hidden where possible. I realised this had to change after I had a seizure on-site. I want other people to have the confidence that when they’re working within or joining Leonardo, they are assured the support is there when and if they need it, for any disability or hidden disability.”
Driven by her two mottos of ‘Adapt & Overcome’ and ‘Put up & shut up…or do something about it’, Bethany, an Integrated Support Engineer based in Yeovil, joined Enable to help Leonardo make the changes required to improve acceptance and accessibility for disabled and neuro diverse employees.
“It can be difficult to comprehend what the life of another is like, but through shared experiences and learning, we can open our minds to new perceptions and considerations,” explains Bethany, who has not let her cerebral palsy stop her pursuing various high-octane activities, and is determined to open doors for everyone. “We all choose what we use; some use diaries to help with dates, phones to help communicate, wheelchairs to help navigate, stimming to help with sensory input and colours to help control. These are tools of life. Let’s make sure that everyone has what they need to succeed.”
Accessibility for all
Enable is open to everyone, whether they have a health condition or impairment or not. Mark says the strengths, attributes and determination displayed by people with disabilities or who are neuro diverse is something many people do not fully appreciate. “We don’t fully know or understand what amazing talent we have and the potential out there, so our focus is on valuing all abilities and helping remove barriers,” says Mark.
This means Enable is working with various parts of Leonardo UK to make the business more accessible for everyone. “It’s part of Leonardo developing our open and inclusive culture, and extends to partners, suppliers, families and friends,” adds Bethany.
Allies and Awareness
With Enable’s direction set by five clear values – Difference with Dignity; Prospects, Progression and Innovation; Effective and Accessible Communication; Safe Site Navigation; Not just regulation and accreditation – the group has had a busy first year.
It has adopted a multi-pronged approach to raising awareness of its work and objectives, at all levels and many areas of the business, including the Senior Leadership Team, Joint Consultive Committee and Trade Union representatives. It has also created an Autism awareness training pack, advised the media team about dangers of flashing imagery in video content, and collaborated with the HR department to improve digital access to certain tools. During National Inclusion Week, Enable hosted a webinar with author and radio & TV personality Alex Manners, who spoke about living with Asperger's syndrome.
Additionally, a key aspect of increasing awareness and extending the network group’s reach is through allies, which is being done in a variety of ways, as Bethany explains.
“As allies are commuting around their site, I would encourage them to put themselves in the shoes of someone who has mobility issues, and ask 'if I was walking from A to B, could I get there?' Most people will just make the journey without thinking about it, but for some people with disabilities, you have to think about putting one foot in front of the other. This means, when you get to a curb, it physically stops you in your tracks. The question then arises ‘is there a drop curb anywhere?’ Unless you have to think about it, you’re unlikely to recognise it, but we need to make this an automatic part of people’s thought processes.”
When it comes to meetings, this is another opportunity to demonstrate understanding and potential challenges for someone with a disability. “Firstly, I would urge meeting organisers to consider whether all attendees can reach the venue. Then ask whether accessible toilets are close by, so people can leave and return without missing much of the meeting. If it’s a virtual meeting, will everyone be able to hear and see what’s being presented? Finally, have people been provided with enough time during the meeting to absorb the information shared and to raise questions?” asks Bethany.
She and her Enable team are now actively working with the company’s site facilities teams to implement a number of accessibility improvements that can be made, with a set of guiding principles to be published very soon, which aims to ensure a consistent approach to accessibility across all UK sites. They are also being consulted on other areas of planned site development.
From a neuro diverse perspective, awareness is also required around how people communicate with one another, according to Jo. “Communication comes in many forms and styles, and access, appreciation and acceptance of different views and experiences are key to decision making and a successful future. Therefore, one of our challenges is communicating effectively and accessibly, with freedom and without judgment or fear of causing offence,” she says.
Becoming a Disability Confident Employer
As part of the company’s commitment to creating the right environment for all our people to succeed, Leonardo signed up to the Disability Confident scheme earlier this year, meeting a set of criteria that tested the business against a set of statements about employing disabled people.
“The self-assessment is designed to enable us to focus on what our business is doing and what additional steps may need to be taken. It’s about actions, not words,” says Mark.
The accreditation also ensures we share the values of our customers and peers, with the UK Ministry of Defence articulating the importance of disabilities consideration in its approach to social values.
While Enable has achieved lots during its first 12 months, Mark, Jo and Bethany acknowledge that there are still many areas to address.
“Our five guiding values underpin everything we want to do, and they encompass our goals for 2022 and beyond,” says Mark. “Our focus is to value all abilities and to help remove barriers. If we can do these things, then we can strive to be a Disability Confident Leader.”
Bethany, who is keen to facilitate some team-building activities, whereby able-bodied people are put into scenarios that disabled and neuro diverse people contend with every day, is proud of the group’s accomplishments so far and is positive about making further progress. “Enable has become a key stakeholder within Leonardo UK, since we now have a very important platform, which allows us to approach senior management about business objectives. Our network group has become the vehicle through which changes will be achieved,” she says.