Active on and off the field of play: Disabled people crucial part of EFDS’s workforce

On Thursday 18 July, the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) are involved in the Disability Employment Conference - Working Together. To coincide with the focus on disabled people's employment, the EFDS have produced two useful introduction resources for the sport and physical activity sector.

The conference (Twitter #disabilityconfident) is a unique opportunity for business and government to come together, identify the challenges that others are facing when employing disabled people and provide innovative solutions to be able to tap into this underemployed pool of talent. It is the start of an exciting two year campaign to create the partnerships that will support all employers to become disability confident, improving organisations, workplaces and customer service.

 The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) is committed to ensuring disabled people have a key role within our work- both internally and externally. We work to increase participation at every level and support partners to value disabled people in all aspects of sport. This could be as an athlete, official, coach, administrator, teacher, volunteer etc. But to support others to deliver more equal opportunities in sport we, as the national body for disabled people in sport and physical activity need to be in a position to show better practice. So EFDS are constantly seeking ways to improve our own equality and diversity, especially with disabled people.

As well as ensuring our policies and procedures provide equal opportunities for disabled people to be employed by EFDS, there is a wider business case, which is often overlooked in sport. Our ongoing plans are shaped by disabled people’s needs in sport. The wider aim is to build on our and others’ insight and become a more customer focused organisation.

With disabled people the central stakeholder in these plans, it makes perfect sense to ensure our own workforce is representative of those we seek to build relationships with. We can also draw upon first hand insight from EFDS’s most valuable asset- our employees. To have internal stakeholders, who are disabled (including employees and Board members) means our insight is strong at all levels.

Part of our work is to increase disabled people’s participation in sport, and help other providers to do the same. Disabled people like non-disabled people range from being uninterested non-actives to active obsessives. Our work needs to reflect these diverse needs on different levels and one key element we note in EFDS is that we actually have disabled employees within this vast spectrum. These crucial contributions can be fed in directly to all EFDS decision-making processes, and it certainly helps us to call upon immediate insight into target audiences.

Whatever sector you work in, it is logical to diversify the talent pool you employ because your audiences are just as diverse:

“If you want to employ the right person for the job, you need to widen your talent pool. If you want to better understand your customers, you need to have colleagues who understand them. If you want to build your relationship with the local community, you need to be able to connect with them.” Fiona Cannon OBE, group director, diversity and inclusion, at Lloyds Banking Group

 

Within the EFDS workforce, we actively promote any advertised positions to disabled people. Disabled applicants who meet minimum criteria are guaranteed an interview. We also ensure other areas of recruitment, such as for Board members, will encourage disabled people to apply.

Although our charity name immediately determines the nature of our work with disabled people, it does not mean that disabled people automatically apply for positions. Just as the word Sport in the charity's name does not mean we only employ sporty people, the word Disability is not a guarantee to attract disabled candidates.

Currently within EFDS we have six disabled paid employees- a quarter of our workforce. They range in position from Senior Management to administrator. All have equal opportunities for training, promotion, decision-making and other staff benefits.

EFDS’s work means, by nature, the organisation is already flexible due to sport not being a continual 9am-5pm structure. Our general ethos has to accept flexible working routines to meet deadlines and targets. Adapting working patterns to suit the needs of the organisation is common in many workplaces, so our disabled employees are not given a different policy, but dependent on the role, all employees are offered a flexible workplace. We are also committed to support any employee who becomes disabled during their career with us to stay in employment too.

EFDS’s position means our disabled employees are also an advocate for inclusion. Many are regularly meeting with a network of sports organisations and other key partners. Whether this is ensuring meeting venues are accessible or a BSL interpreter is present, these help our partners to be aware of the wider needs of any customer they may meet.

Asking the right questions can often be the most important part of customer service for any sports organisation and is not costly if planned. As a large proportion of our population, good customer service, like good marketing, should consider disabled people. So our disabled employees’ work within the sport sector in various roles means they can increase the general awareness of disabled people’s needs too.

In their own words, here are the employees talking about their roles within EFDS:

Chris- Development Director

I have been with EFDS since 2010. Before joining EFDS, I worked in a variety of senior positions within the voluntary sector. I now live just outside Loughborough and tend to cycle in to my workplace at EFDS’s office in Loughborough.

I have been profoundly deaf since birth and can lip read in small group settings, and I use British Sign Language. My communication with hearing people is affected so support is required with telephone calls and meetings where I often use a sign language interpreter. The Government’s Access to Work supports this. I also use an iPad for Face Time meetings, which I prefer to other virtual video calls, as there is less buffering through the internet. As is common practice in many organisations, modern technology means I can be communicated with in many ways if required- Face Time, text, email or even Twitter! Advancement in technology means that there is potential in the near future for me to be able to use the telephone without interpreters which would then make me feel more equal in the workplace.

Being deaf in a hearing work environment can often be a challenging and lonely experience. Being resilient is often the key when facing challenges on a day to day basis.

I was drawn to the Senior Management position at EFDS, not because I am disabled but because I am passionate about sport. As someone who was a keen competitive sports person, I realise how important it is for disabled people to have a positive experience of sport. Therefore, the role suited my hobbies and beliefs. I truly believe my own success in sport has given me more confidence as well as removing some of the usual barriers I would normally face as a deaf person trying to integrate in a non-deaf environment.

Employers should first and foremost be willing to explore how to make disabled people feel included and be adaptable to accommodating their needs.

Many years ago I was sacked from my casual job in a leisure centre for being deaf- an experience I will never forget- hence, my determination for disabled people to succeed in the sport and leisure industry. Often smaller organisations give a sense of being inclusive, although that’s not always the case. Ultimately, I also consider whether my line manager and my colleagues are going to be supportive and fortunately for me I have been lucky to have worked with a number of good ones during my career.

 

Daniel- Information and Communications Officer

My role is part time at EFDS. I love sport as an athlete and working in the sector. My degree was in Leisure Studies with Sports Development, so it made sense to apply for my first role at EFDS twelve years ago. Generally, when I apply for positions, it is because I feel I can do the job, and there is nothing particular I look for as a disabled person.

As a field athlete myself, I climbed the ranks to become a Paralympian. I have Cerebral Palsy which affects my lower limbs and use a wheelchair occasionally. Among my career highlights were the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, where I won bronze in the F34 Discus. On my fourth Games appearance at London 2012, I finished in 7th in the F34 Shot Put.

I now live in Nottingham and drive to my workplace at the Loughborough office. I have never needed to claim support from any work schemes available to me. My support in the workplace has revolved around being a full-time athlete, not a disabled person. I have been able to work flexible hours to cater for my competition and training commitments.

EFDS has provided me with great support over the many years I have worked for them. They have also helped to develop my potential career beyond the one I have in competitive sport.

 

Mark- Engagement Officer

I started working for EFDS in February 2013. Previously, I have had a range of jobs in sport and disability organisations, such as Disability Sport and Physical Activity Officer in Staffordshire, Performance Manager for Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby and Fitness Club Manager. When I graduated from University, I began as a Fitness Instructor, so I personally love sport and the benefits it can have. I realised at a young age that sport was an ideal platform to show that my impairment didn’t affect or bother me. With my own success in sport, I want to enable other disabled people to experience the benefit sport can bring to lives.

I was born with deformities to my hands and no feet or ankles so I am classed as a double below knee  amputee. Now, I wear two artificial legs or use a manual wheelchair depending on my activities at the time. But also, on occasions my legs get sore and they could do with the rest!

In terms of extra support in the workplace, I do not really need any. It tends to be equipment based support, like the type of telephone and laptop I use as it needs to be the easiest one to use with my hands. In previous positions, I received a wheelchair and specific furniture through the Access to Work scheme.

The most important support I need as a disabled person from my employer is ensuring I have the most appropriate equipment to enable me to fulfill my role. When I have applied for jobs, I look at its suitability for me and my skills- in terms of knowledge, location and salary. I have never looked at a role because of my impairment. Generally, I am great at adapting so have never really faced any major issues in the workplace.

There have been a few items of furniture moved for access purposes but overall, I have been an employee rather than a disabled employee.

 

Jayant- Sports Development Officer

I have worked for EFDS in a variety of roles for five years. During and after retiring from professional sport as a wheelchair tennis player, I have worked in sport whether in the community or even at LOCOG as their Wheelchair Tennis Manager.

I’ve always been disabled since birth and ever since I can remember, have been involved in sport. One of the reasons I took the job at EFDS is because I want to pass on my knowledge and experience to make sport more open and accessible.

As I have my own car, I drive to work in Loughborough. I was supported a few years ago through Access to Work, to buy a lighter wheelchair, which helps me get around a lot easier.

The most important support an employer can do for you is to treat you as an individual with unique skills. When I have applied for jobs, the things that stand out to me more are the organisation’s values, aims and objectives. Also, whether the position will utilise my skills and experience.

But most of all- I look for whether I will be satisfied when I go home, that I’m valued as an employee.

 

Jessica- Sports Development Manager

I have been working for EFDS in various roles since 2007. Before that, I worked in Cornwall as a sports development officer. The jobs I have taken throughout my sports career have been natural progression from county, to regional to national.

When I was younger I was an international swimmer, so when I retired, I wanted to give something back and enable disabled people to have better opportunities than I had within school. I graduated with a degree in sport and knew I didn’t want to be a coach. Working strategically suited me as well as building relationships so this role is great for me.

I was born disabled with an impairment in both of my upper arms. It doesn’t affect my daily life at home or at work. The only thing I struggle with is with round door handles and carrying large things like boxes. However, I know my colleagues are always available to help if need be! Since I have a car, I drive around the country most days, except when it comes to London- then I use the train. Access to work scheme supports me to have an assistant for meeting notes and the carrying aspects.

The most important support an employer can give me is to understand my needs and not treat me any differently. I am lucky that I am so assertive, so if I want something done, I will make sure I can find a way round the situation. I don’t look for roles relating to my needs as a disabled person. I look for roles the same way everyone else does because I feel I can do the role or would like the challenge.

In the past, I’ve also been quite aware that some employers may have prejudices about employing disabled people, so when I have applied I have not asked to be guaranteed an interview.

I am confident in my skills and my ability that I can do the role, otherwise I would not apply in the first place!

 

Sarah- Marketing and Communications Manager

When I was a teenager, I was always speaking and writing for different things. If it wasn’t television presenting, it was writing for a local newspaper. I loved creative writing and could talk to anyone! It wasn’t surprising to anyone when I decided to study Media at University in London.

After University, I worked as a Marketing Officer for a software company, developing Customer Relationship Management systems. I fell into sport as during my degree I had a placement, working in press for a disability sport organisation. When a job came up, I knew I would enjoy the role.

I’ve worked in sport for disabled people in various roles since 1999. Now, I lead the marketing and communications area for EFDS. Where I thrived academically, my experience of school sport was not a memorable one. I can safely say that fulfilling my role has nothing to do with me being an active sports person! I do not believe you have to be an athlete to work in sport. Our skills are as diverse as we are!

Although I was born with my condition, I only started gradually using a manual wheelchair from 14. Now, I am a permanent wheelchair user and most of the support I require revolves around transport and access. My strength is not the greatest so low toilets and carpets are my pet hates! If I have to travel around the country, I have support for overnight stays etc. but my employers are aware of the best venues (and Cities!) for me. I have had support from Access to Work in the past, paying for transport to and from work, as well as paying for any extra train fares for assistants. My role is flexible to be able to work from home when I need to and this really helps

As with a lot of disabled people, I have to plan ahead for almost everything. Trains, venues and support are all thought about in advance. However, this means I would also class myself as an organised and communicative employee too as I am so used to it in my everyday life!

I would say to any employers that all employees are individuals and if you open up a dialogue with your staff, then that creates a two-way relationship.

A happy employee is a productive one and happiness comes in different guises. As long as I am comfortable with the environment I am in, then I will always perform to the best of my ability. But that is important for everybody- whether disabled or not.

 

EFDS has produced two useful introduction resources for you to expand your reach and include more disabled people within your sports organisation's workforce.

 

Benefits of widening your reach in employment

Encouraging disabled people to work for your sport organisation

For more ideas and ways you can include disabled people within your sports workforce, contact EFDS's team.