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MIDLANDSABILITY

“Improving workplace opportunity for those with disabilities”

Once upon a time, a long time ago, two friends and colleagues came up with a great idea.

Although our idea was great, we don’t take credit for the original concept as our lightbulb moment was actually based on an organisation already in existence but only accessible to people living and or working in London. That organisation is WHARFABILITY.

“WharfAbility is a network of networks founded in 2012 by a group of individuals involved with the disability and carer agenda within major firms based in Canary Wharf.  Our mission is to connect businesses and colleagues to share experiences and ideas, enabling them to increase their impact in the work place. We have grown substantially over the past 3 years and now have 27 member organisations, principally from Canary Wharf but also from London generally.”

Our brilliant idea was to replicate the Wharfability network in the Midlands and so the journey began.

My colleague and long-time friend Richard Day has been the driving force behind creating this network as, pretty soon after attending some initial meetings with interested parties, I changed my role at work and began working from home. Reluctantly I bowed out but was more than confident that Richard would take this forward to its conclusion.

Richard and Linzi

Over the past three years, Richard has worked with a number of people also passionate about creating this network. Lorna Gavin; Kate Nash OBE; Graeme Whippey MBE; Karl Edge; Tracey Wright and Becky Brooks to name but a few. The culmination of this collective passion and hard work was the launch of Midlandsability yesterday.

The event was overwhelmingly successful and a testament to everyone’s determination to see this project come to fruition. Everyone involved should be very proud of themselves and everyone else should be very proud of them. I know I am.

Amongst the guests and inspirational speakers were Kate Nash OBE who interviewed the brand-new straight out of the box Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health, Sarah Newton; Graeme Whippy MBE from Channel 4; John Coxon from Disability Confident with the very funny, perceptive and down-to-earth Becky Brooks keeping everyone in line and on time.

Sarah Newton MP and Kate Nash OBE

It was a fabulous event hosted by KPMG in Birmingham and I am looking forward to joining this group on their future journey improving workplace opportunity for those with disabilities.

Well done everyone!

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50 Shades of Women

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the pilot presentation entitled the “50 Shades of Women” put on jointly by Kate Nash Associates and EDIT Development. The workshop is “designed for disabled women from all backgrounds, ages and stages of their lives and designed specifically for women in management grades.”

The overarching goal is to help disabled women “deliver work more effectively as disabled women” and we can expect to :

  • “….overcome self-limiting beliefs and behaviours…”
  • “…start to find new solutions to old problems”
  • “Gain some insight into our strengths and development areas in the workplace…..” and
  • have some practical ideas to start using immediately”

The workshop was amazing and I came away inspired, motivated, hopeful, happy in my skin and thrilled to have met 30 women who I can add to my “tribe.” We all related to each others stories and health conditions and disabilities. We supported each other and we understood exactly what makes us tick. To be in an environment like that it a privilege and an occasion to celebrate. The positivity has stayed with me all day and nothing could have spoilt what was shaping up to be a typical 9-5 work experience.

I took time to share some of my experiences with a colleague at work, with whom I collaborate on disabled matters, and it cheered him up too! There’s nothing like a bit of positive encouragement and acknowledgement that although we have our additional “difficulties”, this should be no barrier to FABULOUSNESS.

In many ways I had let myself forget what I am good at; what I enjoy and actually, what I am excellent at. Although my perception of me is somewhat tempered by self-criticism and doubt, the feedback I get from others is overwhelmingly the opposite and I am, apparently, an amazing role model and inspirational person. Hey, I need to develop this idea and start to believe it otherwise I could lose the opportunity to help others overcome their barriers and fulfill their potential. Nothing would make me more fulfilled than taking on that role.

Of course I have a day job which I love. I need to find a way to combine the two without jeopardising my mental health. This will be challenging but as I discovered yesterday, far from impossible.

I learned so much yesterday that I cannot possible share it all in one post, but share it I will over a number of articles. For today, have faith and believe that you can achieve, you can be an equal and certainly the world is starting to take a more positive approach to people with mental health conditions.

We know that we are just as capable, loyal, creative, determined, resilient and have a lot to give. Thankfully at last I see others believing that too!

A “Thank you” is always welcome

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the first Disability Confident Conference which was held in Birmingham. My summary of the day is covered in my previous post “Are you disability Confident?” and you can see from the photos how excited I was to participate.

Yesterday I received a “Thank you” from Mike Penning MP, the Minister of State for Disabled People and I was impressed that he had taken the time to make it a very personal one.

Not only am I disability confident, I’m also confident that Mr Penning is the right man for the job.

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Are you Disability Confident?

downloadYesterday I had the pleasure and privilege to give a short speech at the first Disability Confident regional Roadshow held at the KPMG Birmingham office.

The Government-backed Disability Confident campaign was launched by David Cameron in July when he told 300 business leaders that it is “time to dispel the myths about the complexities of employing disabled people” and there will now be a number of regional road shows leading up to the grand finale in London in March next year. These conferences are primarily for employers and designed to spread awareness about employing people with disabilities and health conditions encouraging them to be more Disability Confident.

It is a fantastic initiative, long overdue and, from what I saw yesterday, will be a great success.

The conference was compered brilliantly by Dawn Milman-Hurst from Equal Approach and the keynote speakers included Mike Penning MP, Minister of State for Disabled People and Sophie Christiansen, Paralympics triple gold medallist from London 2012 and one of my all-time favourite sportswomen. I was so excited to meet Sophie in person and she even let me hold her gold medal which she brought with her-amazing.

Me, Sophie and the London 2012  gold medal

Me, Sophie and the London 2012 gold medal

Me and the Minister

Me and the Minister

Following the initial introductions, my KPMG partner-in-crime Richard Day and I delivered our 5-minute speeches. Richard has a neurological condition which affects his walking and his focus was very much on the issues he encounters having a physical disability and the adjustments he has at work to help him deal with these.

I focussed on my depression and M.E both of which are fluctuating and most of the time, invisible, so that the audience got a flavour of the different problems and solutions affecting people with physical conditions and mental illness.

We were followed by Sophie Christiansen who gave a very inspiring speech covering her early childhood, how she first discovered her talent for horse riding, obtaining her First Class Honours degree (and Masters) in Maths and her London 2012 experience. Sophie is not just an inspiration for Disabled People, she is an inspiration and fantastic role model for everyone. Her tenacity, competitiveness and determination are obvious and every day she demonstrates that these qualities are key to her success.

The expert panel members (Dawn Milman-Hurst (Equal Approach), Kate Headley (Clear Company), Amanda Kirby University of Wales), Morgan Lobb (Diversity Jobs), John Beasley (DWP Access to work), John Keeble (DWF)and David Johnson (West Mids Fire Service) then fielded some interesting and thought-provoking questions from the audience.  They ran out of time after 45 minutes but could have continued for hours.

As I Am

The event concluded with a brilliant performance of “As I Am” by Oscar Bell and Jordan Statham.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHRtuiYUFrs

“As I Am is a song written by Oscar Bell and Jordan Statham. The song is about the struggle people with learning and physical difficulties endure every day. ‘As I Am’ embraces the possibilities that one day these people will be treated equally and noticed for the talents they have. The song has recently been used as the anthem for the Awareness of Autism campaign and has been played on numerous radio stations.”

The song is available on i-tunes and I would encourage everyone to buy a copy because it’s a great song and proceeds support a very worthwhile West Midlands Autism charity.

Go on! you know you want to!