Joined in: 1999
Job title: Technical Product Owner
Bob was first diagnosed with hearing loss at around five years old, and received his first hearing aids in his early twenties. Here he talks about his personal journey with hearing loss, setting up the Disability Inclusion Network at Advanced and how we're moving to being a Disability Confident Employer.
As someone who faces challenges both inside and outside the workplace due to hearing loss, and as the father of a daughter with a learning disability, I am thrilled by our commitment to being a diverse and inclusive employer. I love that in our values, we are being asked to think and act differently together; no matter who we are, where we are from, how we think or who we love.
We have joined over 18,000 other organisations in the national Disability Confident scheme and so demonstrate the positive changing attitudes towards employing disabled people and benefitting from a diverse pool of talent.
How do you define disability and disablement?
I want to explain what disability confidence means to me, but to do so first I think it would be useful if I gave some definitions of disability and disabled.
According to the Equality Act of 2010 you're disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial or long-term adverse effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.
Most people who fall under that definition of disability don't enjoy the language of disability or may not identify with the term, which is of course fine. How anyone chooses to relate to their impairment or condition is up to them.
So, do I see myself as disabled? Probably not. If someone was to ask me if I was disabled, I'd say “well … I'm a bit deaf.” But I am entitled to register as disabled.
In the UK about one in five of working age adults report they have a disability and around one in ten of the UK workforce report a disability. Over 80% of all disabled people in the UK acquired their disability during their working life.
Another definition of disability, from the World Health Organisation, is that disability results from the interaction between individuals with a health condition as well as personal environmental factors including negative attitudes, lack of accessibility and limited support in society. To me personally this is a much more useful and important definition of disability as it proposes it is not necessarily the medical condition or impairment which defines the person, but that they are disabled by the situations and attitudes which they may face. This definition suggests that we all contribute to whether society is inclusive and accessible or not.
My journey with hearing loss
I was first diagnosed with having a hearing loss at around five years old and received my first hearing aids in my early twenties. At that time my social life was a whole lot busier than it is now. I would find it hard keeping up with conversations with my friends in noisy pubs – my hearing aids simply amplify all sounds around me, not just voice. At this young age, I lacked confidence to confess I was finding these environments difficult or wished to slow down conversations. I wasn’t aware of anyone else my age with hearing loss and wearing hearing aids. Letters I get from the audiology department are in large print because of the stereotype that as I am deaf, I am obviously of old age and so have poor eyesight too!
Prior to my current role, I spent around 20 years as a software developer. I was quite satisfied in my job. And as I moved into my late forties, I thought it would be a job that would suit me well for the rest of my working life because I would think, as I grow older, no doubt my hearing loss would get worse. And so, if I remained a software developer until I retired, I could spend all day coding away with little need to speak to anyone. But I also knew I would find that isolating. I do enjoy speaking and collaborating with people - to not do so would be unnatural to who I am. About five years ago I found myself needing to spend more time on the phone speaking to colleagues. At times I would worry about making the calls. Would I hear the person on the phone? Would I be able to contribute fully to the discussion? Would I miss something that would result in doing something wrong? But I enjoyed these discussions and interacting as part of a team. It’s something I think I do very well.
Advanced supported me with funding and with an application for a grant from the Government’s Access to Work scheme for assistive equipment. Most workplace adjustment costs are small, if anything at all. The equipment I received, which streams audio direct to my hearing aids, helped build my confidence in taking work calls and participating in meetings.
The impact on my role
Around three years ago my role with Advanced was made redundant. It gave me the opportunity to think about what did I want to do with the rest of my working life? Did I really want to be defined by my disability and take a job where I wouldn't need to speak to people frequently? Or did I want to enjoy a career I felt motivated by?
I came to realise that as a software developer, what I particularly found fulfilling wasn't necessarily the technical delivery of a solution but the process of delivering the solution through collaboration with others. Before my redundancy period ended, I applied and was offered my current role as Product Owner. This would be a job that would see me needing to speak to a wide range of people frequently. Yet it was a job where I expected I would get the fulfilment I wished: of working with others in the process of delivering solutions.
It’s a job where I apply my previously learnt skills, including an ability to think differently and a desire to do the right thing and be fearless, which I think I've honed through a need to push past the barriers I’ve faced with my own and my daughter’s disability.
Drawing on experiences of my daughter and inclusive communities she is involved in against how my old deaf Dad would at times not appear fully engaged in a conversation, I continue to realise that although my impairment is part of who I am it shouldn’t define my life experiences.
So now I am in a job I am wholly engaged in. I have the required tools, skills and a degree of confidence so that I needn’t let my deafness stop me bringing my full self into the workplace. And I have a supportive employer whose values we are asked to follow are aligned with my own.
As a result, I'm quite possibly the most energised at work in all the 22 years I've been with Advanced.
I think it's great that we have recently announced the opportunity for people to continue working from home once office life returns. It’s a sign of a confident employer who acknowledges that some people are more productive when they have better control over their working environment.
Disabled people working from home may find it easier to manage their condition, or it removes the challenges of a daily commute. It can also provide greater flexibility for those who have duties as a carer. But then again, some people prefer being in an office and being surrounded by people helps alleviate their conditions.
In one of our company values we are asked to think and act differently. And here's the thing: we are all different.
I think it’s best when we’re open to the idea that people may have alternate approaches to bringing their best selves to work and can be supported in a non-obstructive way through small tweaks or reasonable adjustments.
Here’s some examples:
• I prefer that people have their cameras on during Teams calls, as I can lip read a little. But I also respect some people don't prefer having their cameras switched on. I’ve learnt to understand that some people feel they can apply themselves best to meetings with cameras switched off, because they are more comfortable if they feel they don’t need to maintain eye contact.
• I’ve learnt people can feel better prepared for meetings if they receive a structured agenda and accessible meeting content - which is something we all do already, am I right? 😉
• By applying a simple tick box to enable automated captions, you make your meeting recordings more accessible.
I remember a few years back I was having trouble hearing a particular phrase that a colleague was saying and then, without prompting, he tapped the phrase into the chat window so I could see it. A simple moment like that can be a real boost for me. It showed that frequently, just a small gesture resolves a barrier with minimal fuss.
Return to the office
The workplace continues to evolve and during lockdown I have found the introduction of Microsoft Teams with its live captions, and with everyone working from home, that meetings are more inclusive. It’ll be interesting to see how things change when some return to the office, or I attend noisy network events. I feel I am well placed to face any future challenges, and it is my hope that the commitment shown by the business to being a disability confident employer will ensure inclusion for myself and colleagues.
The Advanced Disability Diversity and Inclusion Network promotes the positive inclusion of those whose lives are touched by disability or long-term health conditions or impairments. Along with the business we look to support employees to develop rewarding careers.
Ultimately, we're all different, and our difference should be celebrated and supported. It’s a contributor to our success.
Click here to find out more about our Diversity & Inclusion programmes.
Click here to find out more about how We Hire Differently.