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Does Lord Holmes’ Review on Disability and public appointments hold lessons for us all?

Blog post by Patrick Turner - Senior Policy Adviser to the Lord Holmes Review

Thursday 24 January 2019

Does Lord Holmes’ Review on Disability and public appointments hold lessons for us all?

On 3 December, International Day of People with Disabilities, we launched The Lord Holmes Review: opening up public appointments to disabled people in the Churchill Room in 100 Parliament street.

Given that disability was at the heart of this project, the Review team was conscious from the very beginning that it was paramount that all public-facing aspects of the Review were as accessible and disability-friendly as possible.

Below I share some lessons I have taken away from the Review, in part from the Review’s 16 recommendations and in part from the process of making the Review happen. Whilst these reflections are about disability, the workplace and engaging with the public in the context of public appointments, I believe they can be applied across the Cabinet Office’s remit.

Diversity and public appointments

First a bit of background. The Review was semi-independent but resourced by members of the Public Appointments Policy Team, based within Private Office Group.

There are almost 6000 public appointees across 550 public bodies, which account for £200bn of annual expenditure across all areas of public services. Public appointees provide leadership, specialist expertise, strategic direction, and hold public bodies to account. Read more information about public appointments.

The Review was commissioned by Minister for Implementation Oliver Dowden MP CBE to fulfil a commitment made in the Public Appointments Diversity Action Plan. It is a government priority to ensure that public appointees reflect the society they serve, and yet disabled people are badly underrepresented. We only know the disability status of 65% of our public appointees, of whom just 5% are disabled (as compared to the working aged population of the UK, where 18.3% are disabled).

Access is more than just physical, it’s attitudinal and emotional

This is a quote from an attendee at a public workshop, relating to an experience they had when the adjustments they had been offered at an interview fell short of their expectations.

It has really stuck with me because I think it can be applied to both public-facing government projects and recruitments alike. Here’s what the Review had to say in its recommendation about access and adjustments:

  • Be proactive: if adjustments have been requested, contact the interviewee in advance to plan ahead.
  • Be guided by the individual: do not make assumptions about what adjustments they need.
  • Consider that access is more than physical: is the room or alternative facility appropriate and giving the candidate the same opportunity as everyone else?

Accessibility takes time and resource

How does one deliver this in practice? The Review team found that accessibility cannot be an afterthought or nice-to-have part of the process. As we worked towards every public-facing element of the review, we learned accessibility needs to be embedded and plotted into your project plan, with time and resource allocated to it.

For example, to ensure the online Call for Evidence was as accessible as possible, we had to build the following steps into the design process:

  • Engaging early with the DaTT team to work out which of the survey platforms that had passed the GDS’ accessibility tests would best suit the project.
  • Tendering for external suppliers to provide British Sign Language and EasyRead* versions, which took 2 weeks from start to finished publishable products.
  • Testing the final online call for evidence with a specialist Disability Access testing lab, which took a week.
  • Securing support and resource in advance from comms and digital to subtitle and edit the supporting short videos of Lord Holmes.

Free help, guidance and tools to become disability confident are out there

The Cabinet Office is a Disability Confident Leader. This is a DWP administered scheme that measures and acknowledges employers who go the extra mile to ensure disabled people get a fair chance in their organisation. Our “Leader” status means we go still further than this that Cabinet Office is a champion of Disability Confident, and its ethos is embedded in everything we do.

This might sound intimidating. You may be thinking I don’t know where to start, how do I play my part? Here’s a list of some tools, tips and guidance you can access for free:

*The EasyRead version of the Lord Holmes Review (PDF) was created to help people with learning disabilities understand information easily. It is often also preferred by some readers without learning disabilities, as it gives essential information on a topic without a lot of background information.