Disability awareness training – the big picture

There’s rather more to disability awareness training than raising issues around physical impairment – and learning and development professionals need to see the bigger picture.

Disability awareness training may conjure images of legal seminars on the ins and outs of making your premises accessible to wheelchair users. But this is a small part of the picture – training needs in this area are much wider than many think.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) does play a part – managers need to know their responsibilities if they are to stay compliant. But with 6.8 million disabled people of working age, issues around inclusion and understanding the inequalities suffered in society by people with disabilities play just as important a role.

It is all about providing equal opportunities to both staff and customers with disabilities, being more sensitive to their needs and dispelling the many myths around disability.

“There are a lot of fears and misconceptions out there that training can help overcome,” says Jane Touil, resource manager at training provider Breakthrough UK.

“Being knowledgeable about disability and adopting ‘disability friendly’ policies and practices directly benefits business. Employers can retain skilled staff who develop impairments and can recruit from a wider pool of jobseekers. Understanding good practice and knowing about removing barriers for disabled customers and employees also helps organisations avoid employment tribunals and court cases.”

Competitive advantage

Training can also support the Disability Equality Duty, which came into force last December. This requires public sector organisations to promote disability equality in everything they do, including procurement. “This means private companies who can evidence good practice on disability can gain competitive edge when tendering for contracts,” says Touil.

Michelle Valentine, practice development manager at the Disability Rights Commission, says training should help employers provide a more inclusive environment, raising staff morale.

“Many people don’t tell their employer that they have a disability because they don’t feel safe to do so.If all employeesreceive training on disability issues, staff who are disabled or develop a disability can feelmore able to discussthis with their employer because they will have more confidence that they will be treated with understanding and in a fair manner,” she says.

There is nothing in the DDA to say that employers must provide this type of training, but they do have to ensure they meet their legal duties. If they don’t understand them, they can’t meet them.

There are different types of training available. The first involves training on legal duties laid out by the DDA. The second is disability awareness training, which would include for example, how to communicate with a deaf person. And the third is disability equality training, which provides an understanding of the inequalities suffered in society by people with disabilities. Some training providers offer these as separate courses or as a mish-mash of all three.

What is a disability?

All training should cover one of the most basic principles, and that is defining what actually counts as a disability. The DDA says that a disability is a physical or mental impairment thathas a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This definition is much wider than many people expect and, depending on severity, can include common conditions such as dyslexia and diabetes.

Peter Fox, residential and training manager at Kepplewray, says he always kicks training off with a brainstorming session about people’s perceptions.“This removes the idea that it is only about wheelchair users or people with sight and hearing impairments,” he says

Fox says all levels of staff should benefit from training. “Managers need to know how to enforce the DDA, but frontline staff are often the ones dealing with issues on a day to day basis,” he says

Kepplewray’s training usually takes the format of a one-day, classroom-based session and costs £600 for a maximum of around 30 learners.

“We don’t use role play as some people find this embarrassing. But learners work in small groups or pairs to discuss issues and do practical exercises, such as sign language. An important part of training is about drawing on each others’ experiences,” says Fox.

Another provider, EquatAbility, provides a range of courses, including specific training on the DDA, Disability Equality Duty training and a more general one-day session on disability equality training. This aims to empower participants to deal confidently and effectively with disabled people.It introduces disability as a social, rather than a medical issue, comparable with race and gender equality issues.

“It’s important to get across the concept of disability as a social construct instead of physical impairment issue. For example, it’s not the fact that some is in a wheelchair that causes the problem, it is the lack of access,” says Brian O’Shea, principal trainer and director of EquatAbility.

Understand both models

As it is important to understand both the medical and the social models of disability, O’Shea tends to start training off quite formally with slides and a presentation. “We then move on to case studies and role play. One of our preferred options is to use a disabled person to deliver the training as this tends to have most impact,” he says.

EquatAbility usually delivers one-day courses, but more employers in the service and retail industries are now asking us to distil messages down into shorter sessions as they find it hard to spare people for the whole day. “Also, some people who are used to working on their feet all day find it hard concentrating for a full day’s training,” he says.

There is little available in the way of accredited courses, but awarding body Education Development International (EDI) has recently developed a course in disability awareness that leads to a qualification.

Disability awareness

The Level One Award in Disability Awareness covers current legislation, while developing the learner’s understanding of disability. It comprises nine guided learning hours, which can be completed in a one-day course. The qualification is assessed through a multiple choice paper-based or online test. EDI says it is also looking to develop further levels in this qualification.

E-learning packages are also available to deliver disability awareness training. Like other online training, these options can prove cost efficient for training large numbers of staff. There are a number of providers, including Grass Roots and Access Adaptions.

Grass Roots’offering focuses on legal duties and the do’s and don’ts of working and communicating with disabled people, resulting in a multiple-choice test at the end. Access Adaptions’ package includes five modules covering subjects such as challenging perceptions, disability etiquette and legal duties.

Although bulk purchase can make this a much cheaper option than classroom-based training, Valentine says that it is important that training delves deep enough.

“E-learning programmes can help you with the basics, but disability issues are often more complex. It is not just about learning the principles, but understanding how to apply them,” she says.

Whichever training method you opt for, if using an external provider, Valentine says it is key that the trainer understands the organisationthey aregoing into so thattheycan tailor the training.

“One size does not fit all. Employers should avoid buying in a bog standard package and be specific about their needs.They should also recognise that differentstaff need different types of training –senior management would need a more strategic perspective, while frontline staff need to know the practicalities of making the DDA work.”

Case study: Trafford Council

Trafford Council has been rolling out disability awareness training with the help of Breakthrough UK since November last year, starting with two-hour training sessions for councillors.

“The training was very interactive. As well as using PowerPoint, the trainers used a quiz format to get key messages across and challenge people’s thoughts. The councillors sat in groups at round tables and the trainers created an environment where there was no embarrassment about right or wrong answers, which encouraged them to get involved,” says Anne Tober, manager for the disability equality team at Trafford Council.

After positive feedback from councillors taking part, the next tranche of training to be designed and delivered by Breakthrough was training to more than 400 senior managers in the local authority. The training, which is continuing, is being delivered in one-day seminars.

Again these sessions have been made interactive to get learners talking about key issues and cover everything from the Disability Equality Duty to the origin of ‘playground’ words and the social model of disability. A quiz and case studies are also used to help get people thinking.

“Managers have so far been really enthusiastic about these sessions. I really believe this training is very important as everyone at the council has contact with people with impairments.

“It was a long time coming and I’m really glad that we have finally woken up to the fact that it is such an important issue to address. We’ve had such a positive response from everyone taking part,” adds Tober.

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