Today our blogger for Diversity Month is Geoff Adams-Spink. Geoff has worked for the BBC, both as a journalist and manager, and has a deep understanding of disability equality and the role technology play s in helping to achieve this.
My father taught me to drive when I was just fourteen: I don’t know whether he was being cruel to be kind or kind to be cruel. I would never take to the open road, not because of my stunted arms (a result of the morning sickness drug, thalidomide), but because my eyesight is shockingly bad. I have no right eye and only 10% vision in the left. I would be a danger to myself and others.
For someone who’s obsessed with cars, it’s an annoying impairment to have. It also cost me my first work opportunity at the BBC: I had applied to be a trainee local radio reporter. I was told I had done an excellent interview but that my inability to drive precluded my application from advancing any further. Back in 1988, this type of discrimination was perfectly legal.
My determination ensured that I didn’t turn my back on the BBC, but kept hammering at the door until they let me in. In 1989, I secured a traineeship in network radio and television news. But that initial encounter with the Corporation coloured my judgement: when I started work in Broadcasting House, I was determined to play down my impairments and get on with the job, to my ultimate detriment.
Six years later, the daily grind of being bent at the wrong height to use a desk designed for someone with standard issue arms, and having to crank my neck back to peer up at the small green characters on a monitor screen, took its toll. I got out of bed one morning and the pain in my side and down my left leg made lying down the only option. I had slipped a disc in my lower back and eventually (almost a year later) had to have painful surgery to correct it. I was off work for six months which gave me plenty of time for reflection.
The physio team made it clear to me that I would be a regular customer of theirs unless I totally rethought my life; it was time for me to ‘come out’ and admit that I was in fact a disabled person. I don’t think anyone else but me had ever doubted it!
The BBC is a fantastic employer and has become even better over the years at making the workplace barrier-free: audiences only need to watch Liz Carr’s amazing performances in Silent Witness or Lisa Hammond shouting the odds in the marketplace just outside the Vic in Albert Square, to see visible evidence of the BBC’s disabled-friendly philosophy. Behind the scenes, production teams and support departments are increasingly staffed by people with a range of impairments.
I took to the world of disability rights with all the zeal of a new convert: I lived and breathed the social model, once somebody had explained what it was. My last eight years before taking voluntary redundancy in 2011 were spent reporting on disability matters for BBC News. I sat on various committees to advise senior managers on how to improve opportunities for disabled staff members; eventually, and almost inevitably, I became chairman of the Corporation’s staff disability network.
Since my departure, I have advised other companies on how they, too, can open up their workforces to the myriad talents of people with disabilities. As an associate of Business Disability Forum and Business Disability International, I have taken the message to the likes of Microsoft, EY and BA. If you’d asked me back in 1989 whether I would immerse myself in the world of disability, I’d have given you very short shrift.