Disability, Employment, Preparing for Adulthood, SEND

Awards are not that we have made it, but proof that organisations are trying to get better!

By Maya Thomas

Awards, I have found are very marmite – you either love them or you don’t.  But do they convey much more than just winners and possible winners? The recent Disability Smart Awards are a great example of this.  Led by Business Disability Forum, these awards where a celebration of breakthrough, innovation and better best practice in businesses, large and small, when it comes to inclusion in the workplace for those with disabilities.

We arrived at the Locarno Suite at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and found our place at a table with others who were also finalists for various awards. We sat with representatives from the Dubai Police, Bank of England, Vindhya e-infomedia and the Highways Agency – each team with a story of making real change for those with disabilities. Each team representing organisations going well beyond what is a legal requirement or policy minimum.

What I really enjoyed was, that it wasn’t just projects that had won that were given the limelight. Our hosts, including Paralympian, Stef Reid, gave a brief synopsis on each of the finalists before the winner in each category was announced. There were so many people in the room who are being responsive in their focus on workplace inclusion and transforming the life chances for those with disabilities.

Herbal Essences won the Disability-Smart Design Award 2019 for a change in design on their bottles that makes it possible for those who cannot see, to tell the difference between the shampoo and conditioner. To put it simply, there are now indentations on each bottle to differentiate one from the other – such an ingenious and brilliant idea!

Herbal essence

The Dubai Police were finalist for numerous awards, and they won the Disability-Smart Technology for All Award 2019 for creating the World’s first smart police station free from human interaction. The impact of this project is cutting edge for everyone, especially where anonymity is vital. In this case, real barriers to access have been removed.

Towards the end of the evening the hosts did a superb job adlibbing for about 10 minutes, delaying the announcement of the Disability-Smart Workplace Experience Award 2019. There was a hushed entrance and the seating of a late guest, before it was announced that MI5 had won the award! Having gone the extra mile, the award was in recognition of 10 years of “Raising Awareness, Removing Barriers and Fulfilling Potential” in the workplace, particularly for those with disability and ill health.

The stories that where shared that night, where often personal and I enjoyed meeting many wonderful people at the awards. It was inspiring to be in the room with people who are passionate about influencing and transforming the life chances and experience for those with disabilities. And, as a finalist for the Disability-Smart Influencer Award 2019 #TeamADL we were in great company, which was a real honour!

#TeamADL are passionate about bridging the gap between education and employment, giving everybody opportunities to thrive in education, employment and life. If you feel are able to get involved, or if you already have a project that is making a difference in this area, please do get in touch. We love to hear stories of what is already happening out there, and journey with others for greater creative solutions. Better still sign our #SENDcareers Pledge or view our case studies page.

To find out more visit #TeamADL

About Maya Thomas

Maya wears many hats! She is Anita’s part-time PA and also Operations Lead for #TeamADL Her role continues to grow and evolve, as Maya unfurls the many layers her skills and talent.  In her own time, Maya gives to the local community as a SEND Governor and takes an active interest in her children’s schools.

Employment, Learning, Parenting, Preparing for Adulthood, Social work

Reflections: Community Care Social Work Event

By Stephanie Lister

Once registered and inside the Business Design Centre in London, the somewhat subdued queue of social workers, managers and students were invited to attend any of the over thirty different legal sessions, seminars and interactive zones. These covered topics as varied as ‘Coroners Court Mock Inquest’, ‘Engaging Safely and Effectively with Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse’ and ‘Immigration Law and the Children Act: What are the Social Workers’ Responsibilities?’.  So much choice!  In this blog, I share insights from the four sessions I attended.

The first seminar was ‘Getting it Right in Transitions: Goals and Aspirations’ – a topic close to my heart and an area I worked in for over twelve years. I was pleased to see the focus was on the young person and what’s important to them, such as finding and keeping a job, things to do in their spare time, living independently and staying safe and healthy.  The discussions were grounded in the Care Act and adopted a strengths-based approach. Also covered was the need for joined up working with partners and supporting parents as their child moves into adulthood.  Associated positive risk needs to be juxtaposed with ongoing vulnerability.

 ‘Navigating the boundary between the Mental Health Act (1983) and the Mental Capacity Act (2005)’ was the title of my second seminar.  This was a legal learning session designed to broaden understanding of the scope of the two acts, the differences between them and how to decide which regime to follow in different scenarios. This was a relatively new topic for me, as I have limited experience working within the framework of the Mental Health Act, but some experience undertaking Mental Capacity Act assessments for young people over the age of sixteen. I found the topic both challenging and helpful.  It reminded me of a previous case where the young person, diagnosed with high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder had found it increasingly difficult to self-regulate.  This resulted in deteriorating mental health, increasing self-harm, isolation and risk to themselves and family. After much multidisciplinary debate regarding the needs and provision for this young person, a hospital place was found under the Mental Health Act.  They made good recovery and were able to return to supported living in a specialist educational setting. Having a clearer understanding of the Mental Health Act would have helped me advocate more directly in this case.

Stand up for what you believe in, even if you stand alone 

Suzy Kassem

Seminar three was a refresher entitled ‘NHS Continuing Healthcare and the Legal Limits of Local Authority Responsibility’. Continuing healthcare assessments were a regular part of my working life.  My role involved assisting and supporting young people and their parents/carers through the assessment process, balancing the tension between the Care Act 2014 sec 22(1) and the NHS Act, the various budget holders and the often-desperate needs of the family. This seminar highlighted again the need for clear understanding of what is a primary health need, how the characteristics of Intensity, Nature, Complexity and Unpredictability look across the domains of the assessment and how regional variations in assessment can lead to a ‘postcode lottery’ of funding being agreed. It raised the importance of accurate recording of evidence of risk, strengths and unmanaged needs within the framework of the domains outlined in the decision tool.


The final seminar of the day was one based in adult services, but which occurs in families I’ve worked with.  The focus was ‘Trauma-Informed Practice with Adults who Self-Neglect or Hoard.’ The speaker, herself a survivor of trauma resulting in a form of hoarding, gave an insight into the effect of trauma on the brain, the way life events are then experienced through that lens or trigger and its effect on attachment. We were encouraged to recall three objects that were of sentimental value to us.  We were then instructed to keep one, recycle one and throw one away. We then had to recognise the emotions and physical responses we felt.  This simple activity was a helpful insight into the distress experienced by people when the outward signs are addressed, but not the healing of the trauma. A question was raised about how would a person’s executive function affect the outcome of, for example, a Mental Capacity Act assessment? as often those affected can ‘talk the talk’ i.e. tell the assessor the steps needed to carry out tasks, but are unable to ‘walk the walk’ i.e. actually carry out those tasks.  It was suggested treatment pathways that can be helpful such talking therapies, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Dual Task Therapy.

It was interesting to note that by the end of the day the attendees appeared more upbeat and re-energised and there was a definite buzz of enthusiasm. This was also something I noted in myself as although the day had been full on and exhausting, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and value.

Social work Seus

About Stephanie Lister

Stephanie has nineteen years’ experience as a Nursery Nurse working with children, who have special educational need and/or a disability (SEND).   With a desire to do more and advocate for individuals and families, Stephanie retrained in social work and subsequently dedicated twelve years to working in a local authority with a broad remit covering Children with Disabilities and Transitions into adulthood. Stephanie is a valued member of #TeamADL where she continues to advocate and find solutions in a social care context.

To find out more visit the #TeamADL website

Employment, Preparing for Adulthood, SEND

‘She can’t get a job’, they said!

By Anita Devi

In this blog, I aim to introduce you to three young people, who have disabilities and have much to offer the world as adults, if we just look at things a bit differently!

NB: Whilst, the names of individuals involved have been changed, their stories remain true.

#1 Meet Sonia (pseudonym):

Sonia can type, Sonia has qualifications, Sonia is bright and has an agile mind.

‘She can’t get a job,’ they said.

Sonia types with her feet, she has cerebral palsy.  Sonia is digitally literate. She has a Level 2 qualification and is about to leave college. She able to undertake a desk job; if only someone would give her an opportunity and the encouragement to try.

I spoke to some employers and entrepreneurs about Sonia as a hypothetical case study. My questions were:

  • What would you want to see on Sonia’s application / CV?
  • What reasonable adjustments would you implement at recruitment, interview & induction stage to include her?

Responses included:

  • If someone has that sort of drive to overcome an adapt in such a big way makes me want them on my team right away.
  • Wow! I personally would think what a wonderful addition to the team.
  • Being adaptive to the needs of disability isn’t always straight forward but once you have a workflow that fits in place it works just fine.
  • I would like to see all the good stuff they can do to add value to the team first and foremost. Then something honest about any issues they might have/special requirements. And then perhaps something about how they’ve dealt with the challenges life has thrown at them and it’s made them extra valuable (something positive, but not too long and drawn out).
  • I personally would be in awe and would want to interview them ASAP, but I know not everyone would think like that.

There were also some concerns raised too:

  • The part that makes me nervous is, what if they were given an interview and were unsuccessful. Would this be perceived as discrimination?
  • We would need to think about how we broach the subject of time off for medical appointments etc. Of course, they need to go, and we would do our best to adapt. However, it is something we would need to consider.
  • We would need to research how we could access on-going specialist input to train our other team members, to support them too?

A final point made the employers / entrepreneurs in this dialogue:

“Great questions, really got us thinking …”

#2 Meet Sam (pseudonym):

Sam can’t speak, he can’t read either.  Sam needs routine.

“Let’s see what you can do”, they said.

Sam now works one day a week, in a company as a Secure Information Officer.  What he does is shred highly sensitive papers.  The work is routine, and highly valuable to the employer.  Sam feels part of the team.  He enjoys going into work. It is the highlight of his week and he has found ways to communicate with colleagues.  Annually, he attends a work social.  Being there, with other matters to Sam.

#3 Meet Alpha (pseudonym):

Alpha is at college.  He has dyspraxia.  He almost didn’t make it to college!

This is what his mother had to say,

When Alpha was in primary and secondary school, I put so much pressure on him to do his mobility exercises.  I gave up work, just to make sure I could be with him.  I also wanted the school to provide a lot of different support interventions and resources in place.  This just made Alpha switch off.  He resented school.  I thought it was because they weren’t helping him, or he found it hard.  It wasn’t – he wanted me to give him space to find his own answers.  When I stepped back, which wasn’t easy.  When I stepped back, and let Alpha say more about what he wanted or what helped him, he improved.  Our relationship and the stress at home also got better.  To be honest, I felt a bit redundant.  Every mum just wants to protect their child.  More so, when they have special needs or a disability.  But sometimes, you have to let go and like the saying goes, less is more!  He didn’t need every intervention, just the things that supported him most.  I had to learn to listen and not always put forward what I thought he needed.  He was hard.

I didn’t think Alpha would ever go to work, but I do now.  He can solve problems.  It takes him time … but he finds his way, if I give him space.”

Three very different scenarios.  Preparing for Adulthood is a major part of the SEND Reforms in England (2011-2018).   However, we have a long way to making this a reality.  We all have a part to play in changing perceptions, asking the right questions, creating opportunities and giving young people the space to flourish, for themselves and by themselves.

#TeamADL are keen for young people and adults with disabilities to thrive. This is why we are working with a range of stakeholders to change and improve opportunities.  It is not an easy journey and the #SENDcareers project, together with our Wiki Succeed digital advocacy access tool and multi-agency response team are still in the early stages of development.  We, however, have BiG dreams!  Our drive is to create and build sustainable inclusion.  So, this is our question to you: How will you journey with us?

Do get in touch to find out how you can get involved … there is scope for everyone to contribute and make a difference.

Further reading: SEND Gatsby Benchmark Toolkit (2018)

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com

Employment, Purpose, SEND

What’s your story?

By Anita Devi

This week (4th – 8 March 2019) brings together four main events:

It is therefore, not by chance six months ago when we started planning our first #SENDcareers event, we chose this week.  The World Health Organisation with The World Bank published the first ‘World Disability Report’ in 2011.  At the time, it stated about 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, of whom 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning.  It is important to remember, these are only the cases that are known.  A colleague working in assistive technology, recently shared with me, given a rise in the retirement age, this number is much higher.

In the Foreword of the World Disability Report (2011), Professsor Stephen W. Hawking, shared the following:

Disability need not be an obstacle to success. I have had motor neurone disease for practically all my adult life. Yet it has not prevented me from having a prominent career in astrophysics and a happy family life. Reading the World report on disability, I find much of relevance to my own experience. I have benefited from access to first class medical care. I rely on a team of personal assistants who make it possible for me to live and work in comfort and dignity. My house and my workplace have been made accessible for me. Computer experts have supported me with an assisted communication system and a speech synthesizer which allow me to compose lectures and papers, and to communicate with different audiences.

So why does the #SENDcareers project matter to #TeamADL?

Our overall mission is about:

Strengthening Localities

Within this, though we recognise a wide range of vulnerabilities that need addressing.  Supporting people with learning difficulties and disabilities into the workplace and sustaining them in such dynamic environments is vital for individuals, families, employers and communities.

Different companies like Microsoft and Apple are developing a number of ‘lifestyle, open access tools to help. We have also come across various organisations working to develop vocational opportunities for those with disabilities.  We commend all these efforts.  However, we believe, there is a need to do more.

We want young people and adults with special educational needs and disabilities:

  • to have a voice
  • to tell their story and define their story going forward
  • to ‘own’ their abilities and future
  • to advocate for themselves, so they can experience independence and choice
  • to be connected and part of a community

To do that, we need to give people a platform to tell their story that is safe, empowering and forward thinking.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with The RIX Media Centre at The University of East London to utilise researched technology to give people with disabilities a voice to tell their story.  We will be sharing more information about this in due course.

For now, here is a statement about the partnership:

TeamADL RIX Partnership

… and pictures of us working with Ajay Choksi, Wiki Master at RIX.  One of Ajay’s goals this year is to travel by himself to an unknown place, using public transport.  He has used the wiki to communicate his goal, his plan, what it would look like and celebrate success.  This is part of his story.  Regardless of what profession we are in, isn’t this what we do every year?  As part of his wider travel plan, Ajay wanted to learn to drive.  He plots his full journey of taking both the theory and practical test, through his wiki.  Another story part to his life.  By weaving all these sub-stories together, we develop an understanding of Ajay’s life … and his story.

Ajay at RIX

Stories are powerful.  They embrace a beginning, middle and end. This short video I made for UKEd Chat Conference highlights the need for stories to be at the heart of person-centred approaches.  Stories aren’t just about, what has happened, but also what could happen.  They bring to the forefront possibilities.

Recently, I was privileged to visit The Book Trust to review a range of books for secondary special schools.  One genre particularly fascinated me.  In this book, the pupil reads a page and then makes a choice.  The choice determines which page is read next.  Then there is another choice and so the journey continues.  It was great to hear from librarians in special schools how much pupils enjoy these types of books.  The book brings together not just alternative endings, but also different scenarios, journeys and new possibilities each time.  To me, it is such a reflection of life and the choices we need to give young people.

At #TeamADL we do not claim to have all the answers, but we are keen to ask the right questions and explore possibilities and different solutions in partnership with young people, adults, families and employers.

The #SENDcareers Project is relatively young, but we have BIG plans.  So, if you are interested in keeping up to date with developments, do sign up for our termly newsletter.  We will be sharing new solutions and good practice case studies, as part of the editorial.  We will also provide readers with updates on the use of wikis in employment.

Further reading

Can Sam have special educational needs and be more able?

Change my story: ’Facing the abyss’

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com


Preparing for Adulthood, SEND

Change my story: ‘Facing the abyss’

By Cole Andrew

Last month, I was privileged to meet and listen to ‘the story’ of young people’s journey towards adult life from two key perspectives; parents and the young people themselves.  One story was told by parents of young people with learning difficulties and the other by the young people themselves.  This was part of a research project I am involved in.

As a I reflect on my experience as a Head teacher in Special Education, I think particularly about the shared story that most special schools have; namely a focus on developing life skills in readiness for adult life.  Over the years, as a team, we did a lot for the young people in my care.  I’m now at a place, where I want to influence the story beyond the day the young person leaves the secure setting of the school and support the increasing number of youngsters with learning difficulties that are being educated at home (80% increase in home schooling in the last 5 years).

The stories I heard recently have given me a deeper experience of what I felt I knew.  Three key messages resonated with me:

  • Parents / carers have hopes and dreams for their children but struggle to feel truly part of the ‘route mapping’ or even understand what the adult life opportunities might look like.
  • All young people have a story to tell about their education; their views on this can provide invaluable incite to shaping the foci for their education.
  • Many young people and parents struggle to see what lies beyond the day they leave the education system (home or school based).

Hopes and Dreams

Whilst listening to the parents and carers of these youngsters, I was overwhelmed with a sense that everyone shared a similar story. Their initial hopes and dreams for their child had been shattered, when their child was first diagnosed with learning difficulties.  They talked about their shared experience of loss and the bereavement process they had to go through on the way.  As a foster carer and a parent of young people with autism, I could empathise.  I recounted the story analogy ‘Welcome to Holland’ written by a parent of a child with Downs Syndrome.  Our initial expectations may not be met, but we can still find ways for young people to live fulfilling lives as adults.  The overwhelming feeling in the room was the sense of anxiety about the inability to see the opportunities for their children in adult life; a strong sense of ‘facing an abyss.’  What will they do? Where will they live? How will they live? Who will support them when I’m no longer here?

Young People’s Story

The reality of co-production has yet to be realised.  Maybe we were ambitious in our vision or possibly naïve.  However, the bottom line is, there is so much to gain by giving young people and families the space ‘to tell their story’.  A parent (@StarlightMckenz on Twitter) shared her thoughts last December via this blog.

How can the story and journey of these young people be better told?  In the project I am now part of we are particularly interested in hearing/telling the story from the young person’s perspective.  I certainly do not want to suggest I can ‘fix’ the issues raised here single handed.  I simply ask the question; how can we help these amazing young people and their supporters to see a clearer picture beyond the ‘abyss’?  The story needs to have at least a sketched outline for the later chapters.  How can we better ‘co-produce’ the journey and experience of the story for these youngsters?

Beyond the abyss … access to the workforce.

One young man’s story was particularly compelling for me.  He has significant physical impairments requiring full time care and support.  Cognitively, he’s sharp as a razor, putting my aging brain capacity to shame!  His story centred around a heartfelt desire to be valued and give value into the community he lives.  He sustained placement in mainstream education, achieved GCSE outcomes and went to college.  Then he faced ‘the abyss.’  No career opportunities opened, due to complexity of the benefits system, support he needed to live independent life and due to the inaccessibility of the workforce arena.  Year by year his demeaner began to lose its shine, he would smile less and spend long periods of time feeling depressed and frustrated.

The turning point in this young man’s story was meaningful work, even though he is not paid.  This is another issue for debate.  However, his whole demeanor and self esteem has grown exponentially by securing week by week, year by year meaningful and valued contribution in the work place.

#TeamADL are hearing similar stories to this, all too frequently.  In response to this, we are seeking to find tools and opportunities to support and develop young people.  One aspect of our work this year is to develop tools to help them overcome some of the barriers to accessing the workforce community.

Together with Anita Devi, and other collaboration partners, we are pleased to announce our #SENDCareers Event on March 9th, 2019 for young people (16-25 years) and their families /carers.  We will release more information about the day and a sign-up link in the new year.  The event will be held at the Network Rail HQ in Milton Keynes.  We are really excited about this.  This is not an event, where young people are given lots of information, to go away and digest.  Our model is different – it’s about listening and dreaming BIG … together.  It’s about showing young people what’s possible.  It’s about rekindling the hopes and dreams of parents and carers.  The event is FREE to attend.

On the day, we will also be sharing a new tool to help young people take up a vocation and support them through workplace induction and further development into promotion.  It is a tried and tested technology and we will be sharing case studies of how it has transformed the lives of young people with learning disabilities in the work place.

So, for now – save the date … and watch this space! (Details below)

Further reading:

Capturing the Voices of Children in the Education Health and Care Plans: Are We There Yet?

About Cole Andrew:

As a member of #TeamADL, Cole leads on the SEND Careers Project.  His experience as a Special School Headteacher and work across more than three local authorities helps him coach new aspiring special school heads, as well as those more experienced.  Cole also has a keen interest in training Teaching & Transport Assistants.  As a parent of a child with Autism and a foster carer, Cole has a 360 insight into the system.  To find out more visit: https://www.anitadevi.com/team-adl.php

Save the date 9th March 2019