The National Association of Disabled Staff Networks

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The National Association of Disabled Staff Networks (NADSN) is a super-network with a mission to connect and represent disabled staff networks, particularly in the tertiary education sector (i.e. universities and colleges) in the UK.

We are open to any individual and organisation interested in the equality of disabled staff, and we act as a collective platform to share experiences and good practice and examine challenges and opportunities. We are an unincorporated association, non-governmental, independent and self-determining, made up of impassioned people.

This is how NADSN started …

The University of Manchester’s Disabled Staff Network, co-chaired by Dr Hamied Haroon (a Research Scientist) and Mrs Melanie Sharpe (a Training Professional), organised a ground-breaking one-day national conference for and about disabled staff called “What Are We Hiding?”! The conference was held on Friday 6th June 2014 on the University’s main campus and attracted over 100 attendees from all over the country. The conference focussed on the experiences of disabled people with “hidden” impairments working at higher education institutions (HEIs) across the UK, and the “hidden” contribution that disabled people make to the nation’s economy. This event was a great success and demonstrated the power of bringing disabled colleagues together and finding out that we’re not alone in the challenges we face.

At this conference, Hamied co-led a session on “Disabled Staff Networks”, during which he presented his initial proposals for a national super-network/association of disabled staff networks. Everyone in the session was very supportive about the proposals, and so NADSN was launched!

Hamied soon formed a Founding Steering Group made up of 31 leading disabled colleagues from a variety of organisations in the UK, who were fundamental in bringing NADSN to life and making invaluable connections.

And now …

NADSN is led by a Steering Committee, elected in December 2016, which includes a network of Regional Leads. We currently have 170 members at 83 different organisations across the UK and abroad, including 51 universities in the UK. Our members are a mix of academics, research and teaching staff, managers, administrators, specialists and professionals, representing a wide range of disciplines and sectors. Our members either identify themselves as being disabled or having a long-term health condition or have an active interest in disability equality. We never ask any of our members which they are.

We have very close links with PurpleSpace, the National Association of Disability Practitioners, the Equality Challenge Unit, the Business Disability Forum, The Power of Staff Networks, and other organisations.

Our aims and objectives include the following:

  • Promote disability equality and campaign for disabled staff networks to be supported in the workplace;
  • Promote the interests of disabled staff on a national level;
  • Challenge stereotypes by endorsing the Social Model of Disability, promoting a positive image of disabled people and eliminating the deficit/medical model;
  • Organise and deliver accessible events that can bring disabled staff and disability equality allies together;
  • Create regional hubs to make it easier for members to meet each other;
  • Support relevant research projects, policies and guidance for disabled staff, managers, institutions of tertiary education (HEIs and FEIs) and Government agencies;
  • Link with disabled students, particularly at postgraduate and doctoral levels;
  • Create and maintain an internet site with information, resources, documents, blogs and useful links for disabled staff in accessible formats.

We have held an Annual National Conference, since 2015. Our next one will be generously hosted by University College London on Friday 13th July 2018. We are also involved in other events that are relevant to disabled staff networks, such as the National Day for Staff Networks.

In addition, we share resources/literature (authored by NADSN members and others), news and media highlights. We facilitate input during consultations and other information relevant to NADSN members through our mailing list, website and social media channels.

Please visit https://nadsn-uk.org/ for more, and join us!

We asked our Disabled Staff Networks (DSNs) for their answers to the following points …

Why are disabled staff networks important in the workplace?

NADSN members said that DSNs are important in the workplace in helping a disabled person feel less isolated and to access support from other disabled people sharing a common understanding. In addition, networks aim to effect organisational change in the attraction, recruitment and working conditions for disabled people through their active involvement in wider Equality and Diversity Fora.

In 2016, University of the West of England Disabled Staff Network organised a Disability Awareness Month for staff and students with over 50 events; over 400 people across the university were engaged in these activities.

In the experience of NADSN members, networks provide a space for enable groups of disabled people and their allies to creatively develop ideas and solutions and to help organisations be ‘disability smart’.

“DSNs also enable staff the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Therefore, it’s an empowering collective to be part of”.

NADSN networks value the ‘talent, abilities and views’ disabled staff bring from their unique perspectives and together, bring positive changes. Disabled Staff Network achievements are many: one of our networks, the West Yorkshire Police Staff Network, was Highly Commended in the European Staff Network of the Year 2017.

What benefits have you seen as a result? (in the organisation or community)

NADSN members have provided many positive practical examples of network activities illustrating the alignment of disability with strategic planning. As a result, networks have been involved in the establishment of permanent groups set up by organisations tasked with addressing inclusivity across campus. For example, the Disabled Staff Forum at Manchester Metropolitan University said:

“We have an Accessibility Working Group established by Estates in 2012, to monitor and address inclusivity on campus and this objective is aligned with our University’s Equality & Diversity Strategy Implementation Plan 2017-2021. Due to this group, we have a dedicated ‘Access for All’ website featuring floorplans and 3D images of building entrances making sure our University is an inviting, secure and comfortable environment for all.”

Guidance developed by Disabled Staff Networks have changed working practices in recruitment and provided valuable training in Equality and Diversity supporting positive organisational change. Some workplaces offer new disabled employees mentoring to support their career progression. Networks have also produced wellbeing resources for staff, raised awareness in national broadcasting media about routes to employment and provided resources to improve about the implementation of reasonable adjustments in the workplace. This work has been shared spreading good practice and providing positive role model examples.

  • What type of things is your network doing to help build more inclusive organisations?

Proactive networks offer a regular opportunity for disabled employees and their allies to meet, support each other and continue to provide a focus building on achievements and spreading positive examples of inclusiveness. Recent work continues in strengthening the voice of disabled people to create an environment where disabled staff feel confident in speaking up, highlighting positive reasons to ‘disclose’, reviewing and enhancing equipment such as hearing loops and assistive technology so that disability equality becomes a part of everything we do.

NADSN Regional Hubs and Regional Leads will help to develop the network communicating to more organisations in the geographical area and sharing good practice.

“The UWE Bristol Disabled Staff Network have met with the Bristol University Staff Disability Forum and we hope to build on this relationship by sharing local news and events of interest to our staff”.

The journey never ends but along the way are many viewing points where DSNs can look back and see the inclusive landscape they have helped to create.

How are you celebrating the National Day for Staff Networks?

Last year, our Networks took part in the first ever National Day for Staff Networks and celebrated this important occasion in a variety of ways. This year we are planning bigger and better activities!

This day is seen as an opportunity to collaborate with other staff networks across equality strands on tackling intersectional issues as well as a day to celebrate achievements. West Yorkshire Police have created a video with The Power of Staff Networks pledging to change the conversation around staff networks, promote how they can deliver and influence change and make more organisations inclusive.

Written by Dr Hamied Haroon, co-chair, The University of Manchester’s Disabled Staff Network.

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