You are part of our history

The last few weeks of my police service bring me into my last Disability History Month in policing and my final quarterly blog for the DPA and Police Superintendents’ Association. The dynamic and challenging nature of our business offers us little time to pause and reflect, but the last few months have included lots of thoughtful conversations with others, prompting me to remember the many experiences during my 29 years in policing, including the last eight doing what I could to influence better disability inclusion and equality.

Countless things have changed and many of them for the better. When I walked through the gates at Sussex Police HQ in December 1993 (yes, the year after internet dial-up was first available in the UK!) domestic abuse without injury was considered to be a private matter, the age of consent for the gay community was 21 years-of-age, and discrimination due to disability was not illegal. As many of you know, I was diagnosed with cancer eighteen years ago and prior to the Disability Act in 1995 it was not unusual for those who shared their cancer diagnosis with their employer, to be sacked on the spot – in history terms this is recent. Thankfully my force was supportive, and I have tried to show my gratitude through the many years of commitment that followed.

Just eight years ago it was not uncommon for key national police communications to list protected characteristics and not include disability. It may not always feel like it, but we have come a long way, with disability (including neurodiversity) featuring more within key discussions and a wider understanding of the benefits that come from supporting diverse abilities – developing talent and capacity by supporting what colleagues can do and often very well, rather than disabling them due to a condition they may have to manage. Building support to sustain capacity will become increasingly important during the particular funding pressures I know policing will experience over the coming years.

The theme for this year’s Disability History Month is Disability, Health and Wellbeing. This offers an opportunity to understand how determined efforts to address ‘ill health and the non-deployable’ can have a perverse impact on those who have acquired lifelong conditions and have much to contribute IF they are provided with the right support and through good leadership. There is also an association between how poor line management support for a member of their team living with a disability and the real risk of them experiencing additional mental health issues – supervisors and managers can choose to find solutions or promote exclusion.

During this forthcoming Disability History Month please also take some time to understand how disability is a lifelong possibility for all and most colleagues, whether they be officers, staff or volunteers, and those individuals are most likely to acquire or receive a diagnosis during their lives as I did, rather than being born with those conditions. Support the diverse abilities you may one day wish others to value in you.

The trust and confidence of all of our communities is essential and key to our legitimacy, so everyone needs to be behind the Police Race Action Plan, which will also benefit disabled black colleagues. I have really enjoyed working with other national network leads for diverse groups to ensure intersectional needs are understood and with suitable support and investment these networks could provide broader support as Business Reference Forums, also advising on the service we offer their diverse communities. I believe that how we value difference within the police service, both in terms of members of protected groups and how others treat them, influences how we then go on to serve diverse communities.

Earlier I mentioned how disability awareness and support is growing and this is thanks to the efforts of many people I cannot name individually as they would fill this page! Whether you have played a positive part in the history of our Associations, in my home force, on a committee, as a senior leader, at the College of Policing, or simply taken the time to be supportively curious and have some challenging conversations, I thank you for your voices, interest and time.

Several people have asked me what I will miss the most and I have always replied, ‘The people’ – so many have been a part in my largely enjoyable time as a police officer. I always did my best for others and for the public; I did not always get it right, but it was always with integrity, a willingness to learn and with the best of intentions. Keep safe, follow your purpose and create a better history for others.

Blog 3 2022: Risking Offence

Welcome to my latest one-page blog which I publish, in the hope they will stimulate thoughts and discussion without taking up too much of your busy time. Please feel free to contribute, challenge and share any comments and ideas about the points raised.

On this occasion I would like to share some pragmatic thoughts and observations about our use of language and the impact this has; how we might respond to that; and how we may explore ways in which we can finally achieve something better for all. This is also respecting the many colleagues I have met at all levels who genuinely care about others, even if they are not always effective or consistent in how they demonstrate it.

The low points in my working week often include the latest examples of what has been said to disabled colleagues who remain committed to serving effectively in a variety of roles despite what they need to manage as their ‘normal’. This week has included further examples of my peer group in other parts of the country referring to those with disabilities as, ‘The sick, the lame and the lazy’ as well as an officer being asked by one if they ‘had soiled themselves?’ due to the way they walk, because of their musculoskeletal condition. This occurs across the country so please do not immediately think of reasons why it would not happen where you work. I have mentioned previously the 2019 NPCC Diversity and Inclusion Survey, delivered by Durham University and revealing amongst other things that 42% of respondents with disabilities had been subjected to ‘incivility’ relating to their condition, during the previous 12 months. Currently there is still no tangible plan to address this, the impact on individuals continues and some continue to leave.

I need to be clear that much of what happens would not necessarily amount to formal misconduct and we should recognise that the challenges and routine exposure to trauma experienced by police officers requires cohesive and familiar police teams to cope with that. Within these there is often humour at the expense of others, but I would never wish to see the loss of good humour and supportive humour I have experienced and enjoyed at its best.

It is worth colleagues considering two things: what they say (the intention may be innocuous) and the impact that may have on the individual. Are they making fun of something that cannot be changed such as a disability, gender, sexual orientation, or other differences – a difference that may have caused challenges and derogatory comments for many years? The recipient smiles or laughs in response but please understand that there is a pressure to do that and beneath that could be a profound effect on their levels of confidence and sense of belonging. Consider how inconsistent this might be with how we feel about them as a valued member of the team when they ask for back up.

Words are sometimes used within teams the equivalent of which would never be tolerated for other protected groups. In June this year the musical artist Lizzo included the word ‘spaz’ in the lyrics for her song GRRRLS. In fairness to her, she responded positively and removed it when objections were raised about its derogatory association those who live with cerebral palsy and other conditions that cause involuntary movements, but the fact remains that some of these terms are still tolerated and regarded as normal in society.

I have mentioned to Chief Officers and others the opportunity of having a ‘Rethink your Banter’ programme or similar, perhaps produced by the College of Policing, that supports police forces to facilitate discussions about differences within teams and the impact of issues I mentioned earlier. This would not be ‘training’, simply time to reflect, speak openly and consider the impact of language and behaviour – a team contract supported by professional and supportive supervisors. Yes, this creates a time demand, however the positive impact on individual wellbeing and performance offers a good return on investment.

Finally, I would like to mention the role and responsibilities of staff associations, including the DPA, and the role we can play in this. Very often senior leaders are wary of having conversations relating to protected differences, due to the perceived risks of ‘getting it wrong’ or causing offence. Some conversations include necessary challenges, but I believe it is essential to support others to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable with what needs to change. In the process of being supportively curious some will get it wrong and how we then respond could encourage or inhibit progress. If we are proportionate in how we react, inform, and give others who are not obviously or routinely offensive permission to get it wrong, we are more likely to achieve the meaningful diversity, equality, and inclusion we seek – through strength in unity and authenticity.

Blog 1 2022: Shaping Better Workplace Cultures

Welcome to my latest one-page blog which I always endeavour to publish every two months, in the hope they will stimulate thoughts and discussion without taking up too much of your busy time. Please feel free to contribute, challenge and share any comments and ideas about the points raised.

There have recently been many discussions about negative police team cultures and it’s not surprising really bearing in mind the number of high profile cases involving the sharing of disgusting images and language via chat apps and other means, as well as the tragic murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer. I know of so many police officers who saw this as the ultimate betrayal of everything we stand for and why we serve. Over the past 28 years I have been proud to work alongside thousands of officers who have shown considerable courage and integrity, frequently in circumstances others would struggle to imagine – I once commented in a local council meeting, ‘They are employed to do, see, hear, feel and smell the things you would rather not’. However, accepting the exceptional policing challenges faced, we can no longer dismiss some of the examples of unacceptable behaviour we have heard as simply workplace ‘banter’ from ‘a few bad apples’. It is a time for us to hold up the mirror to ourselves, reflect honestly and have some uncomfortable conversations in order to build trust and legitimacy going forwards.

I have done that myself and taken the time to speak with female colleagues about their lived experience of ‘everyday sexism’ and I’ve learned so much about what society wrongly accepts as normal. I also reflected on why I have personally witnessed so few examples of discriminatory behaviour within the teams I have been part of or led. Although I would never pretend to be the perfect leader and always determined to develop further, I now understood why: active leadership and recognising workplace culture is not an accidental phenomenon, leaders shape it. Serious forms of misconduct did not arise because signal behaviours were addressed, an example from many years ago being a photo of topless woman being removed from the inside of an officer’s open locker door and a private discussion with him about that; or hearing jokes at another’s expense and having a conversation with them to check how they felt about it. My teams knew how important it was to me that everyone felt part of the team and able to be their true selves – a clear line was drawn.

That said, we gain little from reassuring ourselves that, ‘It may have happened there but it’s different here…’ – we need to acknowledge that pockets of toxicity exist everywhere. Teams must be encouraged to discuss what it is like to be different, informed by members of diverse staff networks and improve their understanding of how harmful derogatory behaviours and language can be. Much has been highlighted recently in relation to racism and misogyny but there has been little activity in response to the 2019 national police survey that revealed that over the previous 12 months 41% of respondents had experienced ‘incivility’ based upon their disability. Therefore, the Disabled Police Association whilst supporting the views of other groups, believes the issue that needs to be addressed is institutional discrimination. It is a great shame that it often takes the tragic death of someone from a protected group before political discomfort prompts the necessary will and resources to make substantial improvements. We need more anti-disablists and we need them now.

Team members have two fundamental needs, to be authentic and to belong. We need to recognise the pattern of behaviours within teams that degrade our cultures – the comment made about another person’s difference – it being shrugged off because the recipient still wants to belong – others now seeing that as acceptable and the originator seeing the laughter as validation and encouragement. As leaders we are responsible for the check-and-balance and what we ignore is what we accept. I know of some disabled colleagues across the UK whose confidence has been quietly crushed over time by such comments.

The police, as with many other organisations is as demanding as it has ever been and we need the decompression provided by good humour within close teams, but it must be supportive. One of the many things that make me most proud to be a police officer is the willingness of colleagues to be there for each other, so let’s have honest conversations about how we can do that better and have more reasons to be proud of who we are.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

Disability History Month 2021: What Lies on the Inside Counts

Welcome to my latest one-page blog which is once again written in the hope that it will generate discussion and awareness of what it is like to live with a range of conditions that fall under the banner of ‘disabilities’, whether they be physical or neurological differences. As always, I appreciate your support and thoughts – please continue these important discussions with others.

As we are coming into Disability History Month, which curiously spans across two months and for four weeks, I was keen to reflect on the national theme for this year ‘Hidden Disabilities’. I have mentioned previously how ‘disability’ is considered by many to be a disempowering term hence it is not surprising that the vast majority of those with relevant conditions choose not to refer to themselves as ‘disabled’. Whichever the term used; I am proud to be part of such a tenacious community.

The usual language now includes ‘hidden’ perhaps suggesting the person who lives with them is not being entirely upfront, therefore needing to ‘declare’ or ‘disclose’ what they live with. “Hang on!” you might say, “that’s being a bit wokey isn’t it?!” No, it is important to understand that so many with disabled conditions do well to manage flare-ups, set-backs and regular pain etc. yet their confidence and willingness to share is influenced by our collective ability to create a psychologically safe place for them to trust that they can live and work as their true selves. Their conditions, like mine, may be less obvious but with enough supportive curiosity we may discover the impact on them – we work in very challenging businesses, so mutual support and respect needs to be everyone’s business – if nothing else, be kind.

With a less visible disability an individual can usually chose whether to share that personal identity with others or not. These are circumstances we share with the LGBT+ community and we know of some disabled officers whose disabilities were ‘outed’ when the fitness test was introduced – thankfully support has improved in some police forces but we still have some way to go. The willingness of others to be open about their true selves is often influenced by ‘nudges’ in our workplaces, for example a team who mock a colleague’s condition (even if it is referred to as ‘banter’) and a supervisor who condones it, is a nudge away from them being willing to share and possibly towards leaving our service ( a retention risk for all protected groups); whereas routinely witnessing support, respect and inclusion for others who are different whilst also seeing derogatory conduct addressed, is an encouraging nudge towards sharing.

We sometimes forget that whatever we invest in our physical and mental fitness, good health is still a privilege that could shift, and our perspectives altered as a result. With a new normal retirement age for police officers being 60 years old the likelihood of acquiring a life changing injury or illness year-on-year increases exponentially – this is worth remembering if we are tempted to feel we are in any way superior to others or resentful, asking ‘Why should they get more’, ‘Why should they do less?’ as workplace adjustments. Answer: because the equity that provides allows them to do so much more despite their differences. Those I respect the most tend to leaders who are genuinely interested in supporting others and they might be surprised to know how often it is noticed by their team members…it also leads to more discretionary effort!

We need to remember that we are all different, however some minority groups are more vulnerable to discrimination, exclusion and even persecution. It is often forgotten that around 250,000 disabled people were murdered by the Nazis because they were deemed to be ‘unworthy of life’. Some concerning conscious and unconscious attitudes remain and whilst accepting the differences in agenda, there has been a distinct lack of national concern and media coverage of the disproportionate impact on disabled people during this pandemic – their lives are worthy.

Let’s not allow this Disability History Month to be the poor relation of other history months as it has been across the UK in previous years – please take the time to talk to others about life with different conditions, supporting and celebrating the many diverse abilities they have, as had many famous successful figures in history with disabilities, rather than the usual focus on what they are less able to do. My plea and challenge to the senior leaders of our national public services and private companies is to please shine a light on the 11 million disabled people in the UK who work for them, spend with them and count on them – lets not leave them in the shadows again during these special weeks or indeed the months to come

Blog 3 2021 – Daring to Share

Welcome to the third of my bimonthly one page blogs of this year which I publish in the hope they will stimulate thoughts and discussion without taking up too much of your busy time. Please feel free to contribute, challenge and share any comments and ideas about the points raised.

For those of you who were not aware, I had a sudden and unexpected diagnosis of stomach cancer following a routine stomach ulcer biopsy which as a dad of three children under seven and in his thirties felt catastrophic at that time. Although the survival rates for that form of cancer were not good it had not spread and I was otherwise fit, so strong enough to endure successfully the six cycles of chemotherapy I started this month in 2004 and eventually, the complete removal of my stomach.

The publication of the Five Trust Tests by PurpleSpace and the start of the Safe to Say campaign has caused me to reflect on the start of my disability journey seventeen years ago and the dichotomy I experienced as a police officer living with his ‘new normal’, wishing to fit in yet needing to adapt to a different life alongside the other 86% of those with disabilities who acquire their condition during their lifetime.

After a year of treatment and recovery I was able to return to work on light duties to the service I loved. I was lucky in that I did not require further medical treatment other than a quarterly injection for the rest of my life, but of course I still had to learn to adapt to the change in my body. To be honest it took around two years to get used to new ways of eating and drinking (a sandwich feels like it used to after a Sunday roast!) but it took around a further three years to work through the impact of what had happened, the new doubts about the future and mourning the physical loss of part of me. A digestive system with less capacity and efficiency combined with less stored energy inevitably leads to increased fatigue as well as constant borderline anaemia and dehydration. Unsurprisingly this can really affect my levels of concentration at times as well as other ways in which I think or speak, but I did not refer to myself as being ‘disabled’.

No one would have guessed from looking at me that I was disabled according to the Equality Act, and as with the many thousands of others with less-visible conditions (we do not ‘hide’ them) we want to fit in and ‘belong’ whilst being afforded compassion and support in order to thrive at work. My home force has come such a long way from then when disability was almost exclusively associated with illness and the potential for absence. I returned to work and a meeting with occupational health was only to agree my phased return to work plan with no discussion about how my life had changed. At times I was mocked when I needed to eat in long meetings and on the occasions when I started to experience crippling cramps around my back and abdomen I would pretend I was leaving to make an urgent call so I could pace an empty office somewhere for 45 minutes waiting for the pain to ease. One of the most disabling circumstances we experience is not feeling able to go to work as our authentic selves. I was lucky that a few individuals believed in me and encouraged me to become an active operational commander even during the many moments I continued to doubt my credibility and resilience…and still occasionally do.

At that time the force had an identified ‘Disability Champion’ whose primary interest was disability in the community and there was minimal knowledge or interest in ‘reasonable adjustments’ so I knew that being open as being ‘disabled’ could change how I might be perceived and treated – accepting that I hated that label and believed it could affect my future career, I needed to work as my true self. I also wished to play an active part in supporting others who had diverse abilities yet restricted by others who were distracted by what those colleagues were less able to do. This led to me becoming the Chair of our local network and eventually the national lead of our association, which is immense privilege. We have a way to go in terms of disability being valued as much as some other diverse characteristics and in some meetings I still have to push to make our voice heard, feeling at times like I am the wasp at the picnic! However, we are making progress.

The Five Trust Tests should be commended to all organisations and clearly sets out what it takes to secure the confidence of their staff , including active support for staff networks, so those who are mentally or physically different can dare to share their identity of living (not necessarily suffering) with those conditions (not necessarily illnesses). It takes more than identified champions, policies and campaigns to achieve that and forces will benefit from being seen to ‘walk the talk’ before those staff trust there is a psychologically safe environment within which they can bring their true selves to work and be supported to fulfil their potential. We have the opportunity to ensure others are now supported and included and I will certainly continue to play my part by laying a path for others.

Blog 2 2021 – Fit to Serve

Welcome to the second of my bimonthly one page blogs of this year which I publish in the hope they will stimulate thoughts and discussion without taking up too much of your busy time. Please feel free to contribute, challenge and share any comments and ideas about the points raised.

This time I will share some of my thoughts on the police fitness test, fitness in general and our service commitment to staff wellbeing. This has been the subject of much debate recently including the #WeCops discussion and the important gender perspectives raised by Team #BleepKind on Twitter. During my 27 years of police service I have experienced many positive changes, including the greater awareness and support for wellbeing at a local level and through Oscar Kilo. For many years prior to the introduction of the Job-Related Fitness Test (JRFT) and the Alternative Job-Related Fitness Test (AJRFT) the vast majority of police officers maintained their physical fitness through professional pride, however many including myself had not previously considered the importance of investing in our mental health.

In brief, the JRFT was introduced several years ago as a result of a national review. Anecdotal evidence from some Police Chiefs suggested that some forces were struggling to deliver operational policing due to a critical number of their officers not being ‘fully deployable’. It is incredibly important for the police service to be able to discharge its response and mobilisation responsibilities and I do not in any way suggest that a number of officers should be able to chase and restrain, particularly when they join, but I suggest we need to define accurately the actual deployable capacity required. I do not believe a comprehensive equality impact assessment was completed before these substantial changes to Police Regulations were enacted, as it would have identified the significant and disproportionate impact on those from certain protected groups, including those with long-term conditions that result in a substantial impact on their day-today-lives (disabilities).

The JRFT is a shuttle run between measured distances, requiring the individual to reach each line and turn back in time with an audible bleep which repeats sooner over time. The AJRFT provides the alternative of a treadmill which increases in gradient. There is a lot of technical information relating to the testing of the individual’s oxygen capacity and efficiency which I do not have the space to explain here, but officers are required to reach different levels and duration according to their general or specialist roles. All officers are required to pass the test once a year and if they fail several times they have previously faced the prospect of misconduct procedures or more recently Unsatisfactory Performance Procedures (UPP). Although not enforced to date this also permits a force to remove an ‘x factor’ or what is claimed to be an operational element (8%) of an officer’s salary and even exit them from the service under ‘capability dismissal’.

JRFT guidelines actually define the purpose of the test as being a Health and Safety requirement prior to taking part in Police Safety Training, which is the same core package for every officer irrespective of role – we need to consider how proportionate and necessary that is. The test is usually taken on the beginning of day one of the training and the consequences as a result of failure varies greatly across 43 forces. Some allow participation in First Aid training to continue, many send the officer away and others allow a senior officer to assess the specific circumstances of that individual, including any disabilities. Officers who have not shared previously details of their less obvious disability due to being fearful of how they might be treated if they did, have been ‘outed’ by the test and removed from operational duties even though they may be well-respected and effective members of their response teams. Some forces such as my home force have become more measured and supportive in their response to this, including considering reasonable adjustments – others have not.

I am very fortunate in that following the start of my life with a disability in 2005 I have always been able to pass the JRFT since its introduction, however the test is not the motivator for myself and most others to maintain a good standard of fitness. The focus has become the test rather than the importance of being as physically and mentally fit as we can be and in the interests of personal wellbeing. A considerable number of otherwise resilient individuals suffer a disproportionate level of stress caused by having to take the test on the day and these peculiar circumstances sometimes contribute to poor mental health. Now is the ideal opportunity to have a mature conversation about the test, including how our future workforce now has a thirty-five-year career and a normal retirement age of sixty, with an even higher probability over time that officers will experience a life-changing injury or illness, as I did. We can still promote fitness and wellbeing whilst ensuring those who can never pass these specific tests are still able to serve their communities with all their experience and many other abilities, I know the public still values.

If we truly value difference there needs to be equity as well as equality, breaking free of some fears and assumptions that those who serve with pride might default to the lowest standards of fitness or ‘try to have the job over’ should the focus shift from testing, to personal continuing professional health development and well-being.

Blog 1 2021: Staff Networks – Advocates or Antagonists?

Welcome to the first of my one page blogs this year which I have been publishing every two months, in the hope they will stimulate thoughts and discussion without taking up too much of your busy time. Please feel free to contribute, challenge and share any comments and ideas about the points raised.

I suppose it would be helpful to first explain what first prompted me to become involved in my local disability staff network around seven years ago and I suspect my circumstances and motivations will mirror those of others. Like many, I had not considered myself to be ‘disabled’ because that label appeared to ignore everything else I was able to do and on the whole I was able to manage the more challenging days myself – much easier to do I might add for those in more senior positions who have greater flexibility around how we work. That said, being open about my challenges and seeking some reasonable support was liberating and I was keen to work with others with similar lived experiences, to dispel misconceptions and improve equality and inclusion for disabled colleagues, as disability had been historically side-lined as a characteristic. I was lucky to lead our network within a supportive and progressive police force and proud that it has now grown to include in excess of 1000 members.

There is occasionally some confusion regarding the role of staff networks compared to the Police Federation, Police Superintendents Association and the unions representing police staff. The statutory associations perform important official functions on behalf of their members, including providing legal representation and it is indeed a sad statistic that around 45% of the recent employment tribunals at which the Police Federation have supported police officers relate to claims of disability discrimination. Our diverse staff networks are made up of volunteers with lived experience of having protected characteristics and a source of invaluable and informed information to support the retention, recruitment and development of the diverse workforce our service needs.

Unfortunately there is no consistent funding or support for these volunteers meaning the time they are afforded to do this important work and the resources available to them depends on what is negotiable within 43 different police forces. If I had not been granted half of each week by my force to support me as a national lead it would have been impossible for me to do it. Unfortunately there are also real inconsistencies in terms of how much support with time and funds is offered to some national protected groups, compared with others and whilst recognising the financial pressures on policing remain consistently high, valuing difference is also consistently referred to as a priority? It is interesting that some Governments have decided to fund their national police association positions, understanding the value those who are also members of their communities could have in informing how those communities are served by their police.

There are occasions when I believe some leaders perceive staff networks to be a barrier, yet in my experience they are usually keen to be part of the solution. Only this week a force taking part in a national programme chose not to accept a local offer of advice and support, before going on to include incorrect information on a slide which caused avoidable offence. I would argue that one of the reasons some previous diversity strategies did not result in real change was due to insufficient engagement with our diverse networks, to ensure informed delivery plans delivered tangible improvements. As a police service we are fully invested in Independent Advisory Groups to shape how we serve our communities and yet we often choose not to adequately support or invest in the diverse knowledge within our service. This needs to change as the pressures on network volunteers has become intolerable in recent years and particularly some of those with disabilities who are becoming increasingly exhausted and having to step down in the face of multiple, conflicting pressures.

The Diversity Equality and Inclusion in Policing Survey Report, published last August by Durham University revealed some shocking findings. These included 41.8% of officers having been subjected to derogatory comments from colleagues regarding their disability; and 29.6% having experienced jokes about their disability. We need the senior leaders of all 43 forces and Police Chiefs Council to stand with us, agree that is wrong and share our determination to make things better by providing suitable and consistent support to the staff groups representing the statutory protected identities – we are neither antagonistic nor apologetic, we simply want to be part of the change we wish to see in our service.

Blog 3 2020: Disability History Month – The Value of Diversability

Welcome to the third of my bi-monthly one page blogs this year and thank you for the support you offer, even if that is simply a desire to know more. The timing for this could not be better as we are now into Disability History Month which runs between the 18th of November and 18th of December.

This is the time for the pride enjoyed by other groups during their own history months, when they celebrate their identity, difference, rich heritage, and some of the freedoms they have finally secured. Disability should be celebrated and championed with equal fanfare, as those I know who live with those conditions tend to be incredible problem-solvers and resilient achievers in so many ways due to their coping routines and ‘work arounds’. Our routines typically include tough days (over and above someone’s typical) and better days, bouncing back on each occasion to crack on with what needs to be done. This demonstrates why, if a disabled colleague requests support from you, they really need it! We also need to recognise why the term ‘disabled’ is not an easy one to shout out with enthusiasm as it focuses on what we are unable to do rather than all that we are able to do. Terms such as ‘diversability’ and ‘differentability’ truly reflect what those with disabilities or live with neurodiversity have to offer our society and our service. Unfortunately, the Equality Act, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act, will always bring us back to that familiar term.

It is incredible that it is only 25 years since the Disability Discrimination Act was enacted – let’s pause and reflect on that – only 25 years since it became illegal to discriminate based upon an individual’s long-term, life affecting difference. Unfortunately I believe there are many occasions when ‘disability’ disproportionately evokes stereotypes of the ill or old; and for those of working age, work-avoidance or absence – this influences how policies are written; support offered; and opportunities for inclusion and progression provided. Only the other day I heard a news journalist refer to a disabled person living with a ‘disease’ when they were simply endeavouring to have the best possible life, living with a condition that was part of who they were since birth. ‘Suffers with’ is another regular association – they rarely do, but they often do suffer from intolerance and exclusion. Imperfections are not inadequacies – ‘normal’ is nonsense and on that note the film industry needs to stop associating non-typical physical features as a source of fear.

The theme for Disability History Month this year is Access, which is likely to prompt thoughts of wheelchairs, an image typically associated with disability and although around half of disabled persons have mobility challenges, the access issues are far wider in terms of opportunity. I believe the police service has reached one of the most important points in its history when we need to consider how much we value disability within the service, particularly disabled officers. Only around 17% of disabled persons are born with their disability, so with a new normal retirement age of 60 we can expect an increase in the total number of those who experience a life-changing illness or injury. Our service can chose to ‘exit’ those individuals along with the abilities and experience they have amassed, or support them as representatives of a community we serve. Other protected groups are campaigning for better advancement, representation, and equality – we desperately strive for retention. Of course the service needs some fully-operational number of officers to ‘chase and restrain’ or fulfil other mobilisation commitments, but how many roles genuinely, routinely and typically require that? We also need to understand that disabled candidates should be encouraged to apply to join, to increase difference within the service, if they meet the entry requirements which includes the fitness test.

History is filled with disabled achievers (oxymoron?), including Albert Einstein whose condition prevented him from speaking until he was 3-years-old; and Horatio Nelson – my shorter and more famous namesake! We sometimes forget that we continue to write history, so let’s fill it with fairness and inclusion – we can support and unlock diversability talent as well as all of the discretionary effort that comes with that.

Blog 2 – Individuality and Belonging

Welcome to the second of my one page blogs I am publishing every two months, in the hope they will stimulate thoughts and discussion without taking up too much of your busy time. Please feel free to contribute, challenge and share any comments and ideas about the points raised – I do not profess to be an expert and every day is a ‘school day’ for me!
On this occasion I am going to share some thoughts about language and categorisation and the impact on individuals. Even the term ‘Disabled’ feels like a millstone around the neck due to the intimation we are defined in some way as deactivated or largely incapable, when in fact those with disabilities usually have a multitude of other skills, talent and experience as well as incredible resilience as a result of the conditions, fatigue or pain they have to manage on a daily basis. This, as well as the fear of being treated differently or excluded, is why many with those conditions that have a long-term substantial effect on their daily living (Equality Act definition), feel reluctant to discuss this identity with others. Other terms such as ‘neurodiverse’ or ‘impairment’ go some way to avoiding the ‘disability’ stigma – nevertheless the Act affords essential protection, particularly for the only protected group whose members have to prove their identity before they are allowed to belong.

The clustering of diverse groups occurs in an attempt to better manage and understand the characteristics and needs of protected communities in general terms. Disability for example covers a broad ranges of conditions, but then the impact of a permanent injury or condition on each individual often varies greatly. Other groups face similar clustering such as ‘BAME’ which does little to reflect the vast range of cultures, colours, religions and heritage within those communities; or ‘LGBT+’ for which the powerful rainbow image coveys so much in terms of many different sexual orientations. The same spectrum of identities is true for other groups and we must never lose sight of the individuals behind the labels who deserve our support and protection. This week there was another helpful and interesting debate on Twitter about intersectionality, facilitated by @WeCops which I recommend you read – valuing difference has to mean valuing individual difference for it to offer true value.

Does this mean that diversity, equality and inclusion for individuals is too complex and intractable to support? Not at all, if we recognise that ‘normal’ is entirely subjective and it takes genuine curiosity and interest to allow meaningful support and empathy towards those different to us. Strategies are important but must rely on those with lived experience to inform plans that are more likely to result in lasting improvements. Moreover they have to be confident that those plans will be implemented consistently, without being stymied by politics and regardless of where they work or live. Staff networks offer that lived experience and free advice – the members may be outspoken at times and sceptical following many years of outrage and frustration, but they are highly committed to supporting change for the better and those who genuinely seek it (we know and value many of them).

We all have a common need in that we wish to be recognised as individuals whilst being given every opportunity to belong. This includes those who are not considered to be part of a ‘minority group’ and real risks arise from using derogatory language such as ‘just white middle-aged men’ or ‘male, stale and pale’ (I could add ‘agile’ but I won’t!) – They need to know they are valued and we need their support whilst informing them of real examples of discrimination, exclusion and inequality others suffer because of their difference. We also need to recognise it is easy to make assumptions as not all differences are obvious; and the most pressing needs may not relate to someone’s visible difference. I believe an overwhelming majority of individuals at all levels want to do the right thing and should not be swayed by the risk of being labelled ‘politically correct’, ‘Virtue Signaller’ or ‘Woke’ in the negative sense. We must work closer than ever to be the change we want to see and be, the ‘wholehearted people’ Brené Brown once described: with the courage to be imperfect; the compassion to be kind to ourselves and others; and connecting though authenticity, to be who we really are and enable others to confidently and securely say ‘I am enough’.

Blog 1 2020 – Looking forwards…

This is the first one page blog as the president of the Disabled Police Association I will be publishing every two months, in the hope they will stimulate thoughts and discussions without taking up too much of your busy time! Please feel free to contribute, challenge and share any thoughts and ideas you have along the way.

It is an immense privilege for me to lead our association after 8 years of being actively involved in disability issues and after deciding to be open about the permanent impact cancer had on me as a senior-ish (!) police leader, but I have to say that after 27 years of service I have never felt so motivated. Someone once said I sometimes expect the police service to progress faster than it is able to, but I believe it is time the service made real progress in the modern age and I feel it is my responsibility to express some supportive outrage when things need to change. Our association supports tens of thousands of local disabled staff network members, representing them with the benefit of lived experience. We work closely with the unions and statutory staff associations such as the Police Superintendents Association, which has actively sought to support and established the first National Executive Committee disability place in its history; and the Police Federation, which is seeking to establish a disability steering group. Many do not realise that our staff association receives absolutely no national funding and only exists due to committed volunteers who have busy ‘day jobs’ and have their own conditions to manage, which often include associated fatigue. Any committee time we have is negotiated locally and thankfully, Chief Constable Jo Shiner in Sussex is allowing me as the national lead to spend half of my week supporting the association committee and members with this important work – it would have otherwise been impossible.

The Covid-19 crisis has caused many of us to pause and reflect on our priorities and attitudes, not least the inequalities faced by BAME communities and the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on them. This includes some of our members and it is all too easy to forget intersectionality while our diverse groups strive to highlight our particular needs and challenges. Individuals have specific needs that are sometimes blended across several groups but this should never be perceived as complexity or an excuse not to support – just ask each of them what they need most to thrive. Quite rightly the impact of the pandemic on BAME communities has been widely commented upon by Government and police chiefs, however there has been considerable silence with respect to the impact on those who live with disabilities. As an association we have done what we could to support and highlights concerns, particularly the consequential impact in public on those who live with sensory or cognitive challenges. Without clear national support and direction from the National Police Chiefs Council forces are often tempted to use attendance policies as a tool for managing disability and some have even continued to hold half-pay/no pay hearings during the crisis.

I hear much about the importance of valuing difference and I do believe a majority of colleagues at all levels genuinely desire that, however without a comprehensive national diversity, equality and inclusion strategy within which all protected groups can recognise their needs, and associated action plans that drive discernible improvements, it is particularly difficult to feel optimistic for the future of disability in policing – where is it valued in national plans, particularly in relation to officers? If they are safe to be proud of that identity and supported with their challenges, the service will unlock all of the capacity available through the many other skills, experience and abilities their colleagues possess.

The DPA seeks to be part of the solution and work with a dedicated NPCC lead for disability to find a way for disabled colleagues who often fear for their job security or how they would be perceived if they shared the disabled identity they should be proud of – I hope that might happen soon.