One of the most enthusiastic and visible supporters of the Government’s Disability Conﬁdent scheme is broadcaster Channel 4. The scheme encourages businesses to become better at attracting, recruiting and employing disabled people. Last September Channel 4 became the ﬁrst media company to achieve the status of Disability Conﬁdent Leader. Disability Conﬁdent is just one expression of Channel 4’s commitment to diversity. We spoke with Channel 4 employees, Toby King and Corie Brown to ﬁnd out more about the support they’ve been able to utilize in their work.
We started by talking with Toby…
Can we talk a little bit about your disability and how it affects you at work?
I’m autistic and I have Asperger syndrome. For me it’s mostly about how I process things. I struggle with very crowded or very loud spaces and I can take things quite literally, but there are positives: I’m very good at holding data in my head and I’m very good at processing things quickly and things like that, so it’s a mixed blessing.
Surely Channel 4 is a very ‘loud’ space. How have you adapted to that challenge?
For me it was about being open with my employer about what I needed. My ﬁrst job, when I left university, was working in a sales company and I didn’t feel comfortable telling them that I was disabled, which meant that neither of us could make any adjustments. When I came to Channel 4, straight off the bat I let them know. I’ve had two managers here and both have been incredibly receptive and we’ve worked together to ﬁnd the best way for me to produce the best work possible.
You’re part of the communications team but you mentioned earlier about taking things literally or perhaps ‘the wrong way’…
You can look at autism and say that autistic people tend to not be as good at communicating or expressing themselves, or they have this outdated idea of ‘no internal life’ for autistic people but actually I’ve found, working alongside and with autistic people (in previous jobs), that they are very creative. In communications you have to be very creative and understanding and come up with ideas for how to pitch something. At the same time, you need to have a very admin focused brain, you have to be able to process a lot of different requirements quite quickly, a lot of data, you have to keep things in your head, which are all things that autistic people can ﬂourish at.
In order to get the best out of any disabled person, it’s about talking to them and ﬁnding out what is going to best help them. They can turn out incredible work, with a very different perspective that another person may not have thought of.
What advice would you give to a disabled person who is either currently in work or looking for work? How do you have that conversation?
The best advice I ever got from the National Autistic Society (where I worked previously,) was to be open from the start. So, for me, in my application, they asked: ‘Do you consider yourself disabled and how so?’ That’s when I put it down. As they said to me: why would you want to work for somebody that doesn’t want to hire disabled people?
It’s also about being clear about your strengths and weaknesses: so knowing how you will get the best work done – coming to your line manager and saying, this is who I am and that means that I struggle with these things but I’m very good at these things, and then encouraging a kind of joint perspective on it; saying this is how I think I might work best and asking how can we get to that position together?
Most managers are very receptive to that because, ultimately, you’re bringing them a solution.
Are there any speciﬁc kinds of adaptations or adjustments that Channel 4 have made for you with that conversation in mind?
Yes, absolutely. My team completely understand when I might be going through a stressful period and may need to just go outside for a minute. It’s the little adjustments and just generally making me feel like I can communicate with them. So, for example, because I struggle to know when people want things done, I assume everything has to be done immediately, my team helped me create a system of trafﬁc lights where I can say ‘Give me the trafﬁc light colour to say how urgent it is’. Little
things like that make a big difference and make me feel more conﬁdent.
I love working here. I love my job and I just love working at Channel 4. I feel welcomed, I feel accepted and I’d like to keep advancing here and getting better at my job.
Corie Brown is a continuity announcer who has been working for Channel 4 for 17 years and describes herself as severely sight impaired. During that time she’s seen Channel 4 progress on the ‘journey’ towards disability conﬁdence.
When I started there was no conversation around Access to Work or anything like that, I didn’t even know it existed. So, yes, I’d like to think I’ve been part of that movement that’s kind of pushed us into the more positive kind of status that we’re in now.
What would your advice be to people looking to discuss disability with their employer?
I think you’ve got to ‘own it’ – and be conﬁ dent about having conversations about it. I think I’ve learned that asking for a little bit of help from somebody is absolutely in no way a sign of weakness because it can really just make the path ahead a lot easier to navigate.
For me, the overriding message would be that we’re doing brilliant work but there’s a really, really long way to go and I don’t think we can be complacent. But I think the fact that we are having the conversation now is just a breath of fresh air, it really is. Because ultimately I think people want to be able to bring their ‘whole self’ to work – and not just the edited version that many feel is the most appropriate bit to bring.
Channel 4 Introduces TV Sector Guide On Employing Disabled Talent Employing Disabled Talent – a guide for the TV sector, offers companies in the broadcast sector a range of practical advice on employing disabled people including how to ﬁnd disabled talent, how to make a company more attractive to disabled people and ways to offer support to disabled employees