Reasons to become Disability Confident

In the private sector, it is the norm for employers to create a diverse workplace providing opportunities for everyone to reach their full potential. Yet in the police service and other public sector agencies, when it comes to disability employment, many senior managers haven’t yet realised the organisational benefits that can result from creating such an all-inclusive environment.

18% of the UK’s working age population are disabled – that’s a staggering seven million people. They provide a fabulous talent group full of hard-earned life skills.

Not many people are aware that only 20% of disabled people are born with or develop a disability at an early age. The remaining 80% acquire their difference while they are working, and this places a lot of emphasis on employers to make reasonable adjustments and to consider the needs of their employees. With an ageing population and ever increasing retirement ages there is undoubtedly going to be an increase in health issues. The good news is that the police service has already started to recognise this trend, and we have seen a number of well-being initiatives launched across the UK over the past few years. Keeping people well at work makes good business sense, and that includes providing workplace adjustments for disabled staff. Introducing a healthy workplace environment will encourage loyalty from skilled staff that might otherwise consider leaving the service or transferring to a more understanding Force. Improving well-being will also lead to a reduction in sickness absences.

Our partners in the private sector have shown that employing disabled people can have a really positive impact on the culture and sense of engagement within teams, too. Built-in inclusivity in the company culture can eliminate disability discrimination as difference becomes unnoticed and the norm in the team. There is a lot that the police service can learn from successful businesses: for example, why do we move restricted officers and staff to another role when they become injured or disabled? Why not provide reasonable adjustments to allow them to continue in role doing the job that they very often love? Yes, there are sometimes good reasons why people cannot continue in role, but in many cases the adjustments are not available because of rigid policies or personal views of senior managers. It’s time to think again about resilience, deployment and why only certain people can do things: why historically is it only detectives that are tasked with collecting CCTV evidence and interviewing witnesses after a major incident? Why can’t you be a public order trained officer if you have a prosthetic hand? And why turn down a disabled officer for a position on the robbery squad? These are all cases that we have resolved amicably, but there is a need for much wider consideration of disability within policing.

We need to start by embedding inclusivity in policing culture in the same way that we have done for race, gender and sexuality in the past. Everyone in the police service at all levels needs to “get it” – not just the HR managers and senior ranks – everyone at every level in the organisation. Every manager should be having constructive conversations with their disabled team members about their personal needs; when they do, they will quickly realise that employees with difference can – and want to – do a great deal more than the manager may have assumed. Reasonable adjustments are not just about physical adaptions: flexible working and split shifts can improve productivity and health of the individual. But if practical support is required, it need not be costly to police employers. The Government’s Access To Work scheme is designed to assist disabled employees to undertake a paid role, and there is a huge variety of assistance that can be provided, from workstation adjustments through to support with taxi fares to get to work.

Our disabled colleagues have a great knowledge of their own condition, and are well placed to interact with disabled people in the community, yet we rarely involve our disability networks in local recruitment and retention initiatives, or indeed utilise their life skills to interact with disabled victims of crime. There are great opportunities to improve the service provided to the public if we listen to and involve our own disabled community.

Sadly, in the police service it is standard practice for non-disabled people to make decisions around what is best for disabled people. Think about it: would senior police leaders introduce initiatives aimed at supporting BME officers and staff without consulting and engaging with the BME support networks in the service? Absolutely not – they would have been seeking their counsel and involvement from the outset. But with disability, it’s a different story. In the last 12 months a number of mental health initiatives have been launched aimed at supporting officers and staff in the Service; the first notification that the Disabled Police Association got was when the initiatives were launched. That’s not a moan, but it is an observation about where disability is in policing.

There are some really positive opportunities in policing that, if implemented, will mandate disability inclusion within the Service:

  • Forces should sign up to the Government-led Disability Confident scheme that requires evidence of action taken to support disabled employees and service users. It is an organisational-wide exercise that, if taken seriously, will support a change in culture.
  • The College of Policing should implement mandatory disability awareness programmes that can be escalated to everyone in the business of policing, irrespective of rank or position within the Service.
  • There needs to be a step-change in attitudes towards disability within the police service, and that must be driven by our senior leaders working with disabled people.

If we extend this more widely, those senior leaders must start to think more deeply about disabled people in the community that we serve. By implementing cost-cutting exercises for the public good, are they in real terms alienating some of the most vulnerable people in society? Closing a police station may be a good way of saving money in the short term, but what effect on those people who for reasons of difference cannot drive or communicate other than in person? I’m not suggesting that we should never close police stations, but we need to ensure that whatever public contact is designed to replace that community focal point is fit for purpose. Estates and facilities project managers should carefully consider the allocation of office space, especially where a member of staff has a disability. A recent departmental relocation in a provincial Force placed a wheelchair user at risk of redundancy because their new office was on the second floor without a lift. Yes, an alternative workplace was offered, but what was the real effect on that individual – how did they feel being separated from their colleagues? Positive thinking and advanced consideration of the needs of workforce can prevent such situations occurring in the first place.

If we take accessibility for disabled people to policing services seriously, we ought to consider carefully how we provide engagement opportunities. Many people think that disabled access means providing a ramp and wider doors, but we might also want to consider non-visible disabilities – for example, providing quiet rooms where people with neurodiverse differences can feel more comfortable communicating with the police. If these facilities cannot realistically be provided in an older building, we ought to consider taking our services to the places where they do feel comfortable – which could be at their home or in a welcoming environment shared with a partner agency.

The main point to consider is that everyone is an individual, and when it comes to disability there is no “one size fits all”. But what we absolutely must ensure is that disabled people have a say in what happens to disabled people, irrespective of whether they are service users or employees. Historically, the police service has become much better at engaging with many different groups, but most of them have highlighted that we are missing a big link in failing to engage with those minority groups working as part of the police service. Independent advisory groups are regularly used to assess police contact with minority groups, but it is surprising to find that whilst we are often very considerate in dealing with disabled service users, we are not so good at supporting our own disabled workforce.

In the same way that the private sector recognises the immense spending power of disabled people (an estimated £249 billion in 2016), the police service needs to recognise that it too needs to provide a good service to disabled people. That may mean making reasonable adjustments to make our services more accessible to a much wider group of disabled people – and remember, not all disabilities are visible!

How do we achieve Disability Confidence? How does a police force achieve the right to display the sought after Disability Confident logo? The first port of call is the Government’s own Disability Confident website.

There are many other sources of information but one of the best places to start is with organisations that support disabled people, such as:

It is far from a tick-box exercise, and Forces would do well to engage disabled people in every stage of the assessment exercise. Disabled colleagues and disabled service users can provide immensely valuable insights of their own, and can help us to shape future service provision.

For Disability Confident to have any real impact on the police service, any improvements need to be truly authentic and well-evidenced. The programme has huge potential to make an amazing difference to disabled people interacting with the police in all sorts of ways, but it does need strategic buy-in from national police leaders and those driving police change locally.

Yes, there will be some logistical challenges around making accessibility adjustments for disabled customers or in recruiting and retaining disabled people, but there is a great deal that we can learn from our partners in the private sector who have already travelled that journey.

Yes, there is a fear amongst some managers that they may have no idea how to start to improve the disability agenda in their own organisation, but there is advice and guidance out there, both from the Government and disabled people themselves!

Disability Confident is a an exciting programme that, if implemented correctly, has the potential to achieve a step-change improvement in the relationship between the police service and disability.

 

Robert Gurney
President, Disabled Police Association

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Product review – Ostomy Armour

As far as I am aware there aren’t many of us, but the likelihood is that as time passes, the percentage of us will increase.

Who are we? We often refer to ourselves collectively as ‘ostomates’, a friendly term to describe the one characteristic we all have in common – an ‘ostomy’. Some of us have an ileostomy, some a colostomy and some a urostomy; but whatever our ‘ostomy’ is, we all share something in common – we don’t go to the toilet the same way as everyone else does!

In my case, I have an ileostomy, which means that I have had my colon removed and now I have to permanently wear a bag on my stomach to collect bodily waste (lovingly referred to as a ‘bag for life’). This is not a glamorous subject and certainly not one that I would be asked to speak about as an after dinner speaker. Generally, not many other than poo fascinated five year olds really want to talk to you about it. I don’t blame them. But this is who I am – through no fault of my own. It is the hand that life dealt me, so I have to work with it. In fact, many of the likely causes of a person having to have an ostomy are chronic illness or cancer and so it is certainly not self induced.

When I say that there are not many of us, I refer to policing and more specifically, frontline police officers in the UK. It appears that there aren’t many of us as clearly it is not the type of thing most people talk about when introducing themselves. I have come across a few officers with an ostomy through my DPA duties, or those who are due to have one, but my estimate would be just a handful of people at most per force area. However, I sadly believe that as time passes I will come to learn of many more police officers joining the ranks of the ‘police ostomates’, merely due to the increased prevalence of medical conditions such as bowel cancer, Colitis and Crohn’s disease.

However, being a frontline police officer and having an ostomy is by no means a deal breaker for your policing career, although some ill informed would lead you to believe that it is. There is usually no reason why you cannot perform frontline duties. In fact having an ostomy rarely puts any aspect of your life on hold – provided that you take the right steps to ensure your safety, comfort and confidence. Having a small piece of your ‘insides’ poking through your skin to the outside, is always going to make you a little more vulnerable than others, but we are not in the dark ages anymore – there are a plethora of products out there to protect your stoma, give you confidence and reduce the risk of abdominal hernias. You just need to know where to find them, how to access them and which ones are right for your needs.

I have had the fortune (or misfortune depending on which way you look at it) of not consistently being in a frontline role since my operation to remove my colon in 2013. However, I have performed ad hoc frontline duties since then which have required me to wear some additional form of personal protective equipment (PPE to you officers who like a good acronym).

I suspect that following my operation, when I was signed fit for duties by the force FMA, there weren’t any other officers in my force who were in the same position as me with an ostomy. I think this because other than being told I could return to frontline duties and me stating that I had been given an ostomy guard from my stoma nurse, I wasn’t offered any other advice or guidance and wasn’t required to show them the so called ‘stoma guard’. I am not suggesting they weren’t doing their job properly, just that I suspect they hadn’t previously had to consider the issues of having a frontline officer with an ostomy. This wasn’t a problem for me as I am very independent and so self management comes easily to me.

This part of the story is important, as I don’t want other colleagues to make the same mistake as I. It was only last week (nearly 4 years on) that I mistakenly learned that I actually should have sought authorisation from our Officer safety department to use any additional protective equipment – even if it is for medical purposes. In my mind at the time I considered an ostomy guard to be ‘medical equipment’ so didn’t think to consult the Officer safety department. However, after having met with them, there is now a question as to who else should approve the use of such equipment. The Health and safety department? Occupational health? It would appear that in my force I am trekking through unchartered territory. It is therefore no wonder that I have had officers over recent months coming to me for advice – something I am more than happy to provide.

It is important to acknowledge here that the requirement of such equipment would be classified as a ‘workplace adjustment’, and provided it is ‘reasonable’ to do so (based on factors such as cost and effectiveness), your force should provide this for you as a reasonable adjustment under Equality Act legislation. Therefore, although you may want to select the equipment yourself to suit your needs, this should be done in conjunction with your force to ensure this is provided without any personal expense to you.

Ostomy guards in the UK

When I first returned to frontline duties my stoma nurse very kindly ordered me an ‘ostomy’ guard to wear over my ileostomy whenever there might be a risk of injury or blunt force trauma. As with most ostomy medical products this was provided to me free of charge as part of the medical exemption scheme on prescription costs. As well as a guard I was also given a ‘hernia belt’ to reduce the risk of hernias. It is not just for policing purposes that these products should be used, it also includes physical exercise, lifting, gardening, playing with your 5 year old who accidentally knocks you in the stomach every 5 minutes and….well you get the gist.

The guard I received was a dome shaped, strengthened plastic ‘cup’ (see photo below). Similar to a box that men might wear when playing sports like Cricket, only smaller and round. The cup was hollowed out inside with an opening on one side of the cup to allow waste to drain away into my bag. The cup is held in place by an elasticated band that fits around the waist. The guard was as simple as this. I even read somewhere that during product testing a car was driven over one to test its strength! Presumably it survived the test drive.

The guard would certainly be effective in reducing injury that could be caused by a blow to the stomach area. Luckily, I haven’t had to test this whilst I have been wearing it, but I don’t doubt it would do the job.

However, the guard appears to be an inexpensive product to produce, seemingly made of only one material (other than the waistband) – plastic. The problem here therefore is comfort. I have worn it for an entire 8 hour shift and it was not in the least bit comfortable. The elasticated band dug into my skin, the guard didn’t seem to stay in place and if I was struck in the area of the guard, I can only presume that the lack of padding would make this a more uncomfortable experience than it need be. I also question whether this would actually cause more injury to the area surrounding my stoma than if I wasn’t wearing it all. I haven’t tested it in this way, so couldn’t say for sure.

The hernia belt is an elasticated waistband, designed to hold your stomach muscles in to reduce the risk of developing a hernia. I was given a couple of types of band, one more comfortable than the other, however, when worn over the top of the guard and underneath a shirt and body armour, they can get very hot and uncomfortable indeed. Especially as the band is quite thick, approximately covering a third of my torso area. I have also found that over time with repeated washes (which are necessary daily due to how hot the product makes you), the elastic in the band has started to fray and lose elasticity.

The products are clearly cost effective to produce, but lack considerably in design for the purposes of comfort.

I also wouldn’t recommend these products to people who lack confidence in their appearance or who are self conscious about their stoma. The cup can be quite obvious when worn just under a single layer of clothing. A dome shaped bulge is visible.

All in all, the few times I have worn these products, whilst clearly fulfilling their purpose adequately, I personally do not find them comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time without wanting to take them off. I really don’t find them comfortable to wear as a frontline police officer and that is based only on the handful of occasions that I have actually worn them.

Finding alternatives

I wanted to find a more comfortable product for use on a day to day basis, so I started doing some searches using a popular web browser. All I could find in terms of products manufactured in the UK were simply just other plastic looking guards of slightly different design. I really wanted to find an all in one product, but couldn’t. Everything I found looked very ‘clinical’ rather than ‘everyday functional’.

I then came across some products from the USA, several in fact, which instantly seemed from the pictures to have been designed more as a functional rather than clinical product, which had not only comfort but also style in mind.

Not only was I interested in a product for myself, I also now wanted to solve a bigger problem – how can I help my colleagues across the Country who also need a better product? My first step was to start asking for sample products to review, so I could find a good product advise others of, especially colleagues who had been told by their FMA that they can’t do frontline duties……..ever again.

My aim was to give my colleagues some hope and to educate FMAs using my own personal experiences.

I was bold in my ask but honest in my intentions. I simply emailed companies asking if they would be prepared to send sample products for this very purpose. Surprisingly, even to this day, only one of the ten or so companies I emailed actually replied. Not only did they reply – they replied in 24 hours and within weeks a box full of products to test had done the journey across the Atlantic to arrive at my local sorting office.

The company who replied was Ostomy Armour, run by a lovely US-UK husband and wife duo who have provided fantastic customer service. They are not a large pharmaceutical company, merely two people with some personal experience who designed their own product to fulfil a need. I like the fact that they are not a large pharmaceutical or medical supplies company, because I think it is really important to support smaller businesses, here in the UK and across the world.

I was sent several different items by Ostomy Armour, but for the purposes of this review, I will just be covering the main product – the Ostomy Armour Titanium Max.

Ostomy Armour Titanium Max

It has a name like an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, a front cover like Robocop’s chest plate and a belt buckle named after a deadly snake, so first impressions were that this guard would certainly appeal to police officers who like their clothing and equipment named after rough, rugged, top of the food chain type of things.

Thankfully, the product lives up to it’s first impressions. I have field tested it whilst gardening, playing rough with the kids and even at Jump Street (an indoor trampoline centre). It has passed the test on every single occasion and I often forget that I am even wearing it.

Earlier in the article I described how my current product is not overly discreet when worn underneath tighter fitting clothing due to its shape and size, creating a ‘bulge’ under my shirt. The Titanium Max however, has been designed to be more discreet, with the guard element of the product being flatter and larger in surface area, meaning it is less visible underneath clothing. This instantly provides me greater confidence when compared to my previous product, as I am less conscious about how it looks to others.

The Titanium Max looks more like something you would ‘wear’ as opposed to something you have to ‘use’. If this doesn’t make sense to you, then I refer you back to my description of my previous guard looking ‘clinical’. The Titanium Max actually looks like a piece of personal protective clothing.

Most other things that could be said about the aesthetics of such a product are a little irrelevant as in most if not all cases, the product will be worn underneath some element of clothing, so won’t generally be seen.

The Titanium Max is designed as an “all in one” product, offering protection to the stoma as well as protection against developing hernias. I personally like the fact that I only have to wear one item rather than two.

The protective element of the guard is made of a thin, but hardy layer of titanium. There is sufficient flex in the material to allow it to bend slightly during use without compromising the products integrity. This provides more comfort over the rigidness of the plastic guard which can make it uncomfortable at times.

The reverse side of the Titanium Max is covered in padding, except for the hollowed out area that fits over the stoma and the channel that allows waste to drain away. The padded material is comfortable against the skin and provides sufficient absorption of energy if there was an impact on the front side of the armour. This padding would certainly reduce the likelihood of further injury being caused in the event of a blow to the armour, unlike the plastic guard which has no means of absorbing any impact. The Titanium Max is also spread over a larger surface area on the body than the plastic cup, again providing more ‘absorption’ of energy in the event of impact to the guard, dissipating the force of a blow to the guard.

The material layered on top of the padding, which makes contact with the skin when the armour is worn, is made of a non-slip material, reducing the risk of the armour moving out of place if the surface of the skin becomes moist.

The belt of the Titanium Max is not elasticated unlike the plastic cup guard, which enables the product to provide hernia support as well as the protective guard function. The belt is pulled tight by adjusting the strap and is made of US army grade ‘webbing’ making it comfortable and durable. When wearing it I have found that the belt doesn’t dig into my skin like the elasticated belts.

The Titanium Max has clearly been designed by someone who actually wears the product and understands what it is like to wear one for long periods of time, because there are plenty of little features which show how well the product has been designed. For instance, there is a small square of padded material which slips over the metal cobra belt buckle to ensure it does not become uncomfortable during use. I have had to add a little feature of my own to this, as the padded square occasionally moves out of place during use, so I have added a small piece of Velcro to secure it to the belt buckle during use – but this is a relatively minor point.

Another of the features I really like about the Titanium Max, is the way that the bottom of the guard lifts slightly away from the skin, making it easier for the waste to drain away into the bag underneath. This has simply been achieved by attaching the belt just slightly off centre toward the top of the guard. I would usually find with the plastic cup guard that waste would sit in my bag within the confines of the cup without draining away to the bottom of the bag, but this doesn’t happen with the Titanium Max.

You will also notice that along the bottom of the guard is a strip of Velcro (the softer side of the velcro) to allow for another clever feature to be attached – a Kevlar cover to protect the rest of your bag from being punctured by sharp points. I personally think that if you were going to get stabbed, then whether or not the contents of my bag was emptied at the same time is not really of concern, but this attachment does offer additional stab/slash proof protection whilst on duty – so that can only be a good thing for personal safety. My Kevlar cover is a little on the big side however, so when ordering your products, take care in assessing how long/big the Kevlar cover is that you are ordering.

For the purposes of this review I don’t believe the cost of any Ostomy guard products to the end user is important. Firstly because some products will be available to you on the NHS as part of your free prescriptions. Those products that are not available this way, should be paid for by your police force as a reasonable adjustment, to enable you to continue to your job, as mentioned earlier. The costs of most products in this respect are ‘reasonable’ and so the employer would have a duty to make an adjustment and purchase the required equipment.

If you encounter any difficulties in seeking products such as the Titanium Max as a reasonable adjustment funded by your force, please do get in contact with us or your local force disability support network, so that you can be assisted in exploring this with your employer.

In conclusion, I think that Ostomy Armour’s Titanium Max is an excellent piece of protective equipment for any stoma (product reviewed is for ileostomy however, products are also available for other types of Ostomy). The customer service from the company is personal and friendly, the product is hardy, and it is packed full of features for comfort and functionality. The Titanium Max is certainly the best product I have encountered so far that meets the needs of police officers and other emergency service workers who require a greater degree of protection, comfort and confidence, but equally I would recommend it for general day to day use.

Find out more at https://www.ostomyarmor.com/

By Jamie Mills, General Secretary

This article has been written as a product review based on the thoughts, opinions and experiences of the author. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Disabled Police Association and has been written as an informative article. Other products are available.

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We must all support each other

I cannot find the words to describe yesterday’s events. Tragic. Brave. Heroic. No single word or phrase feels powerful enough to condemn the ‘terror’ or to honour those who lost their lives.

I am currently working at the Home Office, literally just around the corner from where the events took place. I knew nothing of what happened until my wife called me in a panic to check I was OK. I was OK because I was incredibly lucky to be sat in an office, unlike our truly courageous colleagues on duty outside of Westminster Palace yesterday.

As time has passed since 3pm yesterday when I first became aware, I have already gone through a mix of emotions. Surprise. Sadness. Realisation. Guilt.

Surprise is obvious. Although we all knew the risks that an attack may happen, you can never truly be prepared emotionally for when it actually does. No amount of training or rehearsal can prepare a person emotionally for something like that. This is why the response from the officers and emergency services involved was truly amazing. You can never presume to know what it was like to walk in their shoes yesterday.

Sadness for all those who lost their lives, those who have been seriously injured and those who mentally will continue to re-live what they saw for days, weeks and even years later. For some, the feelings they experienced, the sights they saw will never ever leave them. Even the most resilient will struggle with this.

Sadness for PC Keith Palmer, his family, his friends and his colleagues. But also the greatest of respect. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for serving the Queen, MPs, you and I.

Realisation. Since May last year when I started my secondment, I have walked past the location of yesterday’s events many, many times. Even at that exact time of day.

Guilt, because I wasn’t far away yesterday. I could have been there to help. I am under no illusion, I would not have been able to impact on what happened, but I could have been there to help in some way no matter how small. After all, as police officers it is our duty.

As I write this article I experience all of these emotions. If this is how I feel, then I am sure many of you will experience similar emotions for your own reasons. Whilst our thoughts will be about Keith Palmer, his family, and everyone else fatally or catastrophically injured; it is not wrong to also take a moment to think about how you are feeling. How your colleagues might be feeling. I didn’t personally know Keith and you may not have either, but we are one police family, so we may feel we did know him. When one of us hurts, we all hurt.

I know 100% that police officers around the country, even the world, will rally around to support PC Keith Palmer’s family in anyway they can. This is what family does.

The true intent of this article however, is about you and the entire police family. When everyone hurts, some hurt more than others. Some are more resilient than others. Some feel a personal connection more than others. Some suffer more openly than others. Some suffer in silence more than others.

Whether it is today, tomorrow, next week or next year; please look out for your colleagues. Look for those who are suffering, those struggling to come to terms with yesterdays events and any other event you encounter on a daily basis as part of your job, your profession. Talk to one another. Support one another. Be there for each other. Seek help if you need it. Show someone the way to help if they need it.

We are all part of the police family. Now more than ever we must be strong together and look after each other.

If you or someone you know is in need of support or someone to talk to, there are a plethora of options available to you. Here are just a few:

* Your GP
* Occupational Health
* TRiM advisor
* MIND Blue light (helpline 0300 303 5999)
* The Samaritans
* Charities such as Police Dependants’ Trust, Call4Backup, PTSD999 and more
* Police Federation of England and Wales
* Staff support associations
* Your family, friends and colleagues

There are many other avenues of support. The above in not an exhaustive list and the DPA does not officially endorse any of the services above.

Jamie Mills
General Secretary

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