The last two years have brought about rapid change in how services especially our health and social care services are delivered . From the development of the testing programme, the rapid roll-out of(vaccines and the move from in-person visits to telephone and video consultations with GPs, the shift has been dramatic.

Some of these developments have positive potential, freeing up GPs time to see more patients and joining up parts of the health service that were unnecessarily divided, but not everything has worked or shown promise, and it will take clever planning to ensure that the next stage of development is a success.

Keeping a very close eye on all of this is Inclusion Scotland and Lois Ratcliffe, the charity’s Internship Programme Manager  and passionate advocate of making all services and employment opportunities available to everyone.

At this year’s The Herald & GenAnalytics Diversity Conference, which will take place on Wednesday, May 4 at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow, Lois will lead a panel discussion on the subject of digital diversity, health and making the case that, if not planned carefully and inclusively from the outset, many people could find themselves excluded from essential services through lack of access because of costs, for example people living in poverty or rural areas without immediate at home access to technology could miss out, or disabled people could face a system that is built without their access needs considered, or elderly members of the community could see their generational lack of technological exposure become a barrier to active participation and increase isolation in our communities.

“Technology has the power to transform how our health services are delivered, but it must work with equity for everyone”, says Lois.

“We cannot have a situation where disabled people or people living with economic deprivation, don’t have the same access to essential health care as the rest of the population.”

On the panel with her will be Steve Grier, Regional Manager, Microsoft, and Margaret Moore, Director of Citizen and Devolved Government Services, Sopra Steria, both of whom have worked with Inclusion Scotland to improve the inclusion of disabled people in their respective organisations and through their company storytelling. With the aim of tackling exclusion and reducing the disability employment gap, which the Scottish Government pledged to take action on in 2016.

“At that point 42.8% of disabled people were in employment, compared to 80.2% of the population as a whole, and in subsequent years the gap reduced by 1% annually, but the Pandemic has worsened the situation through lack of access to health and social care support and were disabled people being twice as likely to face redundancy or unemployment, but it also provided opportunity to leverage and maximise the adoption of flexible, remote and hybrid working..”

It would appear  those companies which had already adopted remote working and hybrid models as a way of making the workplace fully inclusive, that often responded fastest and most successfully to the challenges caused by Covid.” says Lois

“Many  organisations resisted these moves because they thought that they would be too difficult or too expensive, where as in fact they turned out to be a great investment which enabled staff to keep working during covid and provided more flexibility.”

What concerns Lois now, is that further moves towards the digital delivery of health and concerns over short-term costs will similarly frustrate long-term gains, to the serious detriment of those people who have most to gain from unimpeded access to health services.

“What concerns Inclusion Scotland  is that the improvements needed to make services work for everyone, including those with sight, hearing, mobility, economic and other impairments or barriers to access, will be relegated to an afterthought, whereas this should be the starting point to design systems.. If you create a system that works for people who face the greatest range of barriers in accessing it, then what you end up with is something that works well for everyone.

“The panel will be discussing this at the Conference and looking at ways in which we can avoid excluding large parts of the population from health services and general employment. We want to level the playing field for everyone and in such a competitive resourcing market, a successful business is one that genuinely cares about inclusion and takes direct action get it right.”

Other panel discussions on the day will focus on topics such as digital exclusion and online working and how to create a culture where diversity is welcomed.

The conference is supported by Skills Development Scotland, Diageo and commercial law specialists, CMS.

Chris Rae, Partner, CMS said: “In the wake of COP26, there could not be a better time to promote the importance of inclusivity and diversity. While climate change justifiably dominates a lot of the headlines, a strong and positive D&I strategy is crucial to creating successful cultures, communities, and workplaces. A successful ESG strategy can only be achieved by being holistic in your approach, with D&I being a core pillar across all three. Likewise, so many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals rely heavily on a positive and creative approach to D&I, so we will only collectively achieve those goals by giving D&I the energy and focus it deserves. It has become clear that the ability to be your authentic self at work allows you to thrive as an individual, which goes directly to the performance of a business. Likewise, the more diverse and inclusive workplaces are known to create the most successful workplace cultures and communities. The potential impact of these factors on the performance of a business is undeniable, making a strong and positive D&I strategy not only the right thing to do in its own right, but perfect business sense.”

Chief Executive of sportscotland, Stewart Harris, said: ‘’It is vital that we all continue to keep the focus on creating diverse and inclusive workplaces and communities and shedding light on the important work that has already taken place to support people in this area. That is why we are delighted to be backing The Herald and GenAnalytics Diversity Conference. Although progress has been made, we understand that there is still inequality in sport and physical activity. However, as the national agency for sport, our commitment to providing leadership and to influence change will continue, and is now more important than ever. As a result, we hope to play an important part, alongside our partners, in addressing inequalities and ensuring opportunities for all.’’

Along with access to the event and accompanying exhibition, ticket holders receive lunch, refreshments throughout the day and the official 2022 The Herald & GenAnalytics events programme.

Full details are available from https://newsquestscotlandevents.com/events/the-diversity-conference/

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