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Supporting people with disabilities

Celebrated internationally and annually on 3 December, the United Nation’s International Day of People with Disabilities recognises diversity in our global community and raises awareness of the experiences of those of us who are living with a disability. Cambridge University Press & Assessment is proud to support people who have disabilities, whether it's our colleagues, learners or teachers. 

Boy with hearing aid studying

According to World Bank data, around one billion people globally experience some form of disability – 15% of the world’s population – and the World Health Organization says almost everyone is likely to experience some form of disability – temporary or permanent – at some point in their lives. 

The theme of this year’s International Day of People with Disabilities is: "Fighting for rights in the post-COVID era." It aims to highlight the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic on the existing challenges and barriers faced by people living with disabilities. We also want to use the day to challenge perceptions by talking about the positive contribution disabled people make here at Cambridge University Press & Assessment as well as to society. 

Supporting our people 

With a global workforce of around 5,900 people, based on the World Bank estimate of 15%, some 885 or more of our colleagues will have some form of disability or long-term health condition in their lifetime. It’s important to us that we offer a safe and inclusive working environment for all. We have several equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives and policies that aim to support our people, such as flexible working and part time working. 

At Cambridge University Press & Assessment, we have a strong set of colleague networks who influence the way we work and raise awareness on important issues related to equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging. The staff networks and their allies champion an inclusive, accessible, and sustainable workplace for all people with disabilities, long term health conditions, neurodiversities or learning differences. 

Emily Watton, co-chair of our Disability and Neurodiversity Network is pleased we are marking International Day of Disabilities. She observes: “The pandemic makes, and will continue to make, everything so much more difficult for people with disabilities and health issues. It’s placed strain on already stretched schemes and charities, made the lonely still more isolated and pushed those with mobility or additional health concerns to breaking point.”  

On 3 December, our Disability and Neurodiversity Network, Healthy Minds Network, Digital Accessibility Champions, Wellbeing team and our US based Equality Diversity Inclusion and Belonging (EDIB) Network are coming together to host an informal drop-in session to discuss intersectional topics. This is part of a week-long programme of events organised by colleagues, which has included webinars, a film club, talks and workshops.  

Emily hopes the day will encourage people to further improve services and opportunities for people with disabilities, creating a more inclusive world. “This day is an excellent opportunity to thank those who’ve already put the work in to drive change that makes organisations even more inclusive. Let’s learn about each other together, as a strong community of disabled and neurodiverse people and their allies.”  

Allyship means leveraging your privilege to make something that’s not your issue, your issue. It means using your influence to remove barriers to other people’s inclusion. 

Our team of Disability and Neurodiversity Ambassadors lend advice and support to colleagues who are disabled, have disability related queries or have a friend or a family member with a disability. We introduced these ambassadors to help raise awareness of disability and to ensure colleagues can be their true selves in the workplace.  

Our people around the world also connect with and support people with disabilities locally via our volunteering and charity partnerships. Everyone is encouraged to give two paid days per year to volunteer or fundraise for our main charity partners – which are chosen by colleagues – as well as causes which matter to our people personally.  

Cambridge University Press & Assessment is committed to being a place where anyone can enjoy a successful career, where it’s safe to speak up, and where we learn continuously to improve together. We believe that diversity of thought, background, and approach create better outcomes. Fostering an inclusive culture is the right thing to do, and it’s part of how we achieve our purpose: to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.

We recognise a person’s health can affect their ability to work, or their role can begin to affect their health. In these circumstances we know that colleagues benefit from adjustments in their role, such as adjusting working environments and work equipment. We encourage open conversations with colleagues and leaders and we regularly monitor adjustments and support to ensure it continues to be meaningful.   

To enable an environment which our people can thrive in and where work complements life, we empower everyone to manage their time and capacity, and to prioritise their wellbeing. All colleagues at Cambridge University Press & Assessment can discuss flexible working options to find the best solution for them and their role. Our Disability and Neurodiversity Network has been instrumental in supporting the development of our flexible working policy, as well as helping to evaluate our practice against the UK’s Disability Confident Scheme, which we hope will enable us to create an inclusive and accessible employee journey for people with disabilities. 

Supporting learners with additional needs 

Our learners and teachers are at the heart of what we do, and we’re proud of the work our exam boards do to support learners around the world who have disabilities, long-term illness, learning differences or other needs.  

“We have a specialist team committed to meeting students’ individual needs,” says Stuart Ross, who works for UK exam board OCR as a special requirements manager. “We can approve arrangements that enable students, so they are not disadvantaged when it comes to taking OCR exams.”  

As part of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), OCR collaborates with other awarding bodies to maintain, review and implement UK regulations on making reasonable adjustments and access arrangements for learners. The regulations help explain what awarding bodies need to do to comply with UK legislation on equality and human rights.  

David Arévalo, a university student from Ciudad Real, Spain, was our first Spanish student with a visual impairment to pass a Cambridge English exam at home. In 2020, thanks to his own hard work and support from our exam centre in Granada, David successfully proved his B1 level of English via Linguaskill.  

Some of the adjustments made to support David included extra time for certain modules and setting up his computer at home to display the question paper at 150%. We offer a wide range of options to support candidates who have disabilities, such as Braille papers, providing scribes, or lip-reading versions of listening tests. Students requiring adjustments need to let their local Cambridge English exam centre know in plenty of time.  

More recently, Paula Pérez García, a student from Tarragona, Spain obtained the B2 First English certificate. She was able to do this with added time and the use of modified materials adapted to her individual circumstances as she has severe dyslexia alongside sight and hearing loss. (Find out more about the support available to Cambridge English learners).  

This adaptable approach for disabled learners extends to Cambridge International, our global exam board, which is committed to ensuring all our schools, teachers and learners around the world are supported during each exam series. Adaptations include offering the exam paper in different formats, such as Braille and large print, or support during the exam such as rest breaks and use of voice activated recorders or word processors to make it easier for learners to give answers.  

Our publishing  

In 1821, James Wilson published what he claimed to be the first ‘biography of the blind’. This publication marked a significant move towards documenting the experience and nature of blindness from the perspective of blind and visually impaired people.

This extract from the book Blindness and Writing, is part of the ‘Memoirs of the Blind’ chapter and just one of many book chapters Cambridge University Press is making available to read for free until the end of March.  

The collection of our latest publishing about disability also includes numerous journal articles and book chapters that contribute to research and discussion on a wide range of disabilities. In making these open access, we hope to explore and raise awareness of issues that people with disabilities face.  

Catie Sheret, General Counsel at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, is executive sponsor of our Disability and Neurodiversity Network. She said: “This is a snapshot of some of the things we do to contribute to global understanding of the science behind disabilities, challenge the social constructs that limit people living with disabilities, and enable disabled people to learn and demonstrate their skills alongside their peers.” 


How are you marking #idpwd2021? Join the conversation by tweeting us at @CambPressAssess