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In the past ten years working within the same company, Barclays bank, I have been given two main labels. The first was the title of cashier, or its new definition of ‘community banker’, and the second is the ‘disabled employee’ label. I embraced the latter and sought out to explore ways to expand the labels I received and see in which other identities I could fit. I must say that in this last year I found my drive to explore the different labels and beginning to encompass all the values that my employers have, from stewardship to making a difference. I have finally begun to make that difference: people began to see me not just as another cashier, or someone that needs extra resources due to her disability; rather, I made a name for myself by creating a buzz around some of the projects I have started, which have allowed me to explore and find new ways to describe and define myself.
During this past year I received the award of Golden Digital Eagle: this is given out by the management of the digital department when they feel that someone has achieved greatness as a digital eagle, which is a role in which we help people learn all things digital, from their banking needs to learning how to code and be safe online. It was a true honour to receive this title out of thousands of digital eagles, and made all the more precious to me as I received if for work that I have done to make lives better for people with disabilities using technology. So this is the story about how I managed to get this new label of being ‘Golden’…
One of the activities that I have done this past year and that qualified me for this honour was teaching a large group of people with different disabilities vital life skills and money skills, such as how to keep themselves and their finances safe, how to use ATMs or cheques, introducing them to different digital technologies, and taking the time to reflect with them about how as vulnerable people it is important to learn how to be safe and aware. I found particularly useful to use practical examples of all the things that could potentially happen when using digital technologies, explaining why it is wrong to always trust that everyone you meet will have the best intentions for you. Online dating is a perfect example. We all want to find love and the desire to find a special person is natural; however, it is also important to be alert and to be aware that some people may prey on the most vulnerable.
In my attempts to introduce new and fun ways to use digital technology to the group, I chose to bring along a device to the session called BBC Micro:bit. This is a small device that is used to teach students in their first year of high school how to create code. The Micro:bit allows them to see that code in action: from displaying writing on the LED light display to using the bluetooth option, to create a selfie stick for their phones, the possibilities are endless. For this reason I was very excited to introduce the Micro:bit to the group, as I loved the idea of bringing them something that they would not normally have a chance to use or even see. However, my excitement soon turned into frustration, as I realised that the device had limited accessibility. The display was too small and the buttons were hard to press; additionally, the battery pack presents further accessibility issues. For these reasons, I sought out a way to make this device accessible to all. I contacted the BBC Micro:bit Foundation and started working with them to create a new accessible Macro:bit with a larger unit: this for the first time, would allow people with disabilities to hold and see the device and not be excluded, and they could learn coding for the first time with friends. I didn’t yet know at the time that this would become one of the highlights of my career, and it also gave me the chance to work with some amazing people, all of which shared and believed in my passion.
I was very excited to introduce the Micro:bit to the group; however, my excitement soon turned into frustration, as I realised that the device had limited accessibility. For these reasons, I sought out a way to make this device accessible to all.
Thanks to the work done with the BBC Micro:bit Foundation, I was asked to become Lead for National Disabled Access Day for the Leeds branch of Barclays, and as part of my ongoing work, I kept thinking about possible solutions to use digital technology to improve the lives of disabled people. This is where my new contacts with the BBC Micro:bit Foundation came in and helped me to achieve my ‘Golden’ label. All the people at the Foundation that I worked with on the project have knowledge and skills that I can only dream to have; however, one member really stood out to me: thankfully, he saw my passion to help other disabled people and offered his support to create a good project for the upcoming Access Day.
Ben does work for the BBC Micro:bit Foundation and has skills that I am in awe of. Additionally, he is also blind, and it was a privilege for me to observe his work and learn how he uses adaptive technology to improve his life. Ben also recognised my passion to help make a true difference, and when I approached him to support me with the Leeds Access Day event, he accepted the invitation, as he saw the opportunity to demonstrate that technology can really improve the lives of people with visual impairments like himself. Ben had used for a long time an application called Wayfinder, which is a navigation system that can be used in certain venues to help blind people find their way around event spaces and other places. As an experiment, we agreed to attempt to use the functions of the BBC Micro:bit to replicate the app of the Wayfinder. Considering my role as an Eagle and Ben’s work with the Foundation, it was a perfect collaboration. There were also two close Digital Eagle colleagues who have been great supporters of my work, and they too offered their help with this project, as they were intrigued to see how it worked. Laila and David had shown great interest in using digital technology to make a difference so I invited both of them along with Ben to Leeds to work together. Our goal was to see if we could programme the Micro:bits to become beacons and receivers that would then tell the person where they were and in what direction they should move towards the next point of interest. As soon as we began our experiment, Ben sat at his laptop and with amazement we three sat and watched him code seven Micro:bits to be the beacons that would eventually be positioned in different places throughout the branch. Subsequently, we set about creating receivers out of one final device, and then we walked the intended route to test the system and ensure that it would work without interference.
The branch was open when I led Ben around the building to test our tools, and I noticed that people were in amazement; customers stood and watched us, and staff came up to ask questions about what we were doing and how it worked and why we were doing it. To myself this alone made the project a success: to know that people came to some understanding of how a blind person who is unfamiliar with his or her surroundings may need help to get around, made the staff think about the challenges that others have and gave them the spark to think about what they could do to support someone with a disability. By demonstrating the power of technology, we demonstrated how people with disabilities can be independent and do not need to rely on others for assistance. I personally know the feeling of defeat and shame that being dependent on others can produce so to find an alternative is a breath of fresh air.
People were in amazement: customers stood and watched us, and staff came up to ask questions about what we were doing and how it worked and why we were doing it. To myself this alone made the project a success: by demonstrating the power of technology, we demonstrated how people with disabilities can be independent.
Access Day proved to be a huge success, as it allowed local disabled charities to showcase their work, by holding stalls and talking to the public about who they are and what they can offer. It also demonstrated how four people working hard for one afternoon were able to create something creative and innovative, proving that anyone can make a difference by supporting others – no matter the label they carry – to feel included.
We also organised a flash mob, which was by far the highlight of the two-day event. TV crews from a local channel, Leeds Lowdown, turned up just in time to film all the amazing disabled people dancing, once again proving that a disabled person can do anything! The event was covered across Barclays social media, Access Day event pages and social media along with on Leeds Lowdown and my own Twitter and Linkedin pages. Finally, through this event I also managed to obtain a new label, the Access Champion title, and I now have the task of thinking of how to make next years’ events bigger and better. I can’t wait!
Emma Horsfall was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire England, in 1981. She has worked for Barclays bank for over 10 years, starting her career as a community banker. She later began adding her passions to help others and joined Reach and became a spectrum ally along with becoming a digital eagle, teaching people of all ages about all things digital.
Emma’s passion to help people with disabilities has made her involved in many exciting projects that have taken her across the country working with different teams. After a work place accident in 2005, Emma was left permanently disabled, losing the feeling of her right leg and leaving her unable to perform simple tasks like running. However, besides giving up her motor bike she has not allowed this accident to effect her, and fought to be able to walk correctly again. Four major surgeries later, unless you saw the extensive scars you would never know.
Emma has suffered from horrific family event in her childhood and from serious ill health in the last few years, but all of these have only made her a stronger person and someone that will always be first inline to help anyone that needs it. Passions aside, Emma’s skills to communicate with others at different levels are her biggest attribute, and she recently joined a night school to learn British sign language.