We’re also trying to raise awareness about the range of impairments – both visible and invisible – that count as a disability, and encourage people to feel comfortable disclosing disability. And, as a very visible symbol of our support we’re turning the lights purple inside and outside many of our buildings; purple is the colour closely associated with the movement for disability rights.
Here, three BAE Systems employees with disabilities give us an insight into their worlds – both inside and outside work.
Marie Brydon is a Qualification and Certification Engineer in BAE Systems’ Air business.
She’s worked for more than 20 years in the company, currently in a team supporting Typhoon and plays a vital role in making sure our products are safe.
“I wasn’t always disabled, and for most of my life I moved around without a wheelchair. I first learned that I had Multiple Sclerosis after a series of falls prompted me to get in touch with my doctor. The condition can affect the brain and spinal cord, impairing arm and leg movement, balance and other things too which vary from person to person.
By the time I received my diagnosis, I was already using a walking stick because it was affecting my balance so badly. In time, this meant using a wheelchair – something I was dreading. I couldn’t help thinking that everyone would be staring or talking about it. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about.
It might sound strange to say, but as we mark International Day of People with Disability, I’d encourage people to look beyond the impairment. Don’t feel awkward about talking about it - have a conversation, get to know the person behind the impairment a little bit more, and remember that not all disabilities are clear and visible to see.
Marie Brydon, Qualification and Certification Engineer, BAE Systems Air
“Adapting was difficult at first though, in part, because small things suddenly make such a big difference. We might think that things are accessible when actually they’re not. Shopping was and remains incredibly difficult. The internet certainly helps, and supermarkets have improved massively, but many shops – particularly clothing retailers – are still really difficult to access. In my workplace, minor changes to allow me to access rooms, to turn around in my wheelchair have a huge impact. But, in fact, it’s the small things in the day-to-day conversations that make a real difference. People taking the time to show some understanding, to offer help, to enable me to get involved. The physical environment might be far from perfect, but people who take the time to help can enable you to overcome so many things.
“It might sound strange to say, but as we mark International Day of People with Disability, I’d encourage people to look beyond the impairment. Don’t feel awkward about talking about it - have a conversation, get to know the person behind the impairment a little bit more, and remember that not all disabilities are clear and visible to see.”
Project Administrator Tanya Hennebry plays a crucial role supporting the delivery of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship programme, working in Glasgow, UK, for BAE Systems’ Maritime business.
She combines this role with a position as a staff Trade Union convenor, an often-hectic combination of responsibilities. But unknown to Tanya, she had spent a large part of her adult life with an invisible impairment that was leaving her exhausted and unable to perform at her best.
Tanya says: “As we mark International Day of People with Disability across BAE Systems this week, I like to think it’s a good time to pause and reflect. This year’s day encourages us all to focus not just on the impairments that are visible, but also the things that might be less obvious. The fact is that many disabilities aren’t easy to see in others. In fact, some impairments are invisible even to those who have them!
As we mark International Day of People with Disability across BAE Systems this week, I like to think it’s a good time to pause and reflect. This year’s day encourages us all to focus not just on the impairments that are visible, but also the things that might be less obvious. The fact is that many disabilities aren’t easy to see in others. In fact, some impairments are invisible even to those who have them!
Tanya Hennebry, Project Manager
I’d worked from the age of 16 without any real medical issues or concerns. But gradually, bit-by-bit, I felt exhaustion creeping up on me. This wasn’t the one-off feeling of being tired after a late night or a long day, this was a feeling of tiredness that left me feeling physically sick. Eventually, I decided enough was enough, and went to my GP who took blood-tests. The doctor informed that I was seriously Vitamin B12 deficient and that I couldn’t leave it any longer. A programme of treatment began soon after – and continues over a decade later. This involves a regular course of injections and tablets and frequent check-ups.
“It’s not perfect. I still feel these symptoms often and also new ones, but, crucially, I can live my day-to-day life and work as normally as possible. But that’s not just down to the treatment. A big part of being able to move forward has been the relationships I’ve had with my line managers and my colleagues around how I manage this impairment. I’ve been open and those around me have been flexible, and open to making small adjustments that make the world of difference to me.
“For anyone with an invisible impairment, I’d encourage you to try and be open with your managers. If things are affecting your work, let them know, and help them to understand. A solution often doesn’t mean a big change – and people being aware, particularly those who are empowered to make a difference, can really help.”
BAE Systems is committed to being an inclusive organisation with a diverse workforce that reflects the global communities in which we work. We believe that developing an inclusive, diverse workplace in which all employees can be their best selves and contribute their unique experiences, beliefs and insights helps us drive innovation, enhance employee engagement and accelerate our performance. It’s is not just the right thing to do, it will differentiate and strengthen our competitive advantage for the future.
Phillip is a Software Engineer in BAE System’s Air business and helps to run ENabledUK, the disability network for BAE Systems employees. These are roles that are quite demanding, often involving work which requires intense focus and concentration; and Philip has a debilitating impairment that is invisible.
“IDPWD is one day in the year when we can all take some time to think about the impact that disability has on people. In BAE Systems, most people start their career in good health, but a significant number go on to develop conditions and impairments that make work much more difficult. Anyone can be affected - making healthy lifestyle choices does not provide immunity.
“I was diagnosed with ME about 12 years ago after a long period of ill-health. I’m fortunate because I’ve been able to continue working, although it has not been easy. I had a very active lifestyle so having to adjust was a difficult process. With this condition there’s no obvious sign that anything is wrong, and it can vary from one day to the next. In fact some days you feel like nothing is wrong until the next relapse knocks you down. I have to accept that some bad days are inevitable, and learn as much as possible about how to manage the condition. I have lots of good days too – that sense of achievement after a good day at work makes it worthwhile – that hasn’t changed at all.”
Getting involved is good, showing support is essential
Phillip Prince, Software engineer, BAE Systems Air
“One message that is really important is to encourage people to have the confidence to be open and speak up. So many people struggle because they fear the consequences of having some form of impairment. There needs to be more understanding and more awareness – we are not all perfect – most employees will be affected by disability at some point in their career, either directly or indirectly. Also, don’t underestimate yourself – the skills, knowledge and experience that you bring to your role are still important.”