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Disability Pride: Great steps made but stigmas remain

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Will Cole chats with PwC senior associate and Disability Power 100 alumni Natalie Hiller on her experiences as a disabled accountant and her thoughts on how practices can better support their disabled colleagues.

31st Jul 2023
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As the month of July comes to a close, so too does this year’s Disability Pride Month, which focuses on promoting increased visibility for those with disabilities and celebrating disabled communities across the UK.

Yet, as businesses and communities look to offer their support during this essential event, current UK figures make for underwhelming reading when it comes to creating equal opportunities for disabled individuals.

According to statistics from the UK government, employment rates among disabled people are at only 53% compared to 83% among their non-disabled counterparts, highlighting that more work must be done by UK businesses to support disabled people’s success.

Natalie’s story 

For Natalie Hiller, senior associate at PwC and two-time inductee into the Disability Power 100 list, supporting and championing the disabled community has become a passion project since she become disabled during her time at Durham University. 

As a wheelchair user who also has issues with dexterity and mobility, Hiller has faced unique challenges during her day-to-day life, yet has strived to show her doubters that she was equally capable of becoming a successful accountant, using the experiences she has gained to mould her accounting career.

“I wanted to prove the stereotypes wrong and pass my exams first time, which I did. While there were challenges involved, I wanted to show that having difficulties walking doesn’t impact how skilled I am at accounting,” Hiller said.

“I think having a disability shaped my career quite a bit. I’m a people person and I like putting myself in other people’s shoes and trying to solve problems.”

After passing her exams, Hiller has gone from strength to strength since joining PwC in 2014. She has also had the opportunity to pursue her passion for helping others by becoming a leading figure in the organisation’s Disability Awareness Network (DAWN), becoming one of their network’s national co-chairs and bringing positive changes to the Big Four firm.

Since joining DAWN and setting up its North regional subgroup, Hiller has helped oversee a raft of initiatives aimed at bringing increased awareness of disabilities across PwC, as well as creating robust support groups for disabled people working at the firm.

An area Hiller was particularly proud of while working with DAWN was being instrumental in getting images of disabled people into PwC branding, thereby increasing awareness of the unique individuals who make up the Big Four firm.

“We ended up developing illustrations of wheelchair users and people with guide dogs, as well as those with hidden disabilities, so that people can be seen across our branding,” Hiller added. 

Stigmas remain

While Hiller struck a positive tone when talking about the support she has received during her time at PwC, she admitted that more steps were necessary across the wider economy in order to achieve true equity for the disabled community.

“I think the biggest stigma is that some still see disabled people as less intelligent,” Hiller said, noting how harmful this stereotype can be. “It can have a huge impact on disabled people’s career prospects, both when getting into work in the first place and also progressing in their roles and climbing the career ladder.”

Thankfully, things have changed since Hiller joined PwC in 2014. “The world was a very different place for disabled people in 2014 when I first entered the profession,” she said

Assistive technology

And it is these changes that have made Hiller’s time at PwC a much smoother experience compared to 10 years ago, especially in the realm of technology. 

Across the firm, PwC has invested in its assistive technology tools, from voice recognition software and its literacy support system to simply investing in improved touchscreens, something that Hiller said she has found extremely beneficial during her time at the firm.

“You only have to look at what an iPhone can do now compared to what it could do in the past to see the differences. The technology that PwC has incorporated has definitely been helpful,” Hiller said. 

An open mind

Yet, while Hiller’s experience at PwC has been extremely positive, she understood that smaller practices lacked the resources to make the changes her firm has made. However, Hiller was keen to emphasise that the most important changes when it comes to supporting disabled people won’t cost a penny.

“It’s all about having an open mind when a disabled person is interested in working for you.  Have an open mind about the skills and the benefits they can bring, whether that’s through traditional qualifications or simply having a wider perspective of the world,” said Hiller.

Touching on the various grants that practices can utilise to better support disabled employees, including the access to work scheme, Hiller also added that simply creating an open and inclusive workplace where people can share their stories can pay dividends in creating a welcoming environment for disabled people.

“What we’ve done is share people’s stories externally and I think that has helped disabled people feel much more comfortable applying,” Hiller added.