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Why do people choose to enrol onto the Calibre Programme?

Group photo of Calibre participants from North East London Foundation Trust
North East London Foundation Trust Participants 2020
“Calibre has been a revelation for me. I really enjoyed the workshops and they encouraged me to think about my depression and GAD in an entirely different way. I have incorporated much of what I have learned in my own facilitation days too.” (Caroline, a North East London foundation trust participant)
“I really enjoyed the Calibre course, it has left me feeling empowered and more positive about myself, something I haven't felt for a long time. Plus, it was great meeting everyone else on the course.” (Tim, an Imperial College London participant)

Over 200 Higher Education or the NHS staff have completed the Calibre leadership programme for disabled employees. Of those who have chosen to enrol, it should come as no surprise that Dyslexia is the most common disability declared. This impairment has represented approximately 60% of Calibre participants since 2012, the year the programme began. This was followed by employees living with mental health issues, who have represented about 10% of the overall total participants. The rest have consisted of people with a variety of disabilities that have ranged from those with physical impairments, people with blood disorders, right through to people with other forms of learning disability.

Unlike disability, the backgrounds of participants have been much harder to predict. From diverse communities and cultures, they have come from a variety of different locations within the UK, and have represented a wide spectrum across the age groups. They have also had varied job roles. Not only have senior nurses or academics enrolled onto the programme, Junior admin staff and even classics professors have done so as well. This has made it almost impossible to predict the background or seniority of disabled staff who choose to enrol onto the Calibre programme.

Yet, as the years have gone by, it has become much easier to predict why people have chosen to do so. As a consequence, it is possible to divide their explanations into three overarching reasons.

These are the “Crisis Reasons”, followed by the “Confidence Building Reasons” and, finally, the “Desire to Progress Reasons”. Taken together, they make up the majority of the justifications disabled staff have for joining the Calibre programme. So, let's take a look at each in detail.

The Crises Reasons

These are the most common reasons cited for enrolling onto Calibre. Of course, the kind of crisis will differ for each person. Some choose to enrol on because they fear for their jobs. For others it might be because they cannot perform adequately because of a disability. Another group are those who are overworked simply trying to keep up with their workload. The latter reason is why many people with dyslexia sign up for the programme. With unsustainable workloads, many have resorted to taking work home in the evenings or at weekends simply to keep up with the tasks they have been given. This reason will also include those with irreconcilable differences with their manager or organisation. They enrol in the hope that they can find a way to navigate through the difficulties they face.

Lack of Confidence Reasons

The second main reason why people in enrol on to the Calibre programme is because they lack confidence. A common assumption is that disabled staff bring problems to the workplace. Sadly, the vast majority of disabled staff believe this as well. They also believe that they bring little of value. So, it should come as no surprise that many lack self-confidence and self-worth.

A lack of confidence will prevent many disabled employees from applying for promotion. It will also inhibit them from challenging poor decisions made on their behalf by their managers, especially where a reasonable adjustment is concerned. It also explains why many choose not to disclose a disability. They fear being discriminated against and having their competence questioned. Indeed, this can affect even the highest performers. Typically, they would have hidden and worked around their disability for years. It is only when they discover that this is no longer sustainable that they seek help through the Calibre programme.

Those who do recognise that confidence as an issue for them enrol to seek help to address this and to find new ways to assert themselves and build self-worth.

The Desire to Progress Reasons

The third and final group are those who wish to develop their careers in some form. This group are not necessarily lacking in confidence or are angry or concerned about their careers. Instead, recognising that the word "disability" is closely associated with negativity, they seek a better narrative to negotiate what can be quite a difficult conversation when their disability is the issue. This would include people who are considering applying for promotion. It would also include those who want to obtain the right reasonable adjustments to ensure that they can work more effectively.

Included in this group are those individuals who end up making life changing decisions on completion of the Calibre programme. Rarely was this their initial intention. However, once presented with an opportunity to think about disability and by extension their entire lives differently, they find the programme to be a liberation.

There is the Occupational Therapist who realised that those close to her only saw the problems she faced but never her potential. She resigned and chose to reinvent itself as a dancer with, yes, cerebral palsy.

Similarly, the person with Multiple Sclerosis who had previously considered her wish to go into retirement to be an act failure. A point of view reinforced by her colleagues at work. The lesson she learnt was that this could be a very positive and empowered decision too. One she would make for herself and not for others.


As is clear from this discussion, the Calibre programme has addressed many of the issues most disabled staff would recognise. If you're interested in enrolling on to the Calibre programme or are aware of disabled members of staff who would benefit from the programme, then get in touch.

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