Aug. 24, 2020

Valuing People with Disabilities as Consumers and Employees with Shani Dhanda

Valuing People with Disabilities as Consumers and Employees with Shani Dhanda

Valuing People with Disabilities as Consumers and Employees with Shani Dhanda

In the featured guest chair on the show this week is disability equality advocate, Shani Dhanda. Shani is the founder of the Diversability Card, a LinkedIn Changemaker, and a #WorkWithMe Ambassador at Virgin Media. Shani chats with Martyn about the spending power in the disability community that some businesses fail to appreciate. She also talks about the value of inclusion and diversity in the workplace and having a level playing field for all job applicants. Don’t miss this energizing and inspiring conversation with this exceptional leader.

Contact Mai Ling: MLC at

Contact James: James at



Introduction 00:00

If a business really wants to be inclusive, and actually, you know, represent the customers they serve that includes disabled people, it's one in five of us. So, it's worse to not do it.


Martyn 00:18

Welcome to Xceptional Leaders, with Mai Ling and Martyn, where we spotlight high profile topics, and amazing people who are changing the world view on disability. I'm Martyn Sibley from and...


Mai Ling 00:32

I am Mai Ling Chan from And we have had one heck of a week on ha Martyn.  Well, we launched the digital version of our book, Becoming an Exceptional Leader, which is actually a compilation of 13 guests. You are one of them, actually, that I had completed the interviews myself. And each guest wrote one chapter. And it's just an amazing offering. We actually hit the bestseller status in eight, Amazon major category. So, congratulations.


Martyn 00:36

What a week. It's been amazing. Tell us why Mai Ling.


Shani 01:05

Yeah, congratulations to you, too. I mean, it's been really amazing. What we were just talking about the podcast, or the guests that you had on and I had on my show we now have on our shows, it's become, and then for a book that you had this amazing vision of, and I think we talked about it before the way that, you know, being an author is so grand job, it sounds so amazing to be an author, but it's really hard. And I was able to get a book out of me a few years ago, that was sort of a travel memoir called Everything is Possible. I think it's really, really hard trying to get out your message in a curated way. And so, I think what you've offered us fellow authors is something really doable, you know, it was I had to do a chapter, where I could still get my entrepreneurial message out there. But from the reader, there's more than one person you're benefiting from. So, it's such a win win. I know you and I have just, we're learning and loving every day. So, it's brilliant.


Mai Ling 02:09

Yeah, I'm really excited. It was definitely a journey for me to work with 13 other authors. And I tried to be as organized as possible, I gave everyone a writing rubric. Because that's not my only book, I have two more that I want to launch next year, and they are in the Becoming Exceptional Leader series, one is going to be focused on speech language pathologists, which just makes sense, of course. And then the other one is augmentative, and alternative communication leaders, which actually also makes sense because of what I'm doing as director of growth and achievement with Cognixion. So just been amazing. Thank you so much. But actually, that brings me to this point, Martyn, we need to ask you, the listener, for your help. We have not done this. And I think that it's time to finally reach out and do our ask,


Martyn 02:51

Which is, let's, let's build the suspense of it.


Mai Ling 02:55

Exactly. Could you please go to Apple podcasts or any of the other platforms, where you listen to our podcast and like it and give us a great review, even if it's just a quick one, like this podcast is great. But we really, really could use that. I know that there are a couple up there, Martyn, but we need to bring our community together and have our audience just tell other people how amazing our podcast is. And that's because of the guests. Yeah, and speaking of community and a little call to action, we've got the Facebook page, so we'd love it for people to like us on Facebook and engage there. But definitely get those amazing reviews in on the podcast under the review side of things. So, to today's episode, this was the one I did the interview for.


Martyn 03:40

So, I guess first of all, what will be your thoughts on Shani Dhanda?


Mai Ling 03:46

Oh my god, she is just beautiful, honestly. And I'm always amazed when I find someone that I connect with. On a very, very personal level. You know, we definitely have our causes. And, you know, we call it like our sword that we'll die on. Right? But then there's once in a while there's that person, you're like, Oh my god, she gets me, right. Yeah. So, one of the quotes that I loved from her is, you can't be what you can't see. It's about sharing the whole story. And I was just jumping out of my seat like, yes, oh my gosh, she gets it, she gets it. And that's because I'm barely five feet. I'm an Asian woman. I'm actually Asian Colombian. But you know, growing up, I did not see people who look like me and represented me, right? And so, she's absolutely so right is that when you start to see people like her, oh my god, she's amazing, she's beautiful, she's talented, she's articulate, just so many amazing things. It's like I want to be shining when I grow up.


Martyn 04:39

Yeah, and she's dynamite there, the kind of entrepreneurial spirit, obviously the lessons are gonna, you guys are gonna get to listen to this in a moment and enjoy all the details. But just to give you that little bit, whet your appetite and spice things up you know, her job that she's doing around Virgin Media, which I don't know in the US, but it's, you know, it's very much a sort of media company that's thriving. She's doing work with LinkedIn. But also, I know you the sort of alluded to it, just before Mai Ling, but her involvement within the Asian community really resonated. And I didn't know something else. She were quite taken by that she's involved in, right?


Mai Ling 05:19

Absolutely. It's Asian women disability network. And then she also does this annual festival, which of course, this year has been delayed because of, you know, all of the unfortunate things going on in the world with COVID. But I also took some notes, when she was talking about the disparity of costs associated with people with disabilities, particularly, you know, she's working in the UK, but just making a note that it is the same everywhere, Martyn, you know, she's talking about health care costs, medical equipment costs, transportation costs, energy bills, I mean, she talked about having to charge your wheelchair and that takes electric, you know, these are things that obviously able bodied people don't think about, you know, we think about health care as one big general idea of costs. But how did that affect you when she was talking about all of that?


Shani 06:02

Yeah, it resonated a lot. We do get kind of welfare payment, if you are registered, always prove that you have a disability, there is government funding that is meant to recognize some of those extra costs. So, my guess is that give some praise, where praise is due that, you know, there is a bit of government funding that tries to offset it, but it's not as much as those extra costs. runty. Yeah, I mean, it's like she said, it's the electricity bill. It's like in London, where I live for five years, the underground, the metro 1/3 of the stations are accessible, meaning two thirds are not, which means you then more likely to need a taxi, which is more expensive. So, it's all these little things that people don't realize. And so, you know, the cost of life is really something to raise awareness of, and, you know, get that on the agenda. But then also, it's the employment, whether it's self-employment or general employment, it gives that independence to people to afford some of these costs, but also to do the fun stuff in life as well. Right?


Mai Ling 07:14

Exactly. Well, this is an amazing interview, and I'm really excited for you to listen to it. So, let's get to it.


Shani 07:19

Let's do it. Welcome to today's episode, on this rather gray, rainy, murky day in Cambridge here. But this conversation is definitely going to bring a lot of brightness and sunshine. We're looking forward to this. First of all, thanks for joining, Shani.  Thank you. I've been looking forward to this. So very honored to be here today. Awesome. Also, we got a lot to cover. I think the time is gonna probably run away before we finish everything. But if you can just kick off with a bit of a sort of summary by yourself. That'd be great. Sure. So, I'm Shani Dhanda. I am a social entrepreneur. I'm a disability equality advocate. And I'm a founder really of three, three initiatives or businesses that serve underrepresented communities. Some of you may know of some you might not. So, it's one is Diversability (, which is a discount platform for disabled people. The second one is Asian woman festival ( So that's the UK first ever event of its kind to celebrate Asian women. And it's all around smashing barriers and stereotypes that Asian women face when our thriving online community. And then the third one is the Asian disability network (, which I'll come on to talk about,


Martyn 08:39

Will go in more, in more depth. But yeah, I mean, wow, like that, that's three initiatives I've talked about as diversity card, because obviously we've had chats about it over the years, as it's all grown and developed. And we'll definitely get into that, obviously I have mentioned, like Virgin and LinkedIn, and then yeah, obviously, your two other personal products and initiatives. So yeah, as you said, a lot, a lot to cover. Well, let's go in order, like Diversability. I mean, we talk a lot around the purple power and the spending power of disabled people, all those sorts of everything that comes around that. So, I presume that sort of diversity ability is very much a way that is looking to address some of those challenges, but obviously, opportunities from a from a consumer and a business perspective. I mean, where did the idea come from? How did you get started?


Shani 09:32

Diversity is like my baby. I actually had the idea when I was at university and I was doing my dissertation. And my dissertation was on the topic of barriers to accessible leisure. I did my degree in event management and whatever I do, whether it's related to disability or not, I can't help but relate things back to accessibility, inclusion and equality that's, it's just something in me that always bring it back to that So even when I was doing my event management degree, I was still focused on inclusion and accessibility. And what I learned from my dissertation was that accessibility doesn't have to be a one. It's actually customer service and how people are treated is the biggest barrier in, in disabled people, or anyone with a condition or impairment, going to access, you know, whether that be Leisure Services or retail, basically anything in the public domain. And I was a little bit surprised at that, I thought, I thought physical accessibility would be the biggest barrier, because you can't get into somewhere, then surely, that's it, your days ruined. So, then it kind of got me thinking, and, you know, being a student we had access to, and us discount cards. And I was like, well, this would be great if if this was offered to to disabled people as well, you know, I already knew for my young age, how much more it costs to be disabled, there's, you know, so many different price tags, even as a child you're made aware of, you know, I remember when I was at secondary school, my electric wheelchair costs 7000 pounds. It's, you know,


Martyn 11:10

It is a lot about the extra costs of disability, I can't remember the sort of facts and stats, people watching can Google scope. But there is real hard data that backs up everything you're talking about as well.


Shani 11:29

But when I when I had done my dissertation, I, it wasn't the time, then, unfortunately, to talk about disability to talk about the purple parent, but as you just mentioned, a couple years later, scope release that extra costs permission massively insightful for everybody. But essentially, it just demonstrated the fact that disabled people face unavoidable extra costs due to their condition or an impairment, essentially, 100 pounds for a non-disabled person is worth around 86 pounds for a non-disabled person, it changes year on year, it gets less and less unfortunately for disabled people. And I just didn't think it was fair, why should disabled people have to pay more to live the same lives as others, but have ultimately less or no choice? And I didn't really see or, you know, hear about anybody, any group, organization, government body trying to do anything about it. And you know, at that time, I think there were about 11 million disabled people in the UK, and now we're near the 14 million mark. So, this is something that's going to keep expanding, you know, we're living longer by developing chronic conditions at a much younger age, but yet, and still, no one was doing anything to tackle the root cause of that problem. And I thought, well, I'm gonna have a go at it. And here we are,


Martyn 12:50

Here we are. Well, I think that he said, you're a social entrepreneur. And so, what you've talked about there is the social problem, that there are these extra costs for, you know, the UK, healthcare, broadly is a bit more under NHS, although there's been difficulties and sometimes going private becomes a necessity. But you know, compared to the US, like, we are fortunate still to have that the healthcare side. But yeah, like social care, you know, a lot of people have to pay into their social care port for care team. And you say that equipment like wheelchairs, are not just the cost of the wheelchair, but the upkeep, like, you know how to put new tires and have a service on my chariot is fundamental. I mean it all day every day, but it was like 6-700 quid just to have that the new tires and the service. So, you know, that's one of many other things like some people in London can't get on the tube. So, you have to get taxis more of that cost. So yeah, like, the whole thing about cost is so true. But then you didn't just turn that into a campaign of let's just raise awareness, did raise awareness, but like, it wasn't only about raising awareness. And you didn't just say, let's have a charity that raises money, and we give it away to disabled people. You said, well, actually, what if businesses offer discount, so it helps disabled people with their finances, but presumably, there's still some profit for those businesses. So, they are still benefiting by having disabled people as customers who've sort of taken the social issue, but with the entrepreneurship as well. So how did you go about getting businesses to even engage in this idea?


Shani 14:44

I actually thought, you know, going up to businesses and talking to them and getting them signed up. The really hard part and it will be the hardest part and you know, far touchwood I'm really lucky to say that as soon as I got in, laid the facts there on the table, many people's jaws were on the floor, they can't they can't actually believe that this is the reality that disabled people face. And as you just mentioned, some of the reasons, that you know, energy housing, these are the main contributing factors of the extra costs. We don't control how much energy we use. So, you know, you might have a higher energy bill to me because you use an electric wheelchair, you know, your option isn't for you to just not charge it to have a no political cost. Yeah, well, I guess the concept of Diversability, it's not just to provide disabled people with discounts, it's to actually help businesses to understand that we're everyday consumers. We don't buy wheelchairs every week, you know, specialist equipment, we buy two, maybe three or four times in our life. But we buy groceries every week, we need to travel, we need to buy clothing. And disabled people aren't a homogenous group of people, therefore, businesses just don't really know how to market to us. Yeah. So, we're, we're helping businesses not only understand the demand for their goods and services, but really give them a credible way to say to disabled people. Look, we may not have got it right, before, but we were committed to this, we want to offer you a discount, and we want to improve our install accessibility, our online accessibility, so we're really working with businesses in in a very, a very broad way. Because also from my perspective, know, I just don't want to give businesses access to all these design people, but they not change anything, has to work both ways.


Martyn 16:48

Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, I mean, I remember someone asked me when we've been having more and more business development chats at Purple Goat ( and now I'm talking about the purple pounder, the $8 trillion global disability market and someone said, Yeah, but isn't a lot of that, around the sort of social care, even the equipment and of course, some of that inclusive, but they were like, you know, and isn't there more unemployment? Is that well, yes, there, there are higher incidence of unemployment. And we'll move on to that a bit around LinkedIn as well, later. But they were basically intimating that in the end, is it not really a market that good for businesses? Because, like, isn't it sort of that there isn't actually any spending power for those general consumables? Like it's almost is that not all on just the disability stuff? And as you've just said, I said to them, well, energy bills, you know, weekly shop, disabled or not, even if it's from benefits rather than employment, that's still money in the pocket of someone and they're gonna look at is it Tesco’s, or Sainsbury's, is it Asda, and the day that and this is what we're really pushing the day that one of those says, let's really be the brand, that really be the brand for disabled people, they're going to end up with such a better business model. Socially, they're going to make so much difference as well. But it's getting that I think, as you say, people, their jaw drops, and they get it. But I still felt there's a resistance to taking real action of the back of those talks as well.


Shani 18:31

Yeah. And I think that unfortunately, it comes down to the perception of disability, you know, the risk of being seen to only serve one community. There's all that to factor in. But at the end of the day, if a business really wants to be inclusive, and actually, you know, represent the customers they serve, that includes disabled people, it's one in five of us. So, it's worse to not do it.


Martyn 18:57

Yeah totally. And I mean that's the tip. I think, as much as I said, there's a resistance, I also see, the risk of doing nothing is now higher than the risk of doing it but getting it maybe a little bit wrong. Now the risk was seen as higher of trying it and doing it wrong. So, they just did nothing.


Shani 19:19

Absolutely. And you know, we're not expecting people to be experts. We're all going to get stuff wrong when we start out. But what we do need is businesses to be really brave and bold, and acknowledge that this is a huge social issue that businesses can actually play a huge role in. And that you mentioned earlier, yes, we could have set this up in so many different ways. But I want diversity to be a business because through business, you can make more changes as well. I believe in society. You can have a bigger voice. We want to bring a community together. So yeah, we really believe we can work you know, in that way with other businesses. To make this change that we all want and need.


Martyn 20:03

Yeah, I totally agree. We've always, definitely had that in common with. I mean, I know that obviously, so that I know there's a lot going on at Diversability that you're not really able to say publicly while it all, you know, things are just going on. And you know, the rest of it. But I suppose it's just as a general for people watching sort of where where's it broadly at the moment like, what can you tell people?


Shani 20:28

So, yeah, unfortunately, I can't say too much. But what I can say is that we are in development. So, for everyone, as well, that is on our waiting list, you won't have to wait too, too much longer. And thank you for everyone's patience, because there isn't a day that goes by where I don't get an email from someone saying, you don't know how much this is going to change my life. You know, I can't wait until they don't. So, and I just want to put out there as well, you know, I have no experience in tech whatsoever. I still use Windows because I don't know how to use a Mac. So, this has been a huge learning journey for me as well. I wasn't brought up in a business family. I was just purely motivated by the fact that I wanted to change something. So, you know, yourself, Martyn, how hard is starting something up? There's so much to do. But I've really enjoyed the journey. I've learnt so much not about what I'm doing, but about myself. Yeah. I've really enjoyed it. So, I would really, I'd say to anyone, if you've got an idea, don't be afraid to pursue it. Because you don't know how, like, I didn't know how, and hopefully in a couple of months we'll be launching. So just do it, just do it.


Martyn 21:48

That's a really powerful point. Because I think, you know, you and I have done various things over recent years. And I definitely have accomplished and achieved things. And that's been great on personal levels. And it may have helped to make some sort of impact within the disability world. But I think it can also give off an impression to others that it's just easy. And it's all straightforward. And like it's important we tell the whole story, because I don't, I've never thought to hide it, because we don't think to talk about the challenges because it's cracking on.


Shani 22:25

And really the penny dropped for me when I realized that everybody else was also making it up as they went along. That that is actually when the penny dropped. I was like, does everyone just know how to be an entrepreneur? Does everyone just know how to set up a business? Or, you know, you come up with so many challenges and things that you could never have preempted crop up? And yeah, like it's such a fascinating journey. But literally, that was my penny drop moment when I was like, nobody else also knows what they're doing. They're just making it up. Yeah. Yeah. And I totally agree. It's about sharing the whole story. You know, Far too often people just look at the end result and think, oh, that would be easy. It's not. And if you follow me on Instagram, I share everything the good, bad, and the ugly.


Martyn 23:13

Yeah. And I think in this world, like, there was a point that, you know, decades, generations ago, where there was the Hollywood reveal, it was like, there was mystery. And then there was like tada..., here's this lovely finished product. Film in terms of Hollywood, but you get the metaphor. But I think with social media, and reality TV, that was always the precursor to social media, like, people just collect and connect and click with real people. And I think real means that you share all elements of the journey, not just the outside, and you know, I do and I do put a lot of content out and it it's easy to get sucked into wanting to appear to conform to like Instagram life, and that, you know, that sort of stuff. But we're in this as social entrepreneur, and it's the mission that drives us. And I think that's really important that comes across what it does for you a 100%. But yeah, that personal journey is really powerful. Because I know that it inspires other people to click with you more because they feel that humanity, that human side that you share.


Shani 24:26

Yeah. And I just think as a community, you know, just taking disabled people, like, between us, like, how many good ideas must we have? And how many times has someone thought or I won't be able to do that, or I don't know how to get funding or you know, just whatever the barrier is, but I just think by more people being really honest and open and sharing that journey, we will inspire others to do the same.


Martyn 24:49

Great, great. All right, well, um, was there anything you want to mention about Diversability or that sort of covers the update on there for now?


Shani 24:56

Yeah. What I would say just keep up to date with our latest things on our socials. And also, if you are signed up on our waiting list, then you will get email updates as well.


Martyn 25:08

Well what is the website?


Shani 25:11

At the moment its


Martyn 25:14 Perfect.


Mai Ling 25:19

Hey there, hope you're enjoying the show. I just wanted to take a moment and introduce you to another great podcast that you might like in the exceptional Podcast Network.


Podcast Advertisement 25:28

Please listen carefully. Hi, I'm Matt Hott, one of those of speech science, a weekly podcast bringing you all the information that you can handle related to speech sciences and disabilities. Michelle Wintering, Michael McLeod, and I interview leaders and difference makers in the field. Every Tuesday, we drop a new episode, you can find us on iTunes, Android, and on our website, Join us as we try to find the answers to the question "What is communication?" Now let's get back to our amazing interview.


Martyn 26:01

So yeah, I mean that you have to for me, actually, I'm not quite sure how all the other dots joined as well. But you know, I know you're working for Virgin. And you've been on billboards, and for LinkedIn like hats off. I mean, I get it. Yeah. How does that connect from Diversability? But just generally like, how's that all happened? There's a general progress.


Shani 26:24

Sure. So, I think this is a good time to I guess, share, you know, why I do a lot of the things that I do and what motivates me really to bank on a possibility. So, growing up, I was born in the West Midlands into a Sikh family, I was the only person that had a disability or was born with my condition. In my community and my family, there was nobody else who had that, had a conditional impairment. And growing up as well, I never saw anyone that looked like me. So, a lot of what I do is from the motivation that I want to feel represented, and I don't want other people who may have similar characteristics to me, or been in any of my communities, to feel that way. Because I really believe that you can't be what you can't see.


Martyn 27:18

Very important.


Shani 27:19

Yeah, so everything that I do is really motivated from their perception of, of bringing more diversity in the conversation of disability, because as I grew up, and disability was being profiled and featured more than it would have no diversity in it. And then that meant it didn't reflect my experiences, or the people of, you know, other ethnic minorities or any other characteristic. So just as in the mainstream world, we're fighting for better representation, we are also in the representation of disability. And, you know, it's why I, I am a trustee of a disability charity, it's, it's why I've banged on so many doors to get a seat at that table, because my voice is needed for me and my community. And so that's, that's, that's really why I've do all of this. There might be some of the businesses you've set up rather than as, like some of the day job at the moment, and then it all connects to that core value. Yeah, I mean, and it really helped me define what my passion and my purpose was in life as well. And I feel very fortunate to say that, you know, anything that I do now, it's all connected to that there isn't nothing that I do that that doesn't, and that doesn't serve that purpose. And I feel very fortunate to say that because so many people out there can only work on their passion outside of their day job. When I started to work at Virgin, I, it was, you know, it's my dream job. They're a business that focused on doing the right thing for not only their disabled employees, but also customers. And they've been on an amazing journey of the last couple years. And they're still continuing to, to make so many changes and become the leading telecoms provider for disabled people. Yeah.


Martyn 29:17

And so like, is your role specific to that? Or is it like, because I've had some people on that they've got a role that's almost not about disability, or inclusion, but then they sort of volunteer and their passion, they set up various initiatives at the company around that, but your role is specific about disability and inclusion, right?


Shani 29:39

Yeah. So, I've actually been at Virgin Media now, I think the two and a half years, and I've had, I've had several roles now, but they've all been around disability. And when I joined, I was the disability program manager. So solely working on disability initiatives across the business for customer people and strategy. And as that plan has evolved, as has my role, and you know, just like there's a massive hype around diversity and inclusion at the moment, I, you know, really believe it's not just down to the inclusion lead to do everything on DNI in the business, it's everybody's responsibility. Yeah, so that's being, you know, handed out into all of the relevant teams. And that's how it should be. But everybody shares that responsibility. Some people might know this, when I was younger, you know, I was someone that really struggled to get a job, I had to apply for over 100 jobs just to get a part time job. And it wasn't until I removed any mention of my condition, then I even got an interview. You know, I've also had really negative experiences. And that's why I am so passionate about helping businesses to understand you know, how to best serve disabled people, not only as employees, but customers, but I know what it's like to not even hear back from, you know, application after application. So yeah, when I got to Virgin Media, I just was so happy and still am, it's a great place to work.


Martyn 31:14

So, would you say, when you look at the customer and employee side, it's about removing barriers or so of customer might be when they want to join Virgin Media. And if they've got customer service needs, that there's different ways that like, if the Deaf, for example, that'd be a way to communicate, and for employees, it would be removing barriers, so they can basically just be themselves and have their talent to do their job better. And really well.


Shani 31:45

Absolutely. So with the customer side, it's looking at, you know, our product offering, we launched an accessible handset, I think like just over a year and a half ago, we look at the language that our contact center agents use when talking to disabled or vulnerable customers, it's really at every sort of touch point a customer would ever have with Virgin Media. It's really been worked on extensively across the business, and then just a couple of examples for employees. So, workplace adjustments is a huge thing, because that can be a huge, huge barrier. As well,


Martyn 32:21

We've been done with our having launched that Purple Goat, you know, we're really looking at the moment all of our team is disabled. And as we grow, it won't necessarily be 100% disabled staff. Because there's, you know, there's going to be time for all sorts of reasons that have been non-disabled people is a good thing, because if inclusion goes both ways, right, but like, compared to there's 20% of the population with a disability, it's like employment is unemployment is double of non-disabled people, we really want to address that. But it's bringing up those workplace adjustments I, I live and breathe, being in a wheelchair, as the CEO and co-founder, it's like, okay, how do we still have processes that mean, we're giving clients the best service? But how is everyone in the team able to shine? And either do it a different way? Or sort of share tasks differently as well? It's been fascinating how that works.


Shani 33:20

Yeah. And I think once people start on that journey, they actually find it's not as hard as they thought it would be. out there now, there's, you know, access to work. So, it's getting all paid for even, there's great companies as well, like Microlink, they can, you know, come in and help you work it all out. I just feel like any excuses. now, businesses used to either not let their staff work remotely or not be able to provide representatives, and it's just an excuse. We just can't have that anymore.


Martyn 33:52

Yeah, I agree. I agree. Yeah, I mean, that there's two points we keep coming back to there's this sort of fear of saying and doing the wrong thing. So, like someone's got a workplace adjustment or an access need. And I think that's something else I've learned is that rather than talk about the disability and the kind of conditions that like I have SMA, spinal muscular atrophy, but that's not actually relevant to my employer. In a theoretical sense. It's because I'm my own employee. That's why I'm saying that it's actually what are my access needs. So I struggle to type so okay, how do I be able to type faster so for like, the more that I've changed this framing, of disclosing the disability versus access needs, we end up coming back to every employee should be able to say my chairs are uncomfortable or I'm, I'm having this friction point, whether they're disabled or not, and same with customers. So, it's like when we get rid of this fear, I don't say you point about cost, it doesn't cost more, because there are these other initiatives that cover those offset those costs anyway. So, it's such a no brainer, but it's like, getting that out to the world.


Shani 35:14

And, you know, just as you mentioned, like no employer should be asking anyone their medical history, or anyone should be focusing on it, what barriers do you have in doing your role? Yes, you might have a condition or an impairment, or, you know, you might just be uncomfortable at your desk, or there might be someone that's got into the menopause and they need a fan, like, that's an adjustment. It's so simple, but because of the I think, across society, we don't understand the prevalence of disability, it's got a negative perception. And that has a lot to do with portrayal the sensationalism, you know, so until we get that accurate representation, until I see a woman who has a condition who is a mother and a CEO, on my screen, you know, I want to see that accurate portrayal. I don't want to see disabled people, or token in films and soaps, you know am so passionate about this.


Martyn 36:12

So, I'm gonna now and you know, this is not my personal perspective or view. But to play devil's advocate, there's, there's a bit of a sort of pushback from parts of society, that there's Black Lives Matter, there's Me Too, there's the Purple Movement with disability, I also like Purple Movement feels a bit more like Me Too, Black Lives Matter. Whereas, again, disability movement, it's that word, it's so like, not able, you know, "dis". That's a whole tangent, but like your talk, and we both agree about this representation. But there are people that are almost feeling a bit unsettled and scared that if they are middle class, white male, for example, that they're not going to have any jobs, what what's your view on that that fear that comes from those places?


Shani 37:06

First and foremost, everyone needs to acknowledge that we are a human race, we are at least Guinea, whatever your ability is, we're all the same. We all live and breathe; we all believe the same. We're human. And I think for those people that feel that way, then that means that unfortunate, well, maybe fortunate for them, but I feel like their privilege has actually shielded them, until all of this time until they've actually had to actually acknowledge that, wow, this these group of people face this issue, or this community has always felt like this, or this community is always marginalized and never represented. But, you know, what, if you belong to more than one of those communities, do they take the time out to think about how they feel? You know, I, I often have to sort of dissect sometimes, the way that I'm being treated, you know, is it because I'm a woman? Is it because I have a visible condition? Or is it because I'm Asian? So, it's hard and I use,


Martyn 38:09

What you're talking about is intersectionality. Like, there's different protected identities and sort of marginalized groups that have barriers for all sorts of societal, political, and economic reasons. And for you very personally, there's three of those or part of your identity. And that's, as you say, is a discrimination because of one, two, or all three at different points.


Shani 38:36

And also, you know, I think people forget that bringing in your culture has a massive role to play as well. So not only, you know, here in the UK, does disability have a negative perception, but also in the South Asian community, it faces a moving farther sense of stigma. So, you know, just imagine, if you were in that person's shoes, the number of barriers and challenges you have to go through not only outside your home, but inside your home as well. And in and within your community. So yeah, I think if anyone is is feeling that way, or there's, you know, a white male out there, or anyone that is thinking, oh, gosh, you know, there's a huge emphasis now on these communities. I think it's about time. I really do. And I think I urge everyone to be allies, don't feel threatened. Because we do not want to take anybody's job, we should all be offered the same opportunities or opportunities that we need as a community or all that we need as individuals. So, it's about helping each other supporting each other. And I think being the best, I like allies that we can for each other.


Martyn 39:49

Very well said. And I knew when I asked you that question that you would be able to nail that. I want to I want to clip this and share that all over. That's amazing. And to build on what you said, it's not about scarcity and fear. It's about equal opportunities, being able, because we're all different. So like, you know, I've gone down the influencer marketing agency route, you're doing Diversability as you're kind of core business and all that other things that we've done as well, like, we both I need it to make a difference in the disability inclusion world, as is loads of other people with a disability and not with a disability like that. There's so many people in the world, there's so much to do to make it better. Yeah, it's abundance, right, that there is enough jobs and enough need for everybody to participate. And I think that's the other part of this is that no one's losing out. It's about including everyone to partake in it.


Shani 40:51

Yeah. And I think just looking at your own privileges, and, and thinking about how you can help other people, you know, I have certain privileges that other people don't. And, you know, I use my voice in the best way that I can to be an advocate for me different causes that I'm passionate about. So even in a marginalized community, we still have privileges that we could wear, we can still use our voice. So, like you said, Martyn, there's room for everybody.


Martyn 41:17

Yeah, yeah, I like putting it back in disability. When I was going job hunting after uni. If I didn't get the job because I wasn't right for the job, like, fine. I mean, that's like, like it. It's not easy and it's not handed on a plate. No, as you say, No one wants tokenism. But I had a degree and a master's in economics and marketing. So, like, there were jobs I know, I didn't get because of my disability. And that that is wrong. So yeah, it's a really important topic. I think we’ve; we've touched on obviously, I've talked about Virgin Media. Is did you say the role had changed from when you started? Or is it very much the same role now?


Shani 41:59

Yes. So, it's, it's evolved, as has the business, which is great. I'm still with Virgin Media. Now I'm working with their partnership with scope, which is all around "Work With Me", and the support to work service. So essentially, work with me is a community of businesses that are committed to tackling disability, but it's absolutely free to join. And it's about businesses supporting each other. As we know, you know, there's so much to do when it comes to disability equality, not only in business, but in society. And the Work With Me program is all around supporting businesses just to help them support each other. If you know if you need resources, if you need to talk to anyone, I will say go to our website and have a look. Or just reach out to me, but more than happy to help.


Martyn 42:54

Brilliant, brilliant. And so, LinkedIn, how does that fit in the picture?  So, LinkedIn...  When do you sleep?


Shani 43:07

I used to be someone that needs like eight hours a night. Now I just survive on like four or five. So yeah, LinkedIn. So, I was actually approached on LinkedIn, by LinkedIn last year. So, they got in touch to say that they were looking to profile people who had found their job through LinkedIn. And I found my job at Virgin Media through LinkedIn. So yeah, and I shared my story. And I think maybe they got in touch with me, because maybe they saw that I applied for it. And that I said that I worked there. Because otherwise I don't know how they knew to contact me. So, it's a bit of a mystery. So yeah, that's how that came about. And I think my story is, you know, probably a little bit unique. I'm actually, you know, the, as I say, in that in the ad, like, I didn't even know that that type of job existed. So, my background is actually in event management. I, you know, over the years have become a disability rights advocate. And, you know, the job was to be a disability program manager. So, it was combining different area. Yeah. So, but it was combining my project management experience, yeah, disability, which are both the skills that I have. That's why I often say refer to it as my dream job. So yeah, so that that was really exciting. But what I really loved about that, is that, you know, I worked with the team, I co-wrote the script with them. They, you know, I've often had, you know, when I've had interviews and things, people using language that I hate my story being sensationalized, but what I really loved about it is it was totally authentic. I was hugely involved. And my story of that campaign, I think, was one of the highest performing ones. So not only was it LinkedIn's first UK TV advert, but it was also on like billboards, buses, Tube Stations, which is really surreal,


Martyn 45:13

We like spoke loads on the phone. And now they're like, as made so I was like going around that, then saw you on all these billboards.


Shani 45:23

And they told me they're going to be here. And I was like, Oh, yeah, great. But it wasn't until like, I saw my giant head on a billboard. It's like, Oh my god, that to me, it was really, really surreal. But the second way to speak was when I was at home, backing down with my parents, and you know, we weren't looking at the TV that the TV was just on. And then you'd hear the little intro jingle, and then my voice. I was like, O my God that is me, so that was really Yeah, really exciting.


Martyn 45:55

A very powerful ad. Very powerful.


Shani 45:58

Yeah. And there was so much to get across in that 30 seconds as well, but really happy that it did get everything across. And then now this year, I guess there's a bit of an extension of that campaign. I'm now part of another campaign with LinkedIn, which is called changemakers. So, there's seven of us in total, and we're all advocates for great, very, you know, cause worthy topics. So, sustainability, to mental health, disability to unconscious bias, and we are being profiled on the net and the platform. So, we write articles every month and post every week. So yeah, that's LinkedIn changemakers, to go and check it out. It's a great place to be to be involved in,


Martyn 46:46

You're on fire, absolutely. Like, kind of through your older version, or is that sort of like a bit of a side project or a bit of both?


Shani 46:57

I'd say it's a combination of a bit of everything. And we've all got individual goals. So, my goal is to make the workplace more accessible after you know, my own experiences. And on the work that I do with Virgin Media. So,


Martyn 47:12

Those are the profile of Virgin Media it so cool. Well, mmm we're getting near the end of our time, as we said it was gonna, it was gonna fly by five minutes. I do I Oh, yeah. It's always the way it's crazy. Yeah, but I guess it's just a couple of minutes for anything that you didn't get to mention that you want to mention. And also, any kind of summary for people to follow you and inspire them before we head off.


Shani 47:42

Yeah, so as I mentioned early, earlier, I also founded the Asian woman festival. So, I'd be great to, to talk about that for a minute. So that really came around. Because in the South Asian community, women have traditionally been valued on their ability to get married and have kids. And I was looking for an event, I was just looking for other likeminded Asian women. But the only events that I could really find were events where you go and book your wedding or where you go and buy a sari. And I wasn't interested in either of those things. I was like, well, there must be other women out there like me that aren't interested in buying a new Sari, what am I going to do with six yards of material I am 3 feet 10, literally. What am I going to do with all that? And then with my events background, it's like, Well, why don't I create it. And if I when creating this new concept of a festival, I thought maybe 200 people turn up. But over 1000 people turned up on the day, people traveled internationally for the festival. And, you know, when I founded it, I was like, I'll just do the first one, and I'll see how it goes, you know, my expectations were so low. That now like, like I have got a huge responsibility. Now to carry the sign. We've got a great global community, when we've nearly got 20k followers on Instagram, and it's all been organically grown. So again, I think I just like to say to people out there, like if there's something you're passionate about, we're so lucky to live in this, this era of social media, you know, I'm actually glad I didn't grow up, grow up with it. But now we can use it to our benefit. So, and a lot of it's been done online. So, if there's any motivation that I can give to anybody, it's, it's there for the taking. So just do it. And also, you'll find other people that are passionate about that, because they'll find you and you can work together. So, this way, when things come together like that.


Martyn 49:48

There's been the big thing at purple goat is that it's about niche content to niche audiences at scale. So, there's so many what I regard as nice but actually you know, it's still like, I mean, disability seems a niche and it's 14 million. And then you know, we've done campaigns where we've worked with people from Bain community, and they do an adapted workout video. And they're a wheelchair user. And so, it's like, you can go really, really niche. That content, obviously, that's a very marketing word content like that, that storytelling is so powerful to a broader audience, like your LinkedIn, you know, obviously resonated with disabled people, because we saw ourselves in you and it was that one of us there, you know, like, as you say, it was viewed by a lot of people without a disability as well. And you know that that shows that that, that those sorts of niche storytelling is really quite powerful and more and more the social media world. Congratulations, again. Yeah, I mean, is that anything else before we finish up?


Shani 51:01

If people want to get in touch with me, it's just @shanidhanda on all socials, and it's It's great having a unique name because everything's available and all the handles, so, Yeah,


Martyn 51:16

I hope you've enjoyed the really interesting chat today. Do follow Shani on social and as she said, go to the website. If you're interested in the businesses, give them a Google I'm sure you can find Diversability and all the other ones we've discussed today easily enough through there. And yeah, just keep going. Shani, I'm cheering you on, and everything goes in the next two or three.


Shani 51:39

And thank you for all your support.


Martyn 51:41

Pleasure. Pleasure. All right. Take care. See you soon.


Mai Ling 51:46

Thanks so much for joining us for this episode. And remember that if you have a creative idea that you're ready to start on and want help from someone who truly understands what it means to build a disability focused offering, visit and let's get started.


Martyn 51:59

Be sure to check out to embrace your place as a world changer. If you are serious about becoming an influencer and impacting the world, please join me in my VIP Academy where we focus on you and build momentum together. We will see you in the next episode.


You're listening to the Exceptional Podcast Network.

Shani DhandaProfile Photo

Shani Dhanda

With my passion for creating everyday equality, I'm a social entrepreneur, disability equality advocate, business and culture change agent. Listed as one of the UK's Most Influential Disabled People, I am the founder of three initiatives, all united by the common purpose of empowering underrepresented communities:
1. Diversability Card, the UK’s first discount card for disabled people aimed at reducing the financial pressures from the unavoidable extra costs of living with a condition or impairment.
2. Asian Woman Festival, the UK's first-of-it's kind event smashing stereotypes to empower and celebrate Asian women.
3. Asian Disability Network, an educational platform and support network for people who experience multiple types of stigma due to their ethnic and cultural identities.
Working with Virgin Media as a Workplace Adjustment Specialist, I help to transform the experience for their disabled employees. I'm also Leonard Cheshire Disability trustee and an Executive Committee member of the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce.

As a subject matter expert, I serve as a member of the Greater London Regional Stakeholder Network, bringing the voices of disabled people and their organisations to policy development for the Government’s Office for Disability Issues. I'm an ambassador at Valuable 500, Parallel London and advisory board member for UnLtd.

As a keynote speaker and press commentator on disability and inclusion matters, I am regularly featured for my work through the various topics I advocate for. I have been profiled in the UK’s first-ever LinkedIn Campaign, Financial Times, CNN, BBC, Sky News, Channel 4, The Guardian, HuffPost, Evening Standard, iNews, Stylist Magazine 'Woman of the Week' and many more.

My natural style and approach are described as 'a winning combination of authenticity and passion, helping to remove the awkwardness and fear of having confident conversations about disability within business and society.'

I'm driven by the undeniable impulse to challenge perceptions and change attitudes through my own experiences of feeling excluded and underrepresented in society.