Increase in Disability Disclosure:

Homes for Students

With a goal to increase disability awareness and confidence among its employees, between March and November 2022, Celebrating Disability delivered 13 training sessions for Homes for Students.

Andrew Murray, Homes for Students’ People Development Manager, reported that the training sessions helped to shift the company culture into one in which staff felt comfortable and empowered. Shortly after engaging in our training, Homes for Students’ data monitoring revealed that the business had seen a significant increase in the number of employees disclosing their own disabilities.

Through our tailored programme of interactive sessions, Homes for Students gained an improved understanding of disability, as well as the confidence to know how to better support their disabled employees.

Training sessions



Increase in staff disclosure of disability

The best course I’ve been on in years!

The Background

Homes for Students is one of the largest independent providers of student accommodation in the UK and Ireland. With over 150 properties and 39,000 rooms and studios, Homes for Students provides quality accommodation for students in dozens of cities, from Aberystwyth to Aberdeen.
The business has grown rapidly over the last six years, and during the pandemic especially they have seen a “massive amount of growth”. To accommodate an expanding mission and a growing team, the People team created a Diversity and Inclusion group called Together is Better. One of these focus groups was based around disability awareness.

The focus group quickly brought to the company’s attention that although employees were receptive to the conversation around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, their understanding of disability was still, for the most part, rudimentary. For example, Andrew explained that “A lot of our people looked at disability as a wheelchair-user,” when in reality, disability is much more diverse. Andrew knew that as a company, “we wanted to explore the world of different disabilities.” He added:

“We were concerned that we weren’t educated enough. We were worried about making a mistake.”

After becoming aware of potential gaps in their knowledge, Homes for Students decided to seek external support:  “We knew what we needed to do.”

Our Successful Proposal

After meeting with Homes for Students to understand their desired goals and outcomes, Celebrating Disability constructed a proposal outlining how the training sessions would meet these goals.


Homes for Students quickly concluded that working with us would be “the right fit”. “We knew what we wanted but we needed to know how to go about it,” Andrew recalled.
“What Esi was offering was really concrete. She shared the same vision as we did as a business”.


One thing that stood out to Historic England was our dynamic use of technology to deliver interactive sessions, and they appreciated that we were not only “fresh and dynamic”, but “reactive to the audience.” Crucially, we appealed over our competitors because we are user-led and provide an authentic pan-disability perspective.

We also appealed over our competitors because we are user-led: our Founder and Managing Director Esi Hardy and diverse team of Associates all have lived experience of disability or of having caring responsibilities. Andrew explained: “Esi was very personable and she could share her own personal stories with us.”
The trainers’ lived experience was often cited in the participants’ post-session feedback, which appreciated the “real life examples” and the “focus on the human element rather than procedural.”

Learning how to Support Disabled Employees

​The training sessions, called “Supporting Disabled Employees”, ran between March and November 2022, and a total of 180 Homes for Students employees registered to take part. The sessions were targeted at the company’s line managers, so they could better understand how to support their disabled colleagues.

After learning more about the needs of the business, Homes for Students explained that Esi designed a series of “small bite-size sessions for our managers.” These covered various topics, from defining a reasonable adjustment to the “differences between the disability models” and “what [managers] can do throughout the recruitment process.”  Strong emphasis was also made on creating cultures where disabled people feel safe to disclose a disability.

The sessions would be facilitated by Esi and her associate, Roland Chesters. When Esi told the Homes for Students team that her associate trainer Roland would be taking over the delivery of some of the sessions, there were initially some nerves. Andrew explained: “Because Esi has so many personal experiences she can share, and obviously being a wheelchair-user as well, when she said she couldn’t attend them all and Roland was going to support and Roland had a hidden disability, we were wondering how was it going to land because we’d had amazing feedback from Esi’s sessions.”

But almost immediately, their fears vanished “because Roland also had personal stories and personal experiences, so it really landed.” Celebrating Disability provides training from a pan-disability perspective which benefits from the trainers’ lived experience – and indeed in the post-session feedback there were many references to Roland’s excellent facilitation. He was called “fantastic”, “a delight” and “very engaging”, and his “sense of humour” was said to be helpful in “[getting] points across.”

A colourful bar chart is titled “How would you rate the quality of facilitation at your workshop?”. The bar chart illustrates that 70% of respondents rated the facilitation as “Excellent”, 26% as “Good”, 2% as “Average” and 1% as “Poor”. Bar chart taken from benchmarking results that enabled Homes for Students to see an increase in disability disclosure

A colourful bar chart is titled “How would you rate the quality of facilitation at your workshop?”. The bar chart illustrates that 70% of respondents rated the facilitation as “Excellent”, 26% as “Good”, 2% as “Average” and 1% as “Poor”.

Esi and Roland opened the sessions by introducing different definitions of disability; for example, what defines a disability according to the Equality Act 2010. Many of the participants were surprised to learn that disability is diverse and expansive, and that it stretches far beyond the “wheelchair-user”: disability can be visible or invisible, congenital or acquired.

Participants were introduced to the different types of disability discrimination, and encouraged to distinguish between the social model and the medical model of disability. Then, the group moved into a dynamic discussion about language, in which participants were taught to understand identity-first versus person-first language.

One participant said that they felt more confident after learning the “appropriate language to use”; another said that “the parts around communication […] were most helpful for me.”

After the group had got to grips with the fundamentals of disability awareness, the session focused on building the participants’ understanding of disability inclusion in the workplace. There was lots of interesting discussion about reasonable adjustments, with examples of how these can vary depending on the individual and their specific needs. Participants were taught about Access to Work and the relationship between disabled employees and their personal assistants. Finally, participants were put into breakout groups to discuss the session’s takeaways and their goals going forward.

The training was described as interactive and “conversation-starting”, and the atmosphere was inclusive; participants were reassured that no question was too “silly” or inappropriate. Andrew recalled that “it felt very much more like an open forum than a formal training session”.

90% Increase in Disability Disclosure

Shortly after undertaking our training, Homes for Students partnered with Inclusive Employers and took part in their annual National Inclusion Week. Andrew explained:

“Once we’d done the disability awareness training, we understood what we needed to do as employers.”

As part of National Inclusion Week, Homes for Students sent out a data drive to its employees. The results were astonishing: “We’ve seen a 90% increase in our data drive of people sharing if they had a disability or not,” said Andrew. He added that the data monitoring “wasn’t just on disability, but on all parts of equality and diversity.” Especially surprising was the fact that since the training, employees felt not only more comfortable disclosing their disabilities, but other parts of their identities as well. The company saw:

  • 25% increase in people sharing their religious beliefs and
  • 21% increase in employees sharing their sexual orientation

Andrew explained that his team now feel “more comfortable” around the topic of disability. Employees feel less fear about disability inclusion, and more confidence to know how to talk to their disabled colleagues. One participant said that before the training, “I was often concerned about how I approach the subject without offending people”, and that attending was “really beneficial.” Another participant expressed that “Even if you think you are familiar with disability it’s a great opportunity to sharpen your awareness.” 95% called the session “very valuable” or “game-changing” to their role.

One participant described the session as “the best course I’ve been on in years”

After the training, participants were equipped with a thorough understanding of disability inclusion and the confidence to take actionable steps. 94% of participants reported feeling “able to immediately implement ideas into [their] work”.

There were also frequent references to our training giving participants a new sense of perspective. One person called the training “thought provoking,” and another said it was “opening my mind to the daily challenges people face”. One participant even had a message for anyone thinking about attending our sessions: “Be prepared to look at the world differently.”

Key takeaways for Homes for Students

Homes for Students is left with a number of key takeaways:

  • Knowing the appropriate language to use
  • Viewing disability through the social model
  • Providing reasonable/ anticipatory adjustments for disabled employees
  • Supporting employees with invisible (as well as visible) disabilities
  • Continuing data monitoring of disability among staff
  • Extending their work in disability inclusion to include their students

Next Steps

Since we delivered the training, Homes for Students has been exploring the possibility of commissioning us again to create a further two e-learning modules for their managers and team managers.

Homes for Students is also seeking to better support their disabled student residents. The company wants to ensure that disabled students are properly supported at check-in and throughout their residency, and that students always feel comfortable disclosing their needs.

We are looking forward to working again with Homes for Students as they continue to increase disability inclusion across the company.

Training sessions tailored to your needs

Designed around your specific goals and outcomes to empower disability inclusion

Designed and delivered with lived experience of disability

All trainers talk from a pan disability experience. We couple that with realistic recommendations for your workplace.

Immersive, interactive and outcome focused

Using a variety of engagement methods to encourage safe, open conversation

Resources to track your return on investment

Benchmarking and action plan tracking enabling you and your delegates to track progress

To discover how you can build disability awareness and confidence across your organisation, send us an enquiry or book an exploratory 45 minute call with Esi. We would love to discuss your goals, objectives and how Celebrating Disability can best support you and your team: