The Government’s Disability and Access Ambassadors

Disability and Access Ambassadors help to ensure businesses are doing all they can to support their disabled customers.Please note: Disability and Access Ambassadors are not able to deal with individual issues or personal queries.

Disability and Access Ambassadors are senior business leaders. They drive improvements in the accessibility and quality of services and facilities in their sector for disabled people, helping to ensure businesses are doing all they can to support disabled customers. The roles are voluntary. They serve for up to 3 years, and are managed by the Government’s Disability Unit (part of the Equality Hub).

New ambassadors were appointed in July 2021. Together the new and existing ambassadors cover the following private sector industries:

  • advertising (brand and design)
  • airports
  • arts and culture
  • banking
  • built environment (products and services)
  • buses
  • countryside and heritage
  • creative Industries
  • energy
  • hospitality (pubs and restaurants)
  • housing (private)
  • insurance
  • rail travel
  • retail
  • technology
  • universities
  • web accessibility

Justin Tomlinson MP, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work said:

“I am very excited to welcome this incredible, impressive group of people as new Disability and Access Ambassadors. They will help support the existing team with our programme to increase access for disabled people across a wide range of private sector industries, and I am really looking forward to working with them.”

The ambassadors have been helping industry and the government in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and supporting work to develop the national disability strategy.

The Ambassadors

Advertising (brand and design)

Marianne Waite – Director of Inclusive Design, Interbrand

With over 14 years of experience in the world of design and branding, Marianne has spent her career working to harness and empower the world’s best branding minds to shift attitudes towards disability.

She has been a director at The Valuable 500, and founded Think Designable, a non-profit organisation made up of marketing and communications professionals working to educate and help brands be as inclusive as they can be. In 2017, Marianne was recognised in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. She has shared her work on platforms around the world, including The World Economic Forum and the United Nations. Marianne is also a Trustee of The Disabilities Trust.

Airports

Ann Frye OBE – Independent Consultant

Ann specialises in policy analysis and delivery on the mobility needs of disabled and older people across all modes of transport in the UK and internationally. She is currently the Chair of the Independent Gatwick Advisory Panel. She has delivered training and policy advice to airports and airlines (including easyJet) to improve the accessibility of air travel.

Ann was the Chair of the European Civil Aviation Conference Working Group on Passengers with Reduced Mobility for 16 years. She also served for 5 years as a member of the Civil Aviation Authority Consumer Panel. Before this, Ann led the Department for Transport’s Mobility and Inclusion Unit for 26 years, and established the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC). Ann’s OBE was awarded for services to disabled people.

Arts and culture

David Stanley BEM – Chief Executive Office (CEO), The Music Man Project

David is a musical director (including of Southend Mencap), teacher, and composer. He is the founder and CEO of The Music Man Project, a multi award-winning, world record-breaking international music education and performance service for people with learning disabilities. He works with special schools, regional music hubs (highlighted as best practice by the Arts Council), national charities and music conservatoires.

David has enabled hundreds of children and adults with disabilities to perform in front of thousands of people at the London Palladium and the Royal Albert Hall. He advises venues, casting agents, promoters, producers and directors regarding disability access. David has been a disability hate crime ambassador and was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2021 for services to disabled people.

Banking

Kathryn Townsend – UK Head of Customer Accessibility, Barclays

Kathryn has been Barclays’ UK Head of Customer Accessibility for 10 years. She is responsible for defining and executing the strategy to ensure that Barclays is recognised as a global leader in accessibility. Kathryn’s work has received numerous awards in the field, including from MoneyFacts, Disability Smart, and Barclays Citizenship. Kathryn has spoken to global audiences as an ambassador for Barclays, including at the UN in Vienna.

Kathryn organised 2 events with the Barclays Investment Bank in New York to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the US Disability Act, including a client event with the New York Mayor’s Office.

Built environment (products and services)

Ed Warner – Founder and CEO, Motionspot

Ed founded the accessible design company Motionspot in 2012, after his friend and co-founder James Taylor was paralysed in a diving accident, and became depressed by the clinical design and poor quality of adaptations in his home. Ed has built Motionspot into a Royal Institute of British Architects award-winning industry leader in accessible design, helping to transform spaces and lives through beautifully designed, accessible environments that deliver independence for anyone with a disability. Motionspot has also provided design advice and innovative accessible products to retirement developments, care and housing providers, hotels, offices, public spaces and leisure facilities across the world.

Ed is a regular industry speaker at international events on product design and design for later living, inclusive offices and accessible hotels, helping to change perceptions and encourage people to improve the design of spaces and products for everyone.

Buses

Claire Walters – Chief Executive, Bus Users UK Charitable Trust

Claire has been Chief Executive of Bus Users UK for the last 9 years. Under her leadership, Bus Users has become the only registered alternative dispute resolution body for the bus and coach sector, and a national enforcement body for bus and coach passenger rights. As a bridge between operators, local authority transport teams and local communities, Bus Users aims to ensure that the voices of passengers are heard by policy and decision makers. Bus Users is recognised by the bus and coach industries as a source of intelligence on passengers’ wants and needs.

Claire’s previous career spanned the public, private and voluntary sectors, including time spent as fundraising manager for the National Eczema Society, and deputy director for the Down’s Syndrome Association.

Countryside and heritage

Dr Heather J. L. Smith – National Equality Specialist, National Trust

Heather is the Equality Specialist for the National Trust. She has held positions which advised on equality, diversity, and access for disabled people as employees, volunteers, members, and visitors. Her current work includes leading for accessibility in the National Trust’s ‘Everyone Welcome’ strategic programme of organisational development. She has presented internationally on accessibility and the historic environment, and published a range of articles and chapters. She chairs the committee for the international ‘Jodi Awards’ for excellence in accessible digital design for museums, galleries, and heritage spaces.

Heather completed her PhD, researching provisions in museums and art galleries for blind and partially sighted people, something of great personal interest following a series of major eye operations as a child for a permanent eye condition. She has further personal experience of disability through caring for her partner who has motor neurone disease. Heather is a Clore Social Fellow, a mental health first aider, an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and a trustee of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, and of Enrych, a charity supporting disabled people into leisure and learning opportunities.

Creative industries

Allan MacKillop – Disability Lead covering Workforce Strategy, BBC

Allan is Disability Workforce Strategy Lead at the BBC. He is responsible for developing and driving forward disability workforce-related strategies across the BBC to support both disabled staff and users of BBC Services. Before this, Allan worked as the Disability Lead and Accessibility Champion at CGI Group. In this role, he provided an advisory service on accessibility compliance and disability-related communication.

Allan has spoken about the BBC’s disability strategy at conferences including Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Diversity and Inclusion Leaders, Disability Rights UK and the Business Disability Forum. Away from work, Allan is also a trustee of the charity AudioVisibility, which supports and champions the interests of deaf musicians.

Energy

Meghna Tewari – Head of Retail Market Policy, Ofgem

Meghna is a recognised energy sector leader with extensive experience of leading regulatory reform for vulnerable consumers, including those with disabilities. She created the energy regulator, Ofgem’s, highly influential vulnerability strategy, which has influenced cross-sectoral regulatory approaches in the UK and internationally. She regularly uses her influence to drive change in the best interest of consumers. For example, she was on the advisory panel for Fair by Design’s inclusive design initiative, seeking to drive out the poverty premium and empower consumers.

Meghna co-founded Ofgem’s ethnic diversity network and is an advocate of increased diversity at the workplace and in leadership roles. She also serves as a non-executive member for the Office for Students (higher education regulator) Committee on provider risk, which operates to serve the best interests of students and improve sector standards. She is regularly invited to speak at national and international conferences on disability and consumer issues in the energy sector.

Hospitality

Kate Nicholls OBE – Chief Executive, UKHospitality

Kate is Chief Executive of UKHospitality, the representative membership body for the industry, which has 90,000 members. She is also Chair of the Mayor of London’s Night Time Commission, and member of the London Food Board and UK Government Events Industry Board. Previously, as Chief Executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, Kate gained significant experience in public speaking in the industry and wider media on food and beverage trends and strategic issues. At Whitbread, Kate developed industry good practice guides in response to the Disability Discrimination Act.

Kate is a trustee of 2 industry charities (Licensed Trade Charity, and Hospitality Action), advising on the establishment of mental health and wellbeing helplines, and a catering work experience programme for neurodiverse and autistic young people. Kate was awarded an OBE in 2021 for services to the hospitality sector, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Housing

Vanessa Dockerill – Non Executive Member, Habinteg Housing Association

Vanessa has 30 years of experience across the construction, private housing development and affordable housing sectors. Having previously worked for Redrow Homes, Taylor Wimpey Major Developments and Catalyst New Homes , she is now a board member of Habinteg, a housing association which champions accessible and adaptable homes for disabled people.

Vanessa regularly meets and works alongside Habinteg’s disabled tenants, and believes strongly that housing sector leaders and disabled people themselves must work in partnership to improve provision and access. Vanessa is a qualified Quantity Surveyor and Chartered Arbitrator.

Insurance

Peter Hamilton – Head of Market Engagement, Zurich

Peter has 40 years of experience as a financial services professional. Peter joined Zurich in 2005 and is now responsible for its response to industry issues. Last year, Zurich revitalised and rebranded its Access and Inclusion Network (of which Peter is a member), updated its Disability Confident Leader status, became a PurpleSpace member, updated its Reasonable Adjustment policy, and had 126 people volunteer as Mental Health First Aiders.

Peter is Chair of the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI) long-term care working party, Chair of the ABI’s retail protection sub-group, member of the ABI’s protection strategy board, the building resilient households group, and the British Insurance Brokers’ Association’s access to insurance committee.

Rail travel

Caroline Eglinton – Access and Inclusion Manager, Network Rail Infrastructure

Caroline has worked for Network Rail for 15 years. Previously a Senior Business Change Manager, she took up the role of Access and Inclusion Manager in 2018, a specialist role which focuses on disability inclusion for rail passengers and employees. Passionate about disability advocacy, Caroline shares her lived experience of disability at events such as the government’s Disability in the Workplace Conference in 2020. She has also featured in Business Disability Forum’s podcast series, and has presented disability-related specialist webinars and conferences on topics around neurodiversity, mental health and non-visible conditions.

Caroline has been part of the Chartered Institute for Logistics and Transport Accessibility Forum, Business Disability Forum Transport Roundtable, Transport Focus Accessibility Forum, and Chaired the Railway for Everyone study conducted by Network Rail in 2019-20. She is also a member of the Accessibility and Inclusion Group operated by Rail Delivery Group, a forum to bring together accessibility and inclusion specialists in the rail industry.

Retail

Cleo Thompson – Group Head of Inclusion and Diversity, Marks and Spencer (M&S)

As Group Head of Inclusion and Diversity at M&S, Cleo works to create an inclusive culture within a diverse environment for her colleagues, for their customers, and for the communities in which their stores are located.

Having worked in inclusion and diversity in the retail and consumer goods industries for nearly 20 years, Cleo’s previous employers include Coca-Cola, PwC, Credit Suisse and AXA.

Cleo regularly speaks on panels, podcasts and at events, and represents M&S in the media. Cleo is an experienced Mental Health First Aid giver, a Dementia Friend and a professional coach.

Universities

Professor Geoff Layer OBE – Vice Chancellor, University of Wolverhampton and Chair of the Disabled Students’ Commission

Geoff has been Vice Chancellor at the University of Wolverhampton since 2011. He is Chair of the Disabled Students’ Commission, Chair of the Student Loans Company Stakeholder Forum, and Chair of Advance Higher Education’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (the lead UK higher education body on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion). Geoff is also Director of the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, Vice-President of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Chair of Universities West Midlands.

While at Sheffield Hallam University, Geoff established its first Disabled Student Support Service. Geoff was previously Director of Action on Access for the Higher Education Funding Council for England and National Coordinating Team for Widening Participation, and Director of the Equality Challenge Unit. As Chair of the Disabled Student Sector Leadership Group, Geoff produced the first guidance on inclusive learning for the sector. Geoff was awarded an OBE for services to higher education in 2003.