Jane has had a varied career as a musician, teacher, editor, diplomat, coach and social entrepreneur. Deaf since her early 20s, she has been active in promoting disability equality and supporting people to achieve their full potential.


Jane went from her local comprehensive school to St John’s College, Cambridge. She was in the third year of women undergraduates at her college. Jane has a Masters degree in Education from the Open University. She speaks Polish, French and some Spanish and can use British Sign Language (BSL).

2009 Belarus awayday


Jane was a teacher for 10 years, working in Finland, Poland (running her own school) and then London, at a Further Education College. She then trained and worked as an editor at Cambridge University Press and at the University of London’s External degree programme before joining the Foreign office.

Jane is a Trustee for Disability Rights UK and Manchester Deaf Centre.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

When Jane applied to the FCO in 2001 along with 1,100 others 1% (11) were successful. She was the first deaf person to work at middle management level in the FCO. She did European policy and Communication work from 2001–6, including editing the FCO’s Annual Report. From 2006 to 2010 she led the political/military team at the British Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. She used her role as a deaf woman to have a positive influence on Poland’s policy makers. She won several awards for this work.

In 2009 the FCO offered Jane a new posting: Deputy Ambassador to Kazakhstan. This was a key career opportunity, offering greater responsibility and the chance to learn about broader FCO work. The FCO then withdrew Jane’s job. They gave it to the second-choice candidate. The FCO said the cost of Jane’s support was too high. The FCO offered no adjustments to balance this decision. It told Jane to keep applying for jobs; if she got any of the jobs, then they would assess her ‘reasonable adjustments’  –  and possibly withdraw the job offer.

Legal challenge

The Equality and Human Rights Commission supported Jane in challenging the FCO’s decision about her job. She brought an Employment Tribunal then an Employment Appeal Tribunal. Although neither was successful, Jane is pleased that her legal process raised important questions:

  • How far can deaf staff in central government get professionally?
  • How can deaf staff in central government achieve their potential and become positive role models for future generations?

Information on cost

Jane’s lawyers, Leigh Day & Co. used the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) questionnaire process to ask the FCO for information before her Tribunal. The FCO offers financial support to staff with families who work overseas for up to 10 years. It sets no conditions to giving this support. The lawyers asked for information about high payments the FCO makes to people with large families. The FCO refused to provide this. Under the UK’s Equality Act the Tribunal could have ‘inferred negatively’ about this refusal; it chose not to.

The size of the FCO budget for disability was one of the main points the FCO used to justify withdrawing Jane’s posting. At the Tribunal an FCO senior manager gave the following 2009–10 budgets for supporting staff:

GroupCost (one year)Number of staff
Staff with families working overseas (and needing education support on return)£10 million380
Staff with disabilities£0.58m580

Jane Cordell decided to leave the FCO in December 2011. She lost her belief in the FCO’s ability to offer a fair working environment, particularly for staff with additional needs.


Jane learnt viola at school. She played in the National Youth Orchestra and an international youth orchestra, the World Orchestra. She also worked briefly as a professional in a chamber orchestra in Finland. Jane continues to play viola in a local amateur orchestra the Ramsbottom Choral Society and Orchestra.

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