Dealing with Disabilities – Am I Doing Enough?

by | Feb 1, 2022 | Health & Wellbeing | 0 comments

Dealing with Disabilities – Am I Doing Enough?

 

You see it time and time again.

‘We have a diverse workplace’, or ‘We value the experience and outlook of all employees.’

Whilst diversity and inclusion may be on an upwards trajectory, is enough being done to ensure that disabled employees are acknowledged, validated and supported in the workplace?

With disabled people in the UK still being more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people1, there’s still much more that can be done.

We’ve already discussed how you can support non-visible disabilities in the workplace, so in this article, we’ll be covering whether enough is being done to support disabilities in the workplace, and how to start.

 

The lowdown…

There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, and more than 4.1 million disabled people are in work2.

There are a multitude of conditions under the umbrella of disability, such as: problems with sight or hearing, learning disabilities, dyslexia and dyspraxia, impairments due to injury, organ-related conditions such as heart disease and asthma, progressive conditions such as motor neurone disease and muscular dystrophy.

With such a wide range of conditions that may class as a disability (and many not mentioned above), it becomes clear that most workplaces offer a rather reductive approach to disabilities.

 

What not to do

If you become aware that an employee has a disability, you are obligated to ask them if they require reasonable adjustments, or if necessary, seek medical advice on what you can do to best support them.

What you shouldn’t do, however, is haggle over what is or isn’t reasonable – in reality, reasonable adjustments are barely scratching the surface of being a workplace that a disabled employee would feel comfortable in, and thrive in.

What classes as ‘reasonable adjustments’?

  • Building accessibility changes, such as a ramp for wheelchair users
  • Providing equipment changes, such as a specialised keyboard
  • Flexible working hours and remote working options
  • Walking an employee through tasks and describing how to perform them

Now, of course, larger businesses will have a greater expectation for what reasonable adjustments are, as they should realistically be able to afford more than a small business could.

It’s not just about making reasonable adjustments once they are required, but being proactive.

Can you say that your business has already taken the potential need for adjustments into consideration? If not, you may already be disadvantaging your ability to provide an inclusive and comfortable workplace for a disabled employee.

 

The problem

1 in 3 disabled people feel that there’s a lot of disability prejudice, according to Scope.

Additionally, 1 in 3 people see disabled people as being less productive than non-disabled people.

Do you see the issue here?

Before a disabled person can even enter a workplace, they are facing an unconscious bias, and potentially, a workplace that isn’t accommodating to them.

Another problem is the reductionist views on what classes as a disability, resulting in many businesses assuming that making their building accessible is a ‘one and done’ fix.

True advocacy and diversity lies in a proactive, validating approach – not a last-minute, panicked attempt at compliance.

 

How do you create a positive, inclusive environment for disabled employees?

It starts with workplace/office culture.

No amount of adjustments will convey a truly diverse workplace if there isn’t a genuine culture of diversity and inclusion.

From language choices that can be offensive or exclusionary to disabled employees, to training line managers and other employees on how to accommodate disabilities in the workplace, it begins with the workplace atmosphere.

 

  • Recognise differences in communication

Part of inclusivity is feeling acknowledged, valued and empowered.

If a disabled employee feels as though they can’t approach a colleague or management about any potential issues they have, this immediately clashes with inclusivity.

For example, if an employee with cognitive disabilities is perceived as rude in a conversation with another colleague, is the situation diffused by acknowledging that their communication style is simply not the same?

 

  • Always consider accessibility

There are always events and special occasions for a company, which can often present accessibility issues for disabled employees.

It’s good practice to avoid venues for events that have an excess of stairs, no accessible toilets and a lack of places to rest and sit down.

If you ensure that this is always part of your practice, then it avoids the potential for a disabled employee to avoid company events due to concerns around inaccessibility.

 

  • Don’t make a song and a dance about it

If there’s anything that will truly make a disabled employee feel embarrassed, undervalued and scrutinised, it’s someone who micromanages and discusses accommodations they’ve made in front of other members of staff.

Don’t make it a big deal – if you need to discuss accommodations with a disabled employee, do it in a professional manner that keeps them and other employees informed to avoid potential speculation around ‘special treatment’.

This leads to our final point…

 

  • Give your disabled employees autonomy over their disclosure

If an employee feels comfortable disclosing their disability to others, that’s great!

If they don’t, then confidentiality and understanding should be the key, as they are well within their rights to choose when they feel comfortable speaking about their disability.

There is still a sense of stigma around many disabilities, so ensuring that employees are supported throughout is essential, as the decision is ultimately theirs.

As long as they feel respected and seen in the workplace, that is what matters.

 

You shouldn’t deny differences, you should embrace them – facing challenges and stigma in day-to-day life can be demoralising and draining, so creating an environment in which disabled people feel valued can make a huge difference.

Acknowledging the barriers that disabled employees face means that you can begin cultivating a diverse and inclusive environment, without ever having to stop and ask yourself ‘Am I doing enough?’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1,2 https://www.scope.org.uk/media/disability-facts-figures/

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