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Diversity Diaries 1: Opening the door to disability

Category: disability, Invisible Disability, Physical Disability, disability support, Business, leader, encourage, passion, Happy worker

Opening the door to disability

You may know who we are and what we do, but do you know why we do it?

 

Through our new series, Diversity Diaries, we will be examining diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace by diving deep into the topics we are passionate about and explaining exactly why we do what we do.

 

Happiness is defined as a state of wellbeing and contentment, but according the Evening Standard[1] the UK barely makes the top 20 happiest countries.

 

A happy worker is a productive worker, that’s been proven by multiple studies, so how can business leaders improve contentment among their workers and what benefits will they reap in doing so?

 

In this collection, we will take you on a journey through D&I, spotlighting why adopting a diverse and inclusive culture will make your workforce happier and in turn, your business more successful.

 

Our first topic for consideration is disability. What challenges do disabled workers face, how can businesses support them in the workplace and, from a business perspective, why should they?

 

 

CHAPTER ONE: OPENING THE DOOR TO DISABILITY

 

22% of people in the UK are disabled[2]. That’s the official figure for 2020 but many disabilities are invisible, some undiagnosed, and therefore little understood. So perhaps we should consider that number as a minimum.

 

53.2% of people with disabilities are recorded to be in[3] work but why isn’t that figure higher?

 

In this article, we will explore how businesses can create a culture of inclusion for disabled workers in three simple stages:

 

  1. Understanding individual disabilities
  2. Appreciating the implications disabilities may have on the individual
  3. How workplace adjustments to support workers should be approached

 

Some disabilities are visible; you can see if someone is in a wheelchair, but others are less obvious.

 

Invisible disabilities[4], or hidden disabilities, are defined as disabilities that are not visibly evident. It encompasses both mental disabilities and some physical conditions that can’t be seen; such as epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome or diabetes. So how do we create a culture of understanding of such disabilities?

 

UNDERSTANDING

 

To understand a disability there needs to be an open and encouraged dialogue. At work this means effective communication between the person with the disability and their manager.

 

Without openness from both the individual and the employer neither can hope to understand the other’s requirements. Some of the responsibility rests on the employer but some rests on the individuals themselves; they need to be open about how their disability affects them. In order to do this, the employee needs to feel they are in a safe environment and free from discrimination. This can be particularly challenging for those with invisible disabilities, especially those with mental health conditions.

 

Mental health is still little understood and, with a long history of stigma attached to it, revealing a mental health condition at work can be extremely daunting.

 

Unlike a visible physical disability, no one can see mental health conditions, which makes understanding them particularly challenging. You can imagine breaking your leg and not being able to walk comfortably for a few months, but can you imagine what it’s like to have audio and visual hallucinations or depression if you’ve never experienced them yourself?

 

Due to the fact that psychology is still a fairly new concept; it was only marked as a scientific enterprise in the late 19th century[5], lack of clinical understanding contributes to the problem. For an individual with a condition like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, to appropriately articulate their own condition they must be aware of their symptoms and triggers. If they’re not, how will they explain them to an employer?

 

What individuals might be able to do is break their condition down and learn what triggers their symptoms to decipher how their condition might affect their experience at work and what limitations their condition presents. A common feeling for mental health sufferers is shame and it is the responsibility of employers to help reduce these feelings by encouraging each individual to be open.

 

To create a safe environment for a disabled worker the employer must be open to the fact that disabled workers have certain limitations and be willing to make adjustments to help them perform their role as best they can.

 

IMPLICATIONS

 

The implications of disability on work itself can encompass anything from the benefits an analytically minded autistic worker might bring to the table, to the limitations a person with severe anxiety may have on their ability to cope with pressure. It is often the negative aspects of a condition, particularly mental health conditions, that are scrutinised but the benefits disabled workers can bring must not be overlooked. To bring about a change culture we need to investigate where this scrutiny comes from. Lack of understanding breads fear. Often fear stems from the unknown so to tackle this we must raise awareness.

 

A person with agoraphobia[6] or severe anxiety may struggle to travel, particularly on busy trains, and this may seem an inconvenience to a company that has a culture of face to face communication. But in a role that offers remote working, the person may thrive. With modern technologies available would it really be an unreasonable adjustment to let that person work from home? If they work at a computer, why would their inability to travel mean they are less equipped to perform their job?

 

Of course, there are some disabilities that prevent workers from performing certain roles. A person in a wheelchair would not be able to effectively work a highly physical job, but if offered physical adjustments and appropriate access to an office there is no reason they can’t work within their skillset.

 

ADJUSTMENTS

 

Adjustments to the workplace are often simple, inexpensive and sometimes work to help everyone in the office, not just disabled workers.

 

For example, having a mental health advocate at work can help other workers in times of stress and gives everybody the opportunity to reach out if they want or need to. An autistic worker might feel better with their back against the wall, a tiny adjustment, but with a potentially massive impact for a person that may suffer sensory fears. Sensory fears or sensory overload is not a symptom confined to people on the autistic spectrum so this kind of adjustment could be offered to everyone. If we can open the conversation around how disabilities and challenges, mental and physical, manifest themselves day to day we can work out what adjustments need to be made to support those workers.

 

The latest statistics state that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives[7]. But again, that is only reported cases. Mental health awareness is currently everywhere, but what impact are we trying to achieve through awareness raising? By trying to understand invisible conditions from a cause and effect point of view we can start to learn the triggers for mental ill health and develop a bank of prevention techniques to help those that suffer in their day to day lives. This translates into work too.

 

By approaching workplace adjustments on an individual basis, we eradicate the ‘assumption culture’ many businesses make the mistake of creating. We cannot group disabled workers into the same category and offer them the same adjustments to each other as each case is different. It’s actually very simple; just ask.

 

By developing a culture of inclusion to disabled workers the barriers blocking disabled workers from getting into suitable jobs are broken down and the talent pool available to companies widens. It’s a win/win situation.

 

When it comes down to it, it’s about communication, mutual respect and empathy. When we exercise these, we create a culture of acceptance within which disabled workers can feel comfortable being honest about their circumstances and ultimately this will lead to a happy workforce.

 

For more information on our work within disabilities click here.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/revealed-the-worlds-happiest-country-and-its-not-the-uk-a3790011.html

[2] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/692771/family-resources-survey-2016-17.pdf

[3] https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7540/

[4] https://invisibledisabilities.org/what-is-an-invisible-disability/

[5] https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-psychology/chapter/introduction-to-the-field-of-psychology/

 

[6] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/agoraphobia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355987

[7] https://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/

 

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email info@vercida.com for more information.

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