Empowering disabled people in the workplace

Lucy Wood shares her tips for making workplaces more inclusive for disabled people, and explains why homeworking should become a long term option.

 

Both work and society have suddenly become more flexible and open to the idea of a different way of doing things. Disabled people have been asking for this for years – for simple access to culture, jobs, and so much more. Time and again we’ve been told: ‘It’s not possible.’ In fact it was all along – everyone just needed a global pandemic to realise it.

Now we’re are on the brink of returning to normal and, like many people, I don’t want working practices to return to the way they were. I want things to be better. Here are my tips to help you start conversations, review your practices and commit to long term equity, diversity and inclusion.

1.Be aware of unconscious bias
Although it’s a legal requirement for companies to interview all qualified candidates for roles, disabled people often experience a frustrating interview process. 

From going through this process myself, employers can struggle to see past my wheelchair. I have a personal support worker who accompanies me in the workplace and this can also make potential employers automatically panic, thinking that it’s an extra expense that the organisation needs to cover when it isn’t.

Disabled employees – and their employers – can access a government grant to cover reasonable adjustments to the workplace, plus the wage of a personal assistant chosen by the disabled employee.

The reality is that you’ll never see the benefits of equity, diversity and inclusion in your charity if you’re scared of taking chances on minority candidates.  

“You’ll never see the benefits of equity, diversity and inclusion in your charity if you’re scared of taking chances on minority candidates”

 

Lucy Wood’s Four Wheeled Wonder Woman

2. Consider homeworking for the long term 
I’m incredibly fortunate to work for an organisation with accessibility worked into their ethos. Even pre-pandemic I worked from home. While some people who are new to home working have absolutely hated it, it has been a revelation for me.

I spend my day in my manual wheelchair. There is often no alternative. Despite what you might think, they are not the most comfortable things. I once had a job that required a long journey to get back and forth to the office. After a long day at work, the exhaustion would be unbearable.

These days there’s no more laborious commute. I come downstairs, turn on my equipment, flick the kettle on, and I’m ready to go. I have more energy and am not distracted by the hubbub of office politics about who’s had Julie’s yoghurt out of the fridge! 

My Cerebral Palsy can cause me pain, affect my concentration and productivity. Homeworking means that I can find comfort and some respite while continuing to work productively and concentrate on the job.

Homeworking won’t suit everyone or every organisation but if your charity has the flexibility to allow home working long term – for those that want it – the benefits far outweigh the negatives. 

3. See disabled people as the solution
Disabled People are excellent  problem solvers. We have a unique view of the world, that constantly throws up problems in a society that wasn’t built for us.

If your organisation is experiencing a problem that will directly affect employees with a disability and you are struggling to find a solution, consult with them. Be as open and honest as you can about the problem you’re experiencing. Simply ask the question: ‘How can we work around this in a way that can include you?’ That will make people feel considered and cared for.

Ultimately, try and empower disabled people. Collaborate, enjoy and contribute to their work. In this way you’ll add a unique richness and diversity to your workforce that only comes with the disability experience. Time will tell if this is a pivotal moment for equity, diversity and inclusion, but it needs everyone of us to play their part.

Sarah Burrell

About Lucy Wood

Lucy Wood is a disability and inclusion advocate and self proclaimed Four Wheeled Wonder Woman. The Marketing Coordinator at national disability organisation AccessAble, she’s also a blogger and podcaster. Lucy is a passionate believer that everyone has a skill, no matter what their perceived barrier, and encourages other disabled people to find their value and confidence to contribute to society. This has led to her being included in podcasts and media work surrounding disability and inclusion. Find out more at fourwheeledwonderwoman.com

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