What is a disability?
You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.
‘Substantial’ is more than minor or trivial, e.g. it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed.
‘Long-term’ means 12 months or more, e.g. a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection.
This definition can include conditions such as cancer, dyslexia, diabetes and is much wider than people think as includes both visible and non-visible disabilities/long-term health conditions.
Many people are probably unaware that they come under the umbrella of the legal definition of disability and this is one of the reasons for non-disclosure. Amongst those that are aware, their condition may be manageable and therefore, does not impact their work and so there is no reason to inform their employers.
What are the benefits of sharing your disability?
a). Protection under the law
Perhaps you have a long-term health condition such as a heart condition, Crohn’s disease or a mental health issue but you don’t necessarily identify with the label of being disabled. You are not alone. However, when it comes to knowing how you are protected in law and what your employers can do for you then it is important to be familiar with the Equality Act 2010 as you may come under the wide legal definition of disability. Know your rights as this can be a tool.
b). Placing you on an equal footing
If your disability affects the way you may perform at an interview or assessment then perhaps it will be more advantageous to mention what you need. For example, you may need access to a building or toilet or maybe if you are visually impaired it would be beneficial to have a tour of the office in advance of the interview.
If you do mention your disability then frame it in the positive in both your CV and interviews.
What organisations have you have been part of, what committees you have sat on, what skills have you demonstrated to show how tenacious you are, how you can think outside the box and how can this add value to the workplace? It is important to use specific examples to demonstrate these skills rather than just stating, “I am a team player.”
People with disabilities are often very resourceful as our minds are like Google as we’re always trying to find different ways of doing things and think around a problem. Questions such as “how can I?, “who knows about this? “what resources do I have?” change our focus to finding a solution.
Some people with disabilities will need physical adjustments such as ramps, accessible toilets etc. although many adjustments needed in the workplace are soft adjustments to enable people to work effectively with neither environmental, nor attitudinal barriers. e.g. flexible hours.
These adjustments may change over time due to change of medication, fluctuating health condition so it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your employer if your needs change.
A good starting point if you wish to return to work following a disability or period of ill-health is to contact Access to Work.
An Access to Work grant can pay for practical support if you have a disability, health or mental health condition to help you start working, stay in work or move into self-employment or start a business.
AtW can assist with travel costs, work equipment, workplace assessments, contributions towards equipment for example, a lightweight wheelchair.
d). Controlling your story from the outset
What language do you want to use about your disability/health condition? Don’t let HR control your story. How do you want to talk about your disability at work? What language are you comfortable with? What do you think your employer needs to know? From a practical point of view what do you need? If you are unsure then how can you find this out? You have resources available to you.
Do you know someone with a disability or is working in the profession which you wish to enter? Find out what their job entails, what conversations have they had with their employer about their disability and what adjustments have they needed.
e). Opportunity to join disability networks
Many large organisations like the Law Society now have disability networks alongside LGBT, women and ethnic minority networks.
A disability network can perform 3 main functions:
(i) a support network (ii) a consultation board for HR in respect of policies which affect people with disabilities and long term health conditions and (iii) a means of enabling disability confidence to continue to grow.
If you have an opportunity to join such a network then my advice would be to stand on the shoulders of giants. Why reinvent the wheel if you see a role model who is doing what you want to be doing and s/he has a disability then why not pick their brains?
Alternatively, you can go online to find such groups (e.g. Lawyers with Disabilities Division on Facebook).
Members of the group live and breathe the challenges you may face on a daily basis. What has worked for them? Be curious and learn from others. It’s a good shortcut to gaining knowledge.
There may also be opportunities which are shared in such groups. LDD for example, gives opportunities for their members to gain work experience.
1. It all starts with confidence
If this is something you struggle with then imagine if you did had confidence then how would you speak, what would you do, what would you hear others saying about you, how would you feel? Do you know someone who has that confidence? How would they act?
2. What is your added value?
Think of times in your life where your disability has posed challenges perhaps at school, at work or when trying to attend a social event. What have you done to get over those hurdles. Make a list, it’s probably a lot longer than you think.
3. What are your resources?
If you go to your employers with a problem then are you able to make it easy for them and come up with a solution? Do your research. What have other people with your disability done to counter this challenge facing you? How else will firms know what support they need to give if they do not know what support is required.
I have found it so helpful to speak to others with disabilities. who have a positive outlook on life. There is an empathy there which our other friends and family cannot always understand. I find that talking to others who face the same challenges, funny/strange encounters, frustrations and who share their tips and victories incredibly empowering and cathartic. If we do not share these experiences then there will either be an implosion or an explosion.
If you would like further help or information about engaging people and giving confidence about disability issues then please contact Diverse Matters today.
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