If you’re a disabled person and you’re in work, or currently job hunting, it can be difficult to know how to approach disability with your employer. Whilst many employers are equipped to deal with these discussions and can support you, many others are not, and disability still holds a lot of stigma in the workplace.
We’ve talked about using the Social Model of Disability in your everyday life before, and this is a great place to start. But if you’re looking for ways to start the conversation with an existing or new employer, read on.
1: Get comfortable with being disabled. The first and arguably the hardest step. If you’re anything like me, coming to terms with your disability is an ongoing and difficult journey. Regardless of the type of impairment you have, be it physical, mental, or otherwise, being disabled significantly impacts our lives. Getting comfortable with phrases like ‘I am disabled’ or ‘I have an impairment’ or even ‘I experience disabling barriers’ – is the best way to start a conversation that could result in getting your needs met, and better yet, being understood.
2: Write down what you’re trying to achieve I found at work, people would ask me if I needed support or ask how they could help, and I genuinely didn’t know. I felt that my disability was my responsibility, and that there wasn’t anything anyone else could do. This is simply not true!
When at work, think about the things that are difficult because of your disability, or make your disability worse when doing them. This doesn’t include putting off that report because you don’t like doing it – but the things that really impact your health. For me, driving to work is very difficult for me to do every day. What I’m trying to achieve is not driving to work every day. If for you, sitting for long periods of time is difficult, what you’re trying to achieve is not sitting for long periods of time.
Adjustments at work are about finding a compromise with your employer that is reasonable and enables you to do your job by removing the barriers.
3: Ask your employer when is best to discuss adjustments
If your workplace has regular 1-2-1s or check ins with your employer, you may find it easier to bring it up in conversation. If you don’t, or you’re starting out somewhere new, it can be a good idea to message your employer or give them a call and ask when a suitable time would be to discuss adjustments for your health condition or disability. Giving your employer advanced notice gives them time to prepare and means they will come to the meeting or discussion with your needs in mind.
4: Look at it from your employer’s point of view
Whether you have a good relationship with your employer or not, the bottom line is you’re an employee and they have a business to run. They need to ensure that everyone does their job, while keeping costs down so the company can fulfil its purpose.
This isn’t to say wellbeing at work is not important but remember your adjustment requests must be reasonable. If your list of requests is longer than your job description you may need to ask yourself if this job is suitable for you.
Adjustments are about levelling the playing field with your non-disabled colleagues, not about your employer bending over backwards to accommodate your needs.
Yep. You need to actually ask. Sometimes you’ll hit the jackpot and get a super understanding boss who just gets it and offers adjustments. But more often than not, that isn’t the case. You will need to ask.
Be clear about what you need and lay it out in a way that makes it easy for them to understand how they could implement it, and what impact it will have.
If we take my driving example from earlier, here’s how the request might go:
‘I have found that driving in every day is taking a toll on my disability and it’s making me less productive when I’m here.
I have reviewed my workload and I think it would be beneficial for me to work from home 2 days a week. I can schedule my diary to ensure face to face work is carried out during my office days, giving me time to manage my condition better and catch up at home on the non-driving days.’
This example is for office work where working from home is possible. Take into consideration your industry and what is achievable. If you work in retail, it’s unlikely that you will be able to work from home – but perhaps you can discuss with your employer the possibility of rotating your tasks, so you are never standing or sitting for too long in one go.
Even if you don’t know the solution, initiate the conversation so your employer is in the picture. It never hurts to let them know you are struggling and that you’re thinking about what could be adjusted to help with this. They may have experience with other colleagues and be able to make some suggestions.
At Equal Lives we have implemented adjustments such as tech, rising desks, standing desks, home working, varied working patterns, disability related leave – to name just a few.
Hopefully by starting the conversation and using the steps above, you’re on your way to removing barriers at work.
However, if your employer is not open to adjustments there are some further steps you can take.
Make sure you know your rights. Disability discrimination is against the law, so check in with us if you want to brush up on this before you speak with your employer.
You could also recommend they do some training if you’re finding they are not amenable in this situation. We offer Disability Equality Workshops which you could signpost them to, and you could even let them know if they book through you, you can get them a discount 😉 (If you’re reading this, use code RADEW10 for a discounted quote on DEW in your workplace, valid until 31.12.22)