Disability History Month 2022: Disability, health and wellbeing – Part 3

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By Ghizzi Dunlop, Learning technologist, Co-Chair of the Disabled Staff Network and UWE Accessibility Champions Network  

 UK Disability History Month 2022 

We can help you help us 

We could give you access to a manual of me. This is a simple document we can create to help you understand how we work. What we may need your support or understanding. These can work well for small teams too.

  • We can include our working preferences, e.g communications. In my email signature, I include my preferred modes of contact. (text based, teams chat, messages, emails). This accommodates my Audio and Visual processing disorders and my deaf/HoH disability.
  • Asynchronous working on projects is very useful for me. I need time to cogitate, assimilate and process before effectively contributing.
  • Meetings need to be short, structured and managed to target. I also need captions and transcripts (in person and online). Please share the agendas and content in advance. Active walking or standing meetings work well for me.
  • A new tool that will be rolled out soon is helping me manage both email load and scheduling complexity. Watch out for the release of Bookings with me.
  • We can be open with our team about our preferences. We can offer alternative strategies or ask for work accommodations or Reasonable Adjustments. With manager support we can approach Access to Work, Occupational Health or WECIL.

For my processing disorders and deaf/HoH, I am provided with wireless noise cancelling headphones. These help my focus, enable me to take calls (I can’t without) and to move about while on call (Spine injury and sciatica). They also help me cope when I can’t deal with overstimulation, noise, social and emotional. Flexible and hybrid working have also been a big contributor to improving my ability to manage multiple disabilities. As well as improve quality of work and productivity. 

How everyone can help us 

Help us manage workflow demands, so we’re not trying to do everything at once.  

  • Give us clear work priorities. With clear deadlines, broken down into manageable actions and to dos. 
  • Written instructions email, Teams message etc, again clear priorities and deadlines by task. 
  • Keep group work to small groups. 2-3 is optimal and allow for asynchronous collaboration. With regular informal check-ins agreed with all team. 
  • Ensure everyone in team is aware of colleagues working preferences. Any reasonable adjustments and that this is not ‘special treatment’. Foster open and inclusive behaviours and attitudes. 
  • Be an ally and, with our permission, an advocate. Sometimes we’re not in a place when we can speak up. Don’t assume please, we need you to check with us. 

In the general work life situation, be flexible about where, how and when. Optimise your team’s creativity, happiness and therefore productivity. Give them as much control as you can, over when, where and how they work together. We are all responsible people, who want to work well, for all our benefit, so please trust us to do so.

  • External stimuli – give us the option to control our environment. In my office the lights are on sensors, they are horribly bright, and the damn sensors don’t detect me either! I’m too short, I have to wave a mic stand at the sensor in the ceiling to get it to come on in the winter evenings. I’m sure it entertains everyone passing by! 
  • Shared office spaces and hot desking. The noise levels are atrocious, painful and distracting. Give people noise cancelling headsets and cram less people into spaces. Once we are overloaded with that overstimulation, overprocessing, we shut down. At that point, we can’t even function like a computer with a single document that’s offline, we black screen. Hot desking is anxiety inducing for many disabled people. For neurodivergent people, consistency, routines, and safe spaces are crucial. Our desks are now where we spend most of our waking lives, which is an appalling thought! They need to be ours, safe, familiar, where we have set up everything to work for us. In fact, I think this is crucial for all staff and students. 
  • Motivating us – we really need to understand the purpose and meaning in our work, we need to see the value. Instructing ‘you do this’ without context will disengage us. Doing this repeatedly, leads to us leaving or rebelling. No micromanaging please. 
  • Hybrid, flexible and working from home. Working from home can give people more control over work life. Over the environmental factors that impact them. However, this is very much if their home environment circumstances allow. Those of us who have access to space and connection at home are in a privileged position. Many of us, staff and students, aren’t in that situation. Managers and team members need to agree at an individual level what works best for them. Obviously, also in the context of the job roles requirements. 

This is by no means a definitive list. I know other neurodiverse people and for other aspects of neurodiversity than processing, there are many more possibilities.  

Nothing I’ve suggested here is new or earth shattering. All of us would benefit in adapting to be more inclusive for all, in what we do and how we do it at work. 

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