Am I disabled, or do the barriers that society creates disable me?

22 Nov 2019

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We know that disabilities come in many forms; visible or invisible, born with or acquired, by accident or illness, physical and mental. The same disability can effect different people in very different ways, and this is especially important for disabled workers when it comes to breaking down barriers in the workplace. It’s not a one size fits all!

As a disabled worker, sometimes talking about your disability or disabilities to managers and colleagues, might be a sensitive subject or one you just don’t want to discuss, for a variety of reasons. Understandably, disabled workers do not want to repeatedly have to tell employers about their needs, again and again, to get the adjustments they need. Worst still when managers make assumptions and judgements over their needs.

But for many disabled workers, that’s what often happens, and the stress of not knowing if those adjustments will be there, or that they might be taken away, itself can make a person unwell or create additional barriers to just being able to get your job done.

Reasonable Adjustments have been enshrined in legislation for over 25 years now and can make huge difference in providing a level playing field in the workplace

So that is why the joint initiative between GMB and the TUC – in producing the recent guidelines and model policy on “Reasonable Adjustment Passports” - is so useful.

Reasonable adjustments passports do exactly ‘what they say on the tin!’ in that they are a record of the adjustments a worker needs and that have been agreed. This record can travel with them, if they move departments or get a new manager, without having to explain it again to someone new, or fight for those adjustments to be put in place again.

It’s as simple as that.

Reasonable Adjustments have been enshrined in legislation for over 25 years now and can make huge difference in providing a level playing field in the workplace. This could include :Wider doors for wheelchairs, braille instructions on lifts, flashing light fire alarms for the deaf; or reworked job descriptions for those with stress issues, and flexibility for those with varying moods caused by depression and mental illness.

These all can make work more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

I have multiple disabilities, and the most obvious one is my hearing impairment. I was born partially deaf, and had a trauma about 12 years ago that did for the rest. Effectively, I am deaf. What little hearing that remains in one ear (nothing in the other) is assisted by technology but clarity of sound is still a major obstacle.

I may hear that you are speaking, but deciphering that sound into recognisable dialogue is frequently a problem. I need help, and that help is sometimes in the form of “reasonable adjustments” –for example to the environment, to the layout, and in the provision of well maintained, working induction loops. …. (If only!! A voice of experience speaking here!)

Adding to the disability itself, is the frustration of telling a new manager why I need this help, and what caused it, etc.

Having it on record, reviewed when appropriate, makes life simpler.

And I am worth the effort.

I retired after a working life of nearly 50 years, as an Advocate in Welfare Rights, a Tribunal representative and as a manager of a team of dedicated, committed Welfare Rights and Debt Advice workers and a GMB rep.

I believe my first-hand experience of disability allowed me to have some clearer empathy and understanding of my client’s and member’s needs, so I hope I made a difference. Being deaf also meant that – at times – I am a little louder; I think that helped too. Especially with the Department of Work & Pensions!



For more information on the Reasonable Adjustments Passport, please follow the links below:


The reasonable adjustments passport resources

The full report
A model workplace policy
A model passport

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