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September 15, 2018

Creating an Inclusive Workplace


As a disabled member of staff I am lucky to work with people who understand the impacts that my impairments can have. I don’t have to say why I might find some things more difficult, or that they might take me longer to get my head round, or that sometimes I can walk far, and sometimes I can’t. I work with people who implicitly understand, accept, and adjust for, the impacts of impairment.


I wonder, though, what the experiences of other disabled members of staff are. Is it understood widely enough that dyslexia isn’t all about finding spelling hard and that dyspraxia isn’t all about being clumsy? Is it understood that being deaf can have a huge impact on language acquisition, that levels of pain and fatigue can vary wildly from one day to another, that the sound of a hand drier can be horribly painful to a person on the autism spectrum, or that being blind rarely means having no sight at all?


Anecdotal evidence from conversations over many years tells me that disability knowledge and understanding varies across the institution, with pockets of excellent knowledge and practice. It also tells me that support is very much line manager and culture dependent. If your line manager is open to learning about disability, listens well, is flexible, and can help with creative problem solving, and the local culture supports this approach, then you’re likely to be ok. If your line manager lacks confidence with, or knowledge of, your disability and is inflexible, or the local culture you are working in is inflexible, then you might encounter difficulties.


Without a solid understanding of disability, and what support can help, we are at risk of failing our disabled members of staff. Human Resources have recently been doing a lot of work on understanding the experiences of disabled members of staff, with a view to improving the support available. As an outcome of this work I would like to see all disabled members of staff have something similar to the learning contracts that we put in place for students. Learning contracts outline reasonable adjustments for students for the learning, teaching and assessment on their courses. They are written by people who understand disability, they are comprehensive, and they are embedded into the structure of the university. We need to do something similar for staff to demonstrate that we are just as important as students.


I don’t need one of these documents right now because I work in a team that already supports me, but if I move elsewhere at SHU I worry that the impacts of my impairments might not be understood or adjusted for. I don’t feel disabled here but I might if I move into a different context. If disabled members of staff had the option of having something like learning contracts it could follow us to new roles. We wouldn’t have to explain what we need over and over again, or worry that we won’t be listened to with what we need. The information would be there to help line managers to support us.


We need line managers to be trained in disability, or disability specialists who can meet with disabled members of staff and advise line managers. We need flexibility and understanding. We need the reasonable adjustments that the Equality Act stipulates. This would all support the Building a Great University pillar whereby SHU aims to “attract and retain the best people, embracing diversity, investing in our staff and creating an exciting workplace of shared expertise.”  


If you would like to join Spark! Staff Disability Network to have a safe space to talk and to help us spark change please email We will have a joining form on this site soon.


Lucy Davies, disability adviser for students at SHU, designer and co-chair of Spark! Staff Disability Network