So today is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, sponsored by the United Nations, and purple is the color–this is the day where we make ourselves visible and bring our whole selves to work.
What does that mean? It means being honest and open about the issues we face in disability inclusion. Diane Lightfoot, CEO of the Business Disability Forum (BDF) reports that 90% of disabilities at work are hidden and 83% of disabilities are acquired. This means that many of us within our working careers will experience disablement, and need to navigate the choppy waters of physical, cognitive and emotional hurdles that this entails.
While we have good advice on what works for accommodations, a major issue is disclosure and then acting on disclosure.
Barriers To Disclosure
Many people avoid disclosure because they are worried that their colleagues will treat them differently, pity them or exclude them. Some people are coming to terms with their condition and haven’t psychologically moved to the point of taking practical action yet. Many people don’t associate their diagnosis with disability; they may compare themselves with others who they view as “more deserving” and therefore not want to “cause a fuss.”
However, when disability isn’t disclosed, we create an invisible layer of additional work for the individual which will affect their productivity. Time spent hiding medical treatment, time spent working out how to ‘get round’ difficulties with literacy, mobility, fine motor control, time spent worrying about what others will think. Being open and transparent about what need, moving past the needs so that productivity can tick up is what #PurpleLightUp day is all about. So how, as employers, can you leverage this information?
My current, best practice advice is to stop waiting for disclosure to provide adjustment. Ask ALL your employees what they need to work at their best. At every HR interaction point (recruitment, appraisal, promotion) talk about accommodations that you are providing already. Give examples! This will show that you mean well, you are genuine in wanting to help and not using the information to exclude. It will also give ideas to employees who don’t know what’s available.
Adjustments fall into 8 categories –
· Environmental Flexibility
· Schedule Flexibility
· Training Flexibility
· Supervisor Feedback and Communication
· Assistive Technology
· Work Station Adaptation
· Specific Skill Coaching (e.g. Literacy)
· Executive Functions Coaching
Only 44% of respondents to the BDF survey reported having everything that they needed, by over 70% reported finding what they had useful. The BDF also report most accommodations cost less than $250 but that the cost of rehiring is at least five times that amount. Yet a significant number wait three to six months for their flexibilities or equipment to arrive. The lost productivity!
Our Whole Selves
In honor of Purple Light Up, I also introduce you to the Purple Space Network who co-opted the United Nations Day into this themed campaign. They run forums for employees to network and provide peer support. Employer proactiveness makes a massive difference, but peer-to-peer support can be essential for individuals in coming to terms, identifying and validating strengths, and fulfilling potential.
My whole self at work needs flex-time. I work in bursts. If I try to power through a down phase I can seem snappy and impatient. I need a standing desk, and kneeler chair so that I can move about during the day. In return I bring innovation, creativity and completer-finishing ability to my role as CEO. I am super productive, as long as I have these adjustments.
Bringing our whole selves to work might be scary, it might make us feel vulnerable, but pretending to be fine when we’re not is isolating. By encouraging our teams to be authentic, we build loyalty, trust, which ultimately leads to the fulfilment of potential.