Disability issues within the workplace

The following is a guest post from Simon Barnett. Simon Barnett writes for Disability Sanctuary, an online community for disabled people and their carers. He examines a number of issues and looks to add to the wider debate.

Entering the workplace environment can sometimes seem daunting, but an increasing number of employers are becoming more aware of disability issues and are keen to take positive action. There’s undoubtedly been a realisation that a failure to recruit those with disabilities means that businesses can miss out on vital resources.

It’s still fair to say, however, that experiences do vary. Some employers seem unable to grasp what real equality means and there’s often a lack of awareness about their legal obligations. This can undoubtedly cause some difficulties, given that few individuals want to be put in the position of pointing out such obligations at an early stage in the employment process. On the other hand, by being afraid to speak out, there’s the very real risk that you won’t be dealing with a level playing field.

Good employment practices

The onus is certainly on the employer to understand how they are required to act. In many cases, of course, this simply involves a certain amount of common sense. You may find that you spend some time educating your work colleagues at the outset, with the aim of making relationships considerably easier in the long run.

With this in mind, it’s useful to understand exactly what it’s reasonable for you to expect from an employer. Looking at UK law, there’s very clear guidance:

“It is discrimination to treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability (eg a tendency to make spelling mistakes arising from dyslexia). This type of discrimination is unlawful where the employer or other person acting for the employer knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, that the person has a disability.”

The above may seem to many of us to be little more than an expression of common decency. If an employer is unable to behave in line with the above, then it’s likely that there will be significant issues within the workplace for any employee, including those with disabilities.

But the law also goes much further. Employers are instructed to make reasonable adjustments to both jobs and workplace environments, in order to make life easier for those workers with disabilities. This most obviously involves ensuring that a disabled worker is given time off, where such time is required for specific medical treatment, or for appointments relating to assessments.

As might be expected, provision is also made for ensuring that equipment is suitably modified. If you’re working within an office environment, for example, then it’s reasonable to expect that suitable desks and chairs should be provided. In addition, you might also expect to be provided with additional aids, if those are required to ensure that you can do your job efficiently and safely.

Why it’s important to understand your rights

By understanding your rights, you are in a much better position to outline your expectations and to discuss potential problems, before they arise. It’s understandable, however, that there may be a level of concern about disclosing details of a personal nature to a senior member of staff.

I think that there are two elements to consider here: firstly, an employer cannot reasonably be expected to make allowances, without having a full understanding of your disability. If there are areas where you have some limitations, then you’ll need to declare these to your employer.

That may, of course, seem incredibly daunting. Fortunately, the law is on your side here: the second point that I would make in this area is that the employer has a legal obligation to keep any details of your disability confidential, unless you suggest otherwise.

Conclusions

In practical terms, I would suggest that this should mean that you can speak openly about your requirements, safe in the knowledge that you are having a confidential conversation. You may be happy for your employer to discuss some elements of your conversation with other members of staff, but that’s very much your choice.

Many issues can be resolved before they become significant problems. My own experience suggests that the key is to have good two-way communications between the employer and the employee. This limits the room that’s available for misunderstandings and ensures that there’s clarity within the working relationship.

About the Author

Simon Barnett works on the Disability Sanctuary website, providing insights on a range of issues to those with disabilities, carers, friends and relatives. He aims to provide practical advice, helping to ensure that individuals are receiving the assistance that they are entitled too. He’s particularly concerned about the complexities of the current disability benefits system. Having previously worked as the editor of a finance website in the UK, he’s keen to offer clarity in such areas.

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Disability Researching

We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Theo Blackmore, who works as the Strategic Liaison Manager for Disability Cornwall. Blackmore did his PhD with Exeter University, entitled “Half my friends don’t even see me as disabled: What can field, capital and habitus reveal about disability, inclusion and exclusion?” He is interested in the changing nature of feelings of inclusion, exclusion and disability for people with impairments.

""Disability Cornwall is user-led, disabled people’s organisation based in the UK. We’ve been working for 17 years providing information and advice, a magazine, peer support, and other services.

As part of my work I helped create the Cornwall Disability Research Network (CDRN). This network brings together grass roots disability organisations to understand, engage with, and design/conduct, disability research activity.

Through the CDRN conferences, we have heard the experiences of disabled people from other countries (e.g. Nigeria, Russia), and from other regions of the UK. We have also heard from local, regional and national disabled people’s organisations about their experiences.

The activities of CDRN involve finding disabled people with innovative research ideas, andworking with them to design a research question, an appropriate methodology, and then conduct and report the results.

Not being a university or research institute – we are a small disability organization – it is very difficult to attract funding .

Locating this research in our organisation, rather than in a university/academia, was a choice because we wanted our research NOT to only contribute to an academic discourse. Our aim is to produce research that can help with the day-to-day needs of disabled people, and of the organisations working with and for them. It’d be great if it could serve an academic purpose as well, but this is not the primary driver.

We are locating our research at the individual level, with the disabled person designing and conducting the research, rather than an academic institution. This highlights a friction inherent in funding bodies looking to create “impact” through strategies such as participatory research but adhering to a more conventional academically minded funding mechanism. We want to design and deliver research that is primarily useful to disabled people and the organisations working with them.

Our ultimate aim is to roll out a national research programme, located outside academia, drawing together local, regional or national user led disabled people’s organisations across the UK interested in collaboration.

For further information, please contact Theo Blackmore at theo@disabilitycornwall.org.uk

European Parliament hosts International Seminar on Genetic Discrimination

We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Aisling de Paor, a Ph.D candidate in the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway, and Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) scholar. Aisling is a graduate of NUI Galway (BCL) and University College Cork (LL.M).  Aisling is qualified as a solicitor and specialized primarily in employment law.

""On 6th March 2012, Marian Harkin MEP and Phil Prendergast MEP hosted a seminar on the topic of Genetic Discrimination. The event was organised by the Centre for Disability Law and Policy, NUI Galway, in conjunction with the European Disability Forum, and took place in the European Parliament, Brussels.

This international seminar, which was chaired by Andre Gubbels (Belgian Ministry), was the first of its kind in the European Parliament and brought together a diverse range of leading experts in the area, with the objective of exploring the case for a European level response to protect the privacy of genetic information and to prevent genetic discrimination. The seminar highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of this area and focused on the interaction between genetic science, technology, ethics and the law, and in particular, how best to address this complex area. The event also looked at the challenges and practical problems that arise when attempting to regulate this area, as well as the transatlantic perspectives on the matter.

Speakers included Professor Ciaran Morrison (Centre for Chromosome Biology, School of Natural Sciences, NUI Galway), who illustrated the reality of rapidly advancing genetic science, and the potential of new genetic testing technology.  Professor Yann Joly (Centre of Genomics and Policy, McGill University, Montreal, Canada) outlined the ethical and legal implications arising from the use of genetic information by third parties, exploring the potential for genetic discrimination.

Professor Peter Blanck (Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University) examined the position in the United States and the Genetic Information Non Discrimination Act 2008, while setting the scene in a historical, sociological and political context. Dr Delia Ferri (Faculty of Law, University of Verona) presented the challenges and possibilities of legislating at European Union level, looking particularly at the privacy and non- discrimination approaches.

A roundtable panel composed of Pat Clarke (member of European Disability Forum Executive Committee/ President, Down Syndrome Ireland), Marian Harkin, MEP, Peter Hustinx (European Data Protection Supervisor) and Dima Yared (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) discussed the different perspectives for the way forward.

The Rapporteur’s Report was delivered by Dr Elise Muir (Maastricht University), who reflected upon the emerging consensus that genetic science is advancing at a rapid pace, and is becoming more accessible and more readily available to individuals and third parties. Dr Muir acknowledged that although advancing genetic research offers the potential to revolutionise health care and medical treatment, it could also result in problems and pitfalls with the misuse of sensitive genetic information.  Although a comprehensive European level response is needed in this area, to adequately protect genetic privacy and prevent the discriminatory use of genetic information (and also to avoid a parsimonious approach to the issue), care needs to be taken when considering the nature of the problem and the appropriate way forward.

Professor Gerard Quinn, Director of the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway, stated: “This is the Centre at its best. We exist to inform debate and have impact. Scientific advances are for the benefit of all and we must maintain public confidence.  The best way to do this is to have a European level debate about how to protect people against the abuse of genetic information. Because of this event, a unique partnership between the Centre for Disability Law and Policy and the European Parliament, there is now a genuine European-level debate that should hopefully generate a European-level response in time.”