When disability works

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I had a professional high point recently. (punches the air)  I received this  email from a gentleman I had seen following difficulties with relationships and performance at work.  “I had a meeting with my Manager and HR after they received your report. It was very positive and my managers have been amazingly supportive.”  He had had a recent diagnosis of a neuro-developmental condition, which is often a hidden disability.  He had been struggling at work in the office and during meetings, with some people avoiding contact with him.  He was developing anxiety as a result and distracted which was affecting his performance at work.

Nearly 7 million (of the 53 million) people of working age in the UK are disabled or have a health condition. The government is currently trying to encourage employers to recruit disabled people.

Whatever your politics, this is a good thing.  We are all working longer and many conditions are no longer life-threatening, but disability is on the rise, so the chances of it affecting you or me are relatively high.

Much of my working life is spent identify solutions, tips and tricks to help people to work around their functional difficulties.  In this case the solutions were relatively simple:

  • Formal introductions at the start of every meeting, to explain or remind colleagues about his specific difficulties – thereby reducing the opportunity for conflict;
  • A dictaphone, to enable him to run through conversations after the meeting, make sense of them and give him a chance to reflect and respond away from the heat of the moment;
  • Simple signs to remind colleagues of his quirks, e.g. “music helps me think” on the back of his chair when wearing headphones to drown out office noise;
  • Arrangements to sit side by side in meetings rather than face to face.

The positive outcomes for the employer are multiple:

  • Someone who thinks differently, comes up with new ideas and creates opportunities to develop strategy;
  • Colleagues get honest feedback which improves overall performance;
  • Unwritten rules and constraints are removed and everyone is able to work in the way that works best for them.

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