January 9, 2018, by Zoë Goodwin
Disability December 2017: A Disabled Staff Perspective
By Prof. Stephen Hodkinson (Deputy Chair, Disabled Staff Network)
Last term the University held its second programme of Disability December events, organised by HR’s People and Culture team with the Disabled Staff Network. The Disability December programme takes place annually, linking with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December. This year’s programme had three themes: mental health; declaring a disability; and the abilities of disabled persons.
Mental health was the focus of two events. Steve Metcalf (Director of Robustmind Mental Fitness) gave a well-attended lunchtime talk on ‘Stress and Mental Health at Work’: a massive challenge since work-related stress accounts for 45% of working days lost in the UK. He provided valuable advice on coping mechanisms for those suffering from stress – including talking, exercise, diet and sleep – and on proactive keys to a happier life, drawing on the New Economics Foundation’s ‘Five ways to Mental Well-being’. He also spoke about how employers can reduce stress in the workplace, giving insightful advice to senior and middle managers based on the Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Management Standards’ on work related stress.
‘Mental Health First Aid’ formed part of another well-attended session, hosted by the Faculty of Engineering and led by Rick Carnell, an MHFA trainer from local Beeston charity, Forces in the Community. MHFA training provides people with the confidence and skills to support those experiencing poor mental health. Some courses have already been held in the University and a research group from the School of Health Sciences is currently investigating MHFA’s impact in the workplace.
Declaring a Disability
The other subject at the Engineering Faculty event was ‘Declaring a Disability and requesting reasonable adjustments’. This is a current area of focus for the University as recognised in its Institutional Equality Objectives because fewer UoN staff have declared a disability compared with the average at other HEIs and in the national workforce. The legal definition of disability is wider than many people realise, which could lead to staff who have not declared a disability working without reasonable adjustments to which they could be entitled to under the Equality Act 2010. The session outlined the advantages of declaring a disability and the new streamlined process for declaration via the Equality Monitoring Data section of the University’s new online system, MyView.
The Abilities of Disabled Persons
This theme emerged strongly from disabled contributors to the programme. A session by Philip Connolly from Disability Rights UK, given at all three UK campuses, exposed the negative impacts on disabled persons of certain current models of disability: especially the Medical and Biopsychosocial Models, which view disability as residing in a person’s impairment. Even the University’s approved Social Model of Disability, according to which disability results from society’s organisation in ways that exclude disabled persons, could be seen as disadvantaging them by enshrining existing power dynamics. In contrast, the Resilience Model emphasises the role of disabled peer-to-peer networks based on the enhanced strengths and expertise that disabled persons have honed in response to the challenges of their impairments. In line with this message, members of the Disabled Staff Network spoke briefly at each event about their work within the University to support disabled staff and improve our working conditions.
The abilities of disabled persons were fully demonstrated, amidst much laughter, by disabled comedians Steve Day and Francesca Martinez in the programme’s final ‘Comedy Live’ event at Lakeside Arts. Steve gave us some side-splitting authentic insights into dealing with the dilemmas of being a deaf man in a hearing world. Francesca, who has cerebral palsy but prefers to describe herself as ‘wobbly’, challenged our assumptions about the incapacities of disabled people by asking an abled audience member to mention an everyday task which he had no ability to do. When he replied ‘cooking’, she imagined it as a disability (since he relied upon his partner to cook for him), asking him the patronising questions typically put to disabled people, culminating with the classic, ‘Does it mean you’re not able to have sex?!’
All in all, an excellent programme of consciousness-raising events. Next year the disabled staff voice could perhaps be extended still further with a speaker from the National Association of Disabled Staff Networks working in the university sector.
To join the Disabled Staff Network or seek advice from its Peer-to-Peer Disability Support advisers, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.