Last issue Mik Scarlet explored the possible positives to come out of lockdown, as the country’s employers realise that home working is a realistic option.
I came up with the concept for this article just before the world was gripped by the coronavirus. After spending so many years working in the media I had spent six months working for Network Rail as an Access and Inclusion manager, working to make our rail network a more accessible and inclusive place as well as helping make working for Network Rail easier if you are disabled.
A key area I was focusing on was enabling managers to implement “reasonable adjustments” for disabled staff, such as home working, and as if by magic this became vital to the whole business and to our whole economy. Luckily Network Rail already had systems in place to allow staff to work from home, but too many of the UK’s businesses do not have anything set up to fulfil this legal requirement.
As I saw the fear around COVID-19 grow and steps taken to hopefully save our society from its effects, I saw what was once impossible become implemented with little effort. Working from home went from being too difficult to do, to being a must for all workers who can. I must say I hope by the time you are reading this, you can look back and go “it was a bit of an overreaction, but better safe than sorry eh?”.
Whatever happens tomorrow, or your yesterday (one of the joys of a long turn around when writing), brings this whole period has proven one thing. That the changes in working practices that disabled people have been asking for and finding few prepared to make, were easy to put in place once they benefited everyone. Especially the employers.
Home working and flexible working are two of the best ways an employer can create a working environment that allows disabled staff to fulfil their potential. Being given the choice to work at home, where hopefully your access and medical needs are met, where you are most comfortable and where you can work at a pace that suits your abilities, would open up the world of work to so many sick and disabled people. Yet for many, who have asked for these “reasonable adjustments” they were told it was not possible. It’s taken a disaster like the coronavirus to show this isn’t exactly true.
Of course, there are many jobs that you cannot do from home, but I very much doubt disabled people were planning to apply for any inaccessible positions anyway. The jobs that it now seems obviously possible to do from home were equally closed to many of our community due to a lack of readiness to facilitate our needs and comply with the law. Excuses came thick and fast, which we now know were unfounded at best, and discriminatory at worst.
I saw from my time at Network Rail that the requirement to make reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people to carry out employment doesn’t mean what is easy to put in place, but what is truly reasonable. Home working for most companies isn’t a big ask. A laptop, a VPN, existing software and some flexibility around timings and workload. That’s it. What they get in return is access to a new talent pool that are committed to their work and passionate to show what they can achieve. Once this change in mindset and working practice is put in place it can be a huge benefit to all staff and brings in many boons for the employer. It leads to smaller office spaces and all the savings that brings for one. Being an inclusive employer also means they can tap into such a huge wealth of talent and skill. If this crisis has shown us anything, it’s shown us just how many jobs currently considered impossible to do at home, are actually more than possible.
Let’s hope that’s a good thing to come out of all of this. While we are the community most impacted by the effects of coronavirus, whether through health fears or through a lack of care provision, we might also benefit from the societal impacts of the changes put in place to battle it. With the fears around a lack of talent following Brexit, the time may be right for disabled people to finally be seen as a viable pool of talent. By embracing the changes in working practice put in place to manage this virus, our society may finally take steps towards becoming truly inclusive.
With that positive thought I shall return to a world of being stuck at home, socially isolating myself, while the TV tells me the world is about to end. Stay safe, stay well and here’s to a brighter tomorrow once the dust settles.
This column appeared in the Apr/May 2020 issue of PosAbility Magazine.
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