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Staff Disability Network: considerations for Disabled staff during COVID-19 and post-lockdown

Staff Disability Network

The Staff Disability Network recently invited colleagues across the University to complete an informal survey on the experiences of disabled colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its aim was to ensure the experiences of disabled colleagues could be shared with those handling the University's phased return, including the Major Response Team (MRT). The unique challenges created by the pandemic enables the University to explore measures that could be taken to improve inclusive work environments and fostering accessibility.

The survey will remain open so that further comments can be gathered -any further comments from disabled staff at the University on accessibility during the pandemic would be greatly appreciated.   

Initial findings

Responses from members of the Network reinforce the priorities already have in sight, namely the importance of line management training on disability awareness and the adoption of the Disability Passport to encourage structured, individualised discussions around workplace adjustments. It also accompanies recommendations to also support the current work of the University towards achieving Disability Confidence Employer Status.

The survey identified six key themes associated with working through the pandemic:

  • Barriers that can be removed by working remotely, including flexible working arrangements, mobility and sensory barriers associated with travel and busy or distracting working environments.
  • Concerns about returning to campus and negative perceptions on disability, such as uncertainty over the long-term provision of remote working, which has enabled many disabled staff to work well, and how workspaces will be adapted once teams return to campus. Some disabled colleagues feel more vulnerable during this time and are wary of disadvantages they may encounter.
  • Line Manager support around flexible and remote working. Many concerns have been alleviated by responsive and supportive Line Managers, who have worked alongside their disabled colleagues in the transition to working from home. Several have had individual discussions instead of offering a ‘one size fits all' approach, which has been well received.
  • Concerns about ‘forced' disclosure. Disclosure of disability can be a sensitive topic, and the pandemic has raised concerns on colleagues having to disclose things they are not comfortable with as arrangements are made to return to campus.
  • Intersectional lens of workload arrangements, such as balancing sometimes increasing workloads with the provision of care to disabled or vulnerable family members and further discussions around disability-related leave.
  • Benefits and challenges of digital technology. Technology can be both a help and a hinderance to disabled colleagues, and many have had to adjust to using tools or services in a different way.

Several recommendations are being put to the University based on the survey's findings to date. Among these include requests to carry lessons learned from working under lockdown including the support for inclusive technology to enable remote working and holding online meetings.

Further recommendations and findings are available in the full report (Word, 37 KB. University log-in required).

Upcoming events

The Network recently began a series of digital takeovers featuring external and internal guest speakers exploring a wide range of disability-related topics and experiences. They will keep taking place around every fortnight between now and the autumn term - please visit this calendar to see what's coming up.

The next takeover event will be on Thursday 6 August, 11:00-12:00, which will be a creative exploration of the future of Neurodiversity by Dr Kai Syng Tan from the Manchester School of Art. We will also be joined by members of the Neurodiversity In/& Creative Research Network.

The session will take place via Microsoft Teams -please use this link to join in.  

Purple Space resources

Did you know that the University has access to Purple Space? In addition to institutional access to the  Business Disability Forum, the Network, with support from the Dean of D&I University, has been able to gain institutional access to Purple Space.

Purple Space offers an excellent range of resources designed to improve awareness of issues relating to disability. It is ideal for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of disability best practice, especially those with line management responsibilities or regular contact with disabled colleagues and students.

Simply create an account using your University email address - if you have any queries, please email staffdisability@reading.ac.uk.

Join the Network

The Network is open to all University colleagues and welcomes new members, including anyone interested in disability or providing support. It is chaired by Dr Yota Dimitriadi and Dr Ranjita Dhital, who work closely with the Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr Allan Laville.

If you would like to join, please email staffdisability@reading.ac.uk or join the network on Microsoft Teams. You can also contact the Network on Twitter via @UniRdg_Diverse.

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