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Disclosing disability discussed at online coffee morning

Hidden disabilities logo, sunflower to green background

Despite the challenging conditions we’re all working through, our Staff Disability Network pressed on and held their spring coffee morning online on Tuesday 24 March.

The coffee morning was originally due to be held on campus but given the government advice to remain home where possible, the Network decided to hold a virtual coffee morning instead.

The Network hosted the event online, with participants completing a simple joining process before entering the virtual meeting space. Colleagues could join in verbally or by sharing written comments with the chat feature as the discussion progressed. Switching of microphones except for the main host/speaker, made audio easier to listen to. And switching off video improved the meeting quality for all. The Network chose not to record the session in order to provide participants with a safe environment to share views.

For each coffee morning, the Network pick a theme as a point of discussion. The topic this time round was 'Opportunities and Challenges around disclosure in academia', which explored how the disclosure of a disability (and/or other protected characteristics) can be met with mixed results.

The discussion was initially led by Institute of Education colleague Ilan Dwek, who shared his personal experiences of disclosure and assumptions made about his disability. The ‘floor’ then opened to fellow participants, with several colleagues sharing their views and experiences.

The Network were originally going to be joined by special guests from Hidden Disabilities, a charity providing sunflower-themed goods that signify the wearer to have a hidden condition – you may well have seen lanyards featuring the design at places such as airports. Unfortunately, it was not possible for them to join electronically, but they supplied a helpful presentation highlighting the purpose of their work.

This then turned to a wider discussion on the positive connotations and potential challenges of having something to visually signify a disability, and considerations around the wider context that needs to be enabled if such a scheme were to be hypothetically applied to the University.

There was interesting discussion on how the nature of disclosure raises mixed reactions and opinions. Some favour a way of making a condition more visible, while others feel it causes an additional sense of unease. It is a deeply personal topic, and it was highlighted that all University colleagues should receive equal treatment, not just those with protected characteristics, hidden or otherwise.

Dr Yota Dimitriadi, Chair of the Staff Disability Network, said:

“We are grateful for colleagues’ input and solidarity to attend the online meeting during these busy and unprecedented times of uncertainty. It is clear how committed we all are to work together for an inclusive UoR. The HESA statistics point to underrepresentation of disabled employees in academia, a topic that we wanted to explore at local level. We learnt a lot from the discussion around disclosure and we would like to encourage colleagues to join us on MS Teams and carry on the discussion there.”

The determination of the Network to take their event online is to be commended – a big thank you to Yota, Ilan and Allan Laville for taking the time and effort to make it all work. Thank you to all our colleagues who participated too  – this is a wonderful example of our University community coming together in such an unusual and unpredictable time.

Dr Allán Laville, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, said:

“The coffee morning was a fantastic opportunity to discuss a personal topic with supportive colleagues. Throughout the discussions, it was very clear that the University’s work should be focussed on raising disability awareness, which ties directly into my 2020 priorities and the discussions I’ve had with other colleagues. Lastly, I would like to thank all colleagues who attended the event on Tuesday as it highlighted the strength of our community at the University!”

We hope the success of the coffee morning will inspire you to hold similar online events. If you’d like to find out more, please contact communications@reading.ac.uk.

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