Disabilities come in all forms, from visible to non-visible and from physical to mental. It's therefore important to keep in mind that disabilities exist in many ways, and although disability awareness month is a great time to remind ourselves about this, we should be mindful that disabilities exist all the time and impact people in many ways. We spoke with Therese, Head of the Government Security Centres Team in the Government Security Group, about her experiences.
Therese who suffers from myoclonic seizures, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in her late 20s. The condition has a very wide-ranging impact on her health.
I have epilepsy, seizures, a stroke, spasticity, joint problems, migraines, connective tissue disorders, lung problems and Covid has now left me with tachycardia as my immune system went into overdrive - the list goes on, literally.
Unfortunately it does affect my ability to perhaps function in the same way that other people might be able to. So I have to balance out what I can and can't do.
Over 20 years of working in security Therese has noticed a huge improvement in understanding of what kind of workplace adjustment she might need.
In the last eight or ten years, the conversation has become much better. I really feel my input and role is valued and we have discussions about what I need to be able to function in my role.
The main improvement has been an ability to work from home.
Commuting every day is exhausting in itself, being in artificial lighting is just awful for me; using up all that energy every day to just commute is incredibly draining. So it allows me to work better from home.
She has also negotiated a later start time.
I have to take so much medication at night to stop the seizures that each morning is like coming out of a coma. The number of times I’ve fed muesli to the dog in the morning!
Are there any particular characteristics or ways of behaving that managers have displayed which made them really good allies?
Therese really appreciates the fact that she has such a good and open relationship with her line-manager.
We have regular conversations about my well-being. “How are you, how are you doing? Is there anything else we can do?”
She is however aware that this isn’t the case for everyone and not all line managers are so supportive.
I do hear some awful stories out there still so it's obviously still going on. So it does very much unfortunately come down to the individual line manager. But there are things we can do on our side as well. There's a bit you know of sort of educating your line manager about it. But I do think every line manager has a responsibility.
I've taken a particular approach where I share my medical records with my line manager. Because I do feel a slight imposter syndrome thing going on where I need to prove what I'm saying. I’ve not been asked to prove anything but I just find it easier to say “Here is a list of my conditions” so it’s authenticated if you want. I should stress that no one asked me to do this. And I'm not advocating that it's right for everyone. It is sharing personal information. But I trust my line manager and it makes me feel better that I do that.
My key message would be openness and communication. Disappearing while you're supposed to be working isn't good. When I'm working, I'm working. When I'm off sick, I'm off sick, but it's just about being open and transparent around that.
How can we be inclusive from the very beginning stages of what we do to include you and others with similar conditions?
Therese has found the move to more hybrid working to be very beneficial.
It sounds awful to say that, but since the change to working patterns and with a lot more people working from home, I have felt a bit more ‘seen’ because suddenly everyone has been thrown into the same sort of position as me, working from home and working virtually. And it's been quite interesting to watch everybody adjust to that.
And now, as we all try to move into a hybrid working situation more people have been able to understand how I've had to work. And also, it means I'm able to join in most meetings because there's usually a virtual element to all of them. So that’s been beneficial, not that I would have wanted Covid to happen at all!
But supporting that going forward, making sure there's always a virtual element to things so that people who might not be off sick, but not well enough to be working in the office, can participate.
I know people feel that you can't create the same kind of working relationships virtually, but I beg to differ, I think it's possible. I think we've got a generation of people growing up in the digital world and they form relationships that way. So I think it's happening already for better or worse.
Where can people go to learn more to educate themselves, to support their team members.
There's quite a lot of information on that Cabinet Office Intranet site. There's the ABLE network, which has a lot of information about workplace adjustments.
There are things like the disability passports, where you can get your adjustments written down, so that if you move jobs, you can take that with you so you don't have to go through the whole process again.
Occupational health assessments
Therese would advise anyone who's thinking they might need some adjustments to ask for an occupational health assessment. You’re entitled to have one if you meet the criteria.
The other thing is when I had my first occupational health assessment done it came back saying that I was classed as disabled under the Disability Act, which I found a bit of a shock to be honest. But being classed as disabled gives you certain protections. It is worth understanding that and worth declaring that through the HR system, so that it’s captured and understood if you have periods of absence, for example.
There's a lot of discussion about the term disabled. It doesn’t mean you're not able to do things, but perhaps need to do things in a different way. Breaking down those stereotypes is important.
My experience with occupational health assessments has been really good. I've just had another done. It's good to have one every once in a while if you have a long term health condition as things change.
Being thoughtful and mindful
We could also all benefit from being a bit more thoughtful and mindful of people. Making sure we ask people how they are? Do they need anything to help them with their work? I think it is a constant question that we ought to be asking colleagues and those who we work around.
We’d like to offer our immense thanks to Therese for sharing her experience, and we hope it has been useful to our readers.
GSP is keen to feature inspirational work colleagues from all backgrounds within the security profession. If you or someone you work with has an interesting story to share please email email@example.com.