Supporting Our Disabled Staff - A Review

In June 2018, a group was convened to conduct a two day review of our support for disabled staff. After extensive discussion and agreement from the review panel, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and University Executive Board, the report has now been published on our EDI website, alongside a summary of the implementation plan.

The review, which had participation from colleagues from Professional Services and Faculties, and which was devised in collaboration with members of the disabled staff network, identified significant challenges faced by staff with disabilities within the University of Nottingham. The panel reviewed people-related data; received written submissions which detailed experiences of disabled staff whilst working within the University, and conducted a series of meetings with relevant teams drawn from across the University.

The panel were particularly grateful for the engagement and honesty of disabled staff during the review process; whilst it was difficult to hear of the challenges which were faced by some colleagues, it was important to hear of people’s lived experiences. There were also very useful examples of good practice, which formed the basis of some of the recommendations made within the report.

The recommendations of the review relate to several themes:

  • Experience of being disabled
  • Physical and digital infrastructure
  • Culture and behaviour
  • Support for line managers
  • Specialist Support provision

A common thread which emerged in examples of good and bad experiences was the role of peer support and line managers. Being able to have an open and honest conversation with a line manager, alongside guidance from teams with expertise, including Human Resources and Occupational Health, was key to the identification and provision of reasonable adjustments that enabled disabled staff members to undertake their role.  

A key element of supporting staff with disabilities is an understanding of ‘reasonable adjustments’. Reasonable adjustments are defined by the government as changes which “make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, aren’t substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.”

This does not mean that there should be changes to the competencies required to do a job. But it may require a more holistic approach within the processes of recruitment or when thinking about the way a work role may be implemented, for example, to help ensure roles are accessible - where it is reasonable and practicable to do so.

Some helpful examples of adjustments that might be considered from the website include:

  • allowing a disabled colleague to do things another way, such as allowing someone with social anxiety disorder to have their own desk instead of hot-desking
  • making physical changes to the workplace, like installing a ramp for a wheelchair user or an audio-visual fire alarm for a deaf person
  • changing their equipment, for instance providing a special keyboard if they have arthritis
  • enabling employees who become disabled to make a phased return to work, including flexible hours or part-time working

A challenge in agreeing reasonable adjustments is that there can be no one-size-fits-all rules. Reasonable adjustments need to be agreed between an employee and employer, and they will reflect the needs of the individual person. What works for one person with a particular disability might not be a solution for another.

A key message from our review was that line managers should feel confident to ask for advice from relevant experts, including the staff member themselves. The review also noted that the accountability for the decisions about reasonable adjustments, and the responsibility to openly discuss and agree these with those whom they manage, where the manager is aware that a member of staff is disabled, lies with the line manager themselves.

A common misunderstanding is that in order to be fair, we have to treat all people in the same way. In fact, for those who are disabled, being treated in the same way as others, may lead to significant and direct disadvantage. We recognise that not all line managers currently feel confident in taking this responsibility and managing teams where, in order to be fair, different ways of working may need to be applied to different team members.

Colleagues in Human Resources will be leading the development of guidance to support managers of disabled staff, in collaboration with members of the Disabled Staff Network, and with input from our Review of Support for Disabled Staff Implementation Group. I am grateful to Professor Nicola McClelland for agreeing to act as the independent chair to the review implementation group.

A useful phrase which has been prevalent within much disability activism since the 1990s is “nothing about us without us”. I am extremely grateful for the ongoing support and involvement of colleagues from our Disabled Staff Network and their openness and willingness to work with the University as we work to make improvements that we hope will benefit all of our disabled staff. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the colleagues who have contributed so far for their support of this review, and look forward to continuing to collaborate as we work together to improve the experience of all disabled staff who work for the University of Nottingham.

Sarah Sharples.
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

31  January 2020

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Trent Building
University Park Campus