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Disability Narratives

Rebecca Surrender, the University Pro Vice-Chancellor and Advocate for Equality and Diversity introduces the project at the 2017 Oxford University Disability Lecture

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I am the University Pro Vice-Chancellor and Advocate for Equality and Diversity. I'm very proud of our University's commitment to fostering an inclusive environment and culture for work and study. We know very well that our position as a world-class University depends and relies on the dedication and hard work of many people working and studying here, and in order to maintain this position we need to draw on the talents and the contributions of all our staff and students. We want to make sure, therefore, that we're doing all we can to provide every member, every opportunity to reach their full potential.

We know that none of us can be given a single label

Paradoxically some of the work of the University promotes equality and diversity in an almost single dimensional way (focusing on) a single defining characteristic such as gender or ethnicity, for example in our work for charter mark schemes such as Athena Swan or the Race Equality Charter. We know however that none of us can be given a single label, and that any single label will be reductionist and inevitably ignore many vital aspects of our experience. We all have many identities in both work and personal spheres.

The Disability Narratives Project provides a unique insight into the experiences of colleagues living with disability or long-term health conditions. In the University's work on other areas such as gender and race we've been increasingly using research evidence to inform our approach. This is the first study we've undertaken within the University which looks at the support we're providing to those members living with a disability. Not all of it makes comfortable reading since it reveals a gap between the University's aspirations and goals - what we want to do in terms of good processes to support colleagues - and the reality - that people sometimes have difficulty in accessing this support.

The research participants talk very honestly and openly, showing how having a disability or long-term health condition affected all areas of their work and personal lives. We know that much disability is hidden, meaning that disabled people face constant choices about whether to share that identity. We are very grateful to the research participants for their courage and honesty; they've shared their stories to help other members of staff who may currently, or in the future, face similar situations. In particular we hope the resource will be a powerful tool for managers, in helping them to understand the lived experience of their team members, so that they can work together to find creative and effective solutions in the workplace.

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