What should happen and how it should work
If you have a disability or long term health condition, we encourage you to tell the University about it, so that they can explore possible support for you. A good starting point is to talk to your line manager. Your manager may want to seek advice from the Human Resources staff within your department or college, who are the professional staff responsible for administering employment processes.
They may also suggest that you talk to the Occupational Health Service or the Staff Disability Advisor.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your line manager about a disability or health issue, you may talk in confidence to the Occupational Health Service or the Staff Disability Advisor.
Human resources and Personnel are alternative terms for the department tasked with administering payroll, benefits, health and safety, and employment issues. Terminology has changed over the years, but the University seems to be mostly using HR nowadays, instead of Personnel.
The University has embedded HR staff in departments who should be the first point of call for individuals and managers, with support and advice being provided by central HR for smaller departments or those with more complex cases.
Before starting employment people who have been offered a role are required to complete a health declaration form, which asks them whether they have a disability or health condition that may affect them at work and whether they know of reasonable adjustments. If they answer “YES”, their declaration forms will be sent to the Occupational Health Service or the Staff Disability Advisor to explore possible support.
If an individual’s work is affected by a disability or health condition, there are clear processes to get a referral to Occupational Health (see Resources). An employee can self-refer or be referred by a manager. They may also seek advice from the Staff Disability Advisor on practical support at work.
Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessments
Many people use computers to carry out their work, so it is important that their work stations are set up to minimise adverse health impacts. Sometimes referred to as a desk or workspace assessment, a DSE is a risk assessment often performed by a department’s health and safety officer. They assess the employee’s the ergonomic set-up including keyboards, mouse and trackball, display screens, software, furniture and work environment.
All new starters are required to do a DSE assessment, which can be repeated if there are significant changes to the work station or the individual’s health. Many departments use an online self-assessment form, with issues followed up by the department’s health and safety officer. This may be a good route to flag up early signs of discomfort using standard computer equipment, which can lead to the provision of alternative ergonomic equipment.
It is helpful to distinguish between IT support as tool or equipment, and IT support available from the University’s IT staff. For example, assistive software mentioned by some people we interviewed is not something that the University’s IT staff can currently advise on or support. Their involvement is limited to installing it on University equipment.
IT has the potential to be immensely helpful for people with disabilities or long term health conditions. The range varies from options which are available on any PC, which a user can change for themselves, to specialist software and equipment.
Options on any computer include moderate magnification, and changing the screen background from white to a pastel shade which many people find more comfortable.
Alternative equipment such as trackball mice or compact keyboards can be obtained via the DSE assessment and the department’s health and safety officer.
Specialist assistive software can be purchase to help people with particular disabilities. This includes text-to-speech software to support people with dyslexia, screenreader and magnification software to help people with a visual impairment use the computer, and voice recognition software, which enables someone to use a computer with little or no keyboard use. Since these are more specialist products, they would normally be purchased after consultation with the Staff Disability Advisor, and often with external funding through Access to Work. External training is normally provided.
Local IT staff in departments can install assistive software, but lack knowledge of these more specialist products, so people normally need to go to the external experts for training and support.
Who funds the equipment?
Your department should organise any equipment or software you need. There is no central University fund for disabled staff. Staff are not expected to contribute to meeting the costs of any support needs at work. External funding may also be available through the national Access to Work scheme (see Resources).
Arranging funding may be more complicated for staff who hold joint university and college appointments, since they effectively have two employers. This can be further complicated by also to seeking external funding through Access to Work.
Asking for help and support: Some thoughts from the Staff Disability Advisor
People vary in whether they choose to tell their colleagues about any disability or long-term condition. If the person feels able to share some information, that may help colleagues to understand any difficulties.
It is often helpful to focus on the ways in which colleagues can help you, rather than on the reasons for your request. Most people want to help, but may genuinely not know how to do so. Some people involve their colleagues in problem-solving to overcome difficulties.
Support does not have to be one-sided. Sometimes there can be negotiation about a mutually convenient arrangement e.g. ‘Shall I look that information up for you, while you go to fetch my visitor?’
Sometimes a colleague can take on an informal buddy role to help a colleague with a disability e.g. helping a colleague with autism with social activities.
Supporting a member of staff: Some thoughts from the Staff Disability Advisor
Managing a member of staff with a disability or long-term health condition can be a challenge for a line manager, especially if they have no previous experience of this. Being willing to admit their limitations, and taking a positive approach to exploring how to support their team member is a good start. Line managers can seek advice from their own manager, from local HR staff, from Occupational Health and from the Staff Disability Advisor.
Line managers should talk to the individual, and be creative in problem-solving together, and balancing the needs of the individual and department. It is sensible to arrange a trial period for any support, and to review whether the support is effective.
It is important that line managers protect their own wellbeing, when supporting a team member dealing with a difficult situation.
A manager may need to establish trust before a member of the team feels able to share confidential information. They may need to ask about individual needs on several occasions, before a new member of staff feels able to talk.
Circumstances change, so the manager should check regularly whether arrangements need to be tweaked.