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Disability Narratives

One of the important relationships people have in the workplace is with their colleagues. We asked the people with long term conditions or a disability that we spoke to tell us about what everyday things their colleagues might have done to support them, and what they found less helpful.

Some people we spoke to explained that they sought to keep their condition or disability hidden from their colleagues, but said they felt they could draw upon their support if they needed it in future.

For many people, it was the "little things" that people did that helped them feel supported and valued within the workplace, such as having a friendly or supportive attitude. A common theme in these accounts was how, as Kevin reflected, "generally people are quite helpful". People found that offers of help or support were often no more than they might hope to ordinarily receive from a colleague. Sometimes these everyday acts of courtesy, consideration or common sense extended to assist with an impairment or problem a person was having. For example, Sue's chronic back pain meant she struggled to lift some boxes, but she found her colleagues were happy to help her when needed. Lyn said her colleagues were happy to collaborate and proof documents, reducing any worries about her dyslexia. And Charlotte similarly found her anxiety eased when a colleague read an email she was drafting that was causing her some worry.

Click for Lyn's interviewLyn explains that sometimes it is the small things that people do that can really help manage her dyslexia.

 

Click for Verity's interviewVerity explains how sometimes her colleagues might not even know how they are helping.

 

Click for Stella's interviewStella found that meeting with colleagues for a coffee and a ‘moan’ was helpful.

 

There were also accounts from the people we interviewed of colleagues showing awareness, recognition, patience and kindness.

Click for Jo Z's interviewJo Z found colleagues were would offer help when they saw her struggling with her back pain.

 

Click for Liz's interviewSome colleagues, Liz found, were better than she was at anticipating ways to support her.

 

Managing relationships

Having a long term condition or disability affected some people's relationships with their colleagues, sometimes in unusual ways.

Click for Maria's interviewAn important form of support for Maria is her guide dog, Tex. But she has found he affects her relationship with colleagues and strangers in surprising ways.

 

Click for Charlotte's interviewCharlotte finds being part time also helps keep her relationships with colleagues on a professional level, which she appreciates.

 

Click for Mary's interviewIt is important to remember that if someone confides personal or private information about their condition to you, that it is treated confidentially.

 

Click for Ruth's interviewRuth has witnessed some colleagues having unhelpful and unreasonable expectations, which have the potential to distress some staff.

 

Click for Devon's interviewDevon reflects that not being able to join colleagues socialising means that she may not develop the friendships she otherwise might have.

 

Click for Mary's interviewHumour is often used to diffuse social situations, but Mary found it was not always appropriate or welcome.

 

Misjudged support and unhelpful expectations

Many of the people we spoke to described moments of forgetfulness from colleagues. At times this amounted to minor irritations or embarrassment when the person had to repeat a request for help or consideration. For example, Maria, who is visually impaired, described how on occasion she had been left a hand-written note (rather than an electronic one), which she would have to ask colleagues to read out to her. The variability of people's conditions was also occasionally a cause of misunderstanding, especially when colleagues expected to see continual improvement. Some people even reported that their needs or requests were being (wilfully) ignored or side-lined.

Click for Richard's interviewRichard reflects that for an invisible condition like diabetes, some people can forget the effects it can have.

 

Click for Liz's interviewIt can be frustrating for Liz when colleagues forget that she needs extra time for some tasks, but she recognises they probably are unaware they are rushing her.

 

Click for Mary's interviewThe reaction of some colleagues to Mary’s condition has caused her worry and made her feel guilty.

 

Support from: Union

A source of support some people drew upon was the Union that they were a member of. Jo advised people should "join a union", though not everyone we spoke to was a member of a union. Some of those who were did not know that a union might be able to support them, or did not feel they were in a situation that needed the union's support.

Some people had poor experiences of the help they received.

Click for Charlotte's interviewHaving a neutral third party with you at a mediation meeting can be helpful, but Charlotte found little other support from her union representative.

 

Frances felt that the union representative was "a great morale booster". Jo found they provided practical support and being a member of the union was also a good social opportunity.

Click for Jo's interviewJo explains that her Union rep was a useful source of practical support with negotiation during mediation and that being a member also has social benefits.

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