Removing the barriers and embracing opportunities

Martin believes that everyone should be given the right tools for their job, and argues for the social model of disability to remove the barriers for disabled people at work.

I passionately believe that disabled employees can make a huge contribution to the future prosperity of the organisation they work for and should be considered as assets and not a liability. Due to the daily or indeed life long struggle they have endured or endure, people with disabilities are often very determined and resilient; characteristics most employers would love to have in their workforce.

Reasonable adjustments

Dr Nasser Siabi OBE, founder of Microlink, a business that has supported getting thousands of disabled people into work, says that organisations should stop concentrating on complying with statutory responsibilities – on labelling disabled people, then asking an ill-suited system to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ – and instead build a central business process that helps any staff member to get the right tools for their job. “You get out of your staff what you put in,” he says. “If you don’t put care and passion into them, you won’t get it out of them.”

Some people with disabilities do not need any form of adjustment but equally so there are those that rely on them to go to work and be part of normal working society. Within the civil service we are seeing a big push on inclusion; disability being one of the biggest areas targeted for change. Reasonable adjustments and the understanding of the concept of them is, I would suggest, still alien to many of our colleagues who manage staff with disabilities every day. This is not by choice but by lack of opportunity to understand. The quote above makes it clear: an adjustment is to make disability part of business as usual. Many adjustments will also help non-disabled people, and certainly will not be to anyone’s detriment.

Social model of disability*

I would suggest we move to the social model of disability* alongside the legal/medical model and make them work together; to fix the job by adjustment instead of trying to fit the disabled colleague into an existing role.

In a previous life I worked in engineering as a maintenance pipefitter within the UK steel industry, a far cry from the role of tracing and moving cattle that I currently do within Defra. Due to acquiring my disability; which is Meniere’s disease, I was “retired” from pipefitting and industry in general in 2001 due to being a health and safety risk to the multi-billion pound business that couldn’t find a suitable adjustment to facilitate retaining me. I was 42 and had 27 years’ service.

Working to remove barriers

Having suffered because of an acquired disability and having entered the world of reasonable adjustments, I was keen, where possible, to ease the suffering and frustration of securing and maintaining employment for others. I joined the Defra staff disability network and am now working with the network chair to try and raise awareness of disability and the barriers it brings. I also chair the PCS northern region disability forum.

I strongly embrace the concept of adjustment and the associated Workplace Adjustment Passport and my message to you, whether disabled or not, is to grasp every opportunity available to understand disability and especially how to work with colleagues who have disability as part of their life.


*The social model of disability is a way of viewing the world, developed by disabled people. The model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people's attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can't do certain things.


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