The habitual exclusion of disabled people from the workforce is an unnecessary waste. Discrimination could often be avoided by a simple shift in perspective, a bit of education and a genuine commitment. This is why I believe that the work that the #ChangeCollective is doing is so vitally important.
Four years ago I was making a promising start on my career as a graduate in Hong Kong; then I fell seriously ill. I have been disabled since, and though still the same ambitious, curious person, my days are shaped by my condition. My disability does not preclude me from working – rather the traditional working environment of commutes, office buildings, desk settings and long hours, is exclusive to me.
This is an obstacle shared by many people with disabilities. However, I was incredibly fortunate to be hired by Animals Asia, a charity that has accessibility at its core.
Animals Asia has created an inclusive and flexible environment for all its employees, whether we opt for alternative working conditions because of disability, personal, family reasons, or simply preference. This framework enables us to work remotely and on a flexible schedule that’s worked out with our line manager. It is a framework that is invaluable for me but also works for my colleagues and contributes to a fair and inclusive atmosphere for us all. This flexibility is paired with a creative approach to creating that ‘water cooler’ culture that is so vital to a sociable work environment and dynamic, cohesive teamwork.
We are encouraged to have very open channels of communication and have monthly team meetings, where we all catch up on what everyone is doing and how that fits into the wider picture. Where other organisations might head to their local pub on the occasional Friday, we gather at the ‘Moon Bear Inn’ via Zoom, sharing a drink and chat with our colleagues – wherever they are in the UK. These are just two examples of ways my employer has fostered a lovely culture of inclusion and participation.
This culture makes for a productive and fun environment for all employees, especially those of us who would otherwise be relegated to the peripheries. It is hard for me to express how much it has meant for my confidence and my mental as well as physical health, to have an employer that fully accepted, and empowered me as a disabled employee. As is often said, a happy workforce is a productive workforce.
Workplace obstacles for disabled people are many and varied and I can only speak to my own experience. But, as I’ve seen at Animals Asia, their inclusivity actually works for everyone, not just me.
If your organisation is committed to inclusion, I would encourage you to be open minded, to have the courage to consider your biases and to think about how necessary current work structures are. Not all charities have an established framework for remote working, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. Opening the door to this conversation is the first step.
Read about the IoF's Change Collective work here.