What does ‘positive about disability’ mean? It means, simply, that the College wants to continue being a diverse and inclusive place where all staff, no matter their disability, feel supported.
Many staff may not feel they can or should share their disability or long-term health condition with their employer. Positive about Disability is all about encouraging staff to get the support they may need.
Welcome to the first of a monthly series of staff blogs, where we meet college staff who want to share their story.
Meet Lucy Shields, Human Resources Advisor at Ayrshire College. Lucy shares her journey of being diagnosed with MS and the relationship between that and being in the workplace.
Sharing my diagnosis with the College
“In October 2013, I received a formal diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis after experiencing a range of symptoms over the previous 10 years. I lost the sight in one of my eyes for around 6 months at one point, and struggled to undertake the full remit of my job at that time. Since my diagnosis, I have made every effort to become the fittest and healthiest version of myself, and ensure my wellbeing is my number one priority. Subsequently, I am fortunate not to have experienced any symptoms or relapses since my diagnosis.
I was not employed by the College at the time I received my diagnosis, however, I had a good relationship with my Manager and Director, and they were very supportive. I knew I would have access to any help or adjustments that I needed.
When I saw the vacancy advertised for the HR Advisor position here at the College, I was excited at the prospect of working in further education. I was concerned about disclosing my disability initially, which unfortunately is probably the normal response for most people who have a disability.
When you are at the stage of applying for a job, you are not fully aware of the culture of the organisation, or what support may be on offer and this can cause further uncertainty for a disabled person
I was encouraged however, by the recruitment process which confirmed that reasonable adjustments will be made for candidates who are shortlisted for interview and have declared a disability. In looking back over this period, I feel that it would have been helpful to me if more information on how my disability would be considered had been available through eg the College website and recruitment page.
After I was selected as the preferred candidate, I had a medical as part of the recruitment process. My line manager discussed the medical report with me and assured me that any adjustments would be accommodated and if I needed any support, I should just ask. This was a really positive start to my journey with the College and I felt completely at ease with regard to my health. This is something which has ultimately helped, as I know stress can be a trigger for my condition.
It is really encouraging that the College is currently engaged in a staff disability project and I am happy to be a part of this, as I believe it can make a real difference. The project ultimately seeks to improve the staff disability declaration rate. I know I have a role to play in this also and I hope many staff become involved.
I am sure that positive actions will come from the project and will be supportive to both current staff and future applicants who have a disability.
What kind of support HR can offer?
Depending on what support staff require, we have access to a range of different supports available. For example, if a staff member disclosed that they were suffering from a mental health condition, I would want to ensure that they felt supported, and therefore I may suggest the Employee Counselling Service. This is a completely confidential service.
An alternative support might be Occupational Health. Occupational Health can provide advice and guidance to line managers on how best we can support staff in relation to their job role. This might include a reasonable adjustment such as additional rest breaks, or even a phased return to work.
You can declare having a disability, medical condition or any illness at any time even if you have worked at the College for several years. Staff should inform their line manager so that they can provide support in the first instance. HR can then also be involved in order to provide support and guidance to the staff member and manager on any next steps, and point everyone in the direction of the appropriate support tools.
The College is a very supportive environment – we want everyone to feel supported at work.
I think it is a positive thing that I work for HR and I have a disability. Having a disability has shown me the varying ways in which a disability can present, and the workplace support which is on offer. I have recently received a slightly bigger laptop due to my eyesight being affected by my condition. This is a really helpful adjustment for me, and has made my work life easier.”
If you would like more information, please contact Sara Turkington, Equality and Inclusion Advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01292 265 184 ext. 7655.