Last year during Disabilities History Month I shared the inspiring story of my good friend, mentor and mentee Matthew James. Matthew has found a space in my conscience, ensuring accessibility and inclusion are front and centre whether I'm designing, producing or facilitating our virtual and hybrid events. But of course many people live with their hidden disability all day every day, not just the couple of hours that they are active participants in a Horizons session.
Watching Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice perform their Couple's Choice in this year's Strictly Come Dancing prompted me to think about what more I can do to raise the profile and experiences of those living with hidden disabilities. Those seconds of silence were some of the most powerful we can experience to walk in other people's shoes and understand how it is a responsibility for us all, like Giovanni did, to create a bridge rather than co-existing in two different worlds.
Only days later the following words by Zach Adam, a colleague I have gotten to know through Matthew, arrived in my inbox and I knew that I had to, with Zach's permission, share his words with you too.
Zach Adam, Equality and Inclusion Manager with North East, Yorkshire and Humberside has written this blog where he talks about what it like living and working with a disability.
"To the curious who are unaware, a hidden disability (i.e. Disabilities not always obvious/visible) goes against the traditional mould that one must appear unwell to be considered disabled.
"So, as I sit at my desk in a haze of spreadsheets and slide-decks– to most others who are happily unaware– they see a happy 32-year-old man working steadily. To others who know me better, they know that things aren’t always as they appear beneath the quirky surface.
"They know that if my posture falls slight of upright for just for a couple of minutes that my de-conditioned muscles can no longer hold my spine in alignment. I will become as a stiff as office pole requiring to bend my body in very bizarre form of desk yoga. They are also aware that if I don’t take my meds, my joints will swell up to twice their size also. Most importantly, they know that my body is at literal war with itself.
"According Immunology UK (2018), there are approximately four million people in the UK who are living with an autoimmune condition. I have described “Autoimmunity” as nature’s deadliest form of friendly fire – its where the immune system mistakenly misfires and attacks healthy tissue and organs.
"Given this prevalence, the NHS workforce will no doubt be impacted. Thankfully, I have found outstanding support through the NHS England and NHS Improvement Corporate IT & Smarter Working Team in particular Jill. Their sole support meant that I could get the equipment I needed to stay in work without going off sick.
"I have benefited from flexible working in the organisation. It allows me to bypass periods where I am feeling unwell, stiff, or just plain nauseous. It also allows me to work where I am at my most productive. It also allows me to manage my hospital appointments well.
"These adjustments are not costly by any means, but they make all the difference. In the context of Disability History Month, we acknowledge the history of our struggle for equality and human rights. Never more so, have our colleagues faced these struggles in their working environments. It is time to appreciate and reflect the on the historical, present, and future impact of reasonable adjustments in keeping disabled colleagues in employment."
Thank you Zach for sharing you story
Top Tips for inclusion during a virtual session
In the blog Matthew and I wrote we shared Matthew's top tips are for those designing and delivering virtual sessions - it seems fitting to share them again here. Matthew asked us to see things through the participants eyes, for example, if Matthew is looking away from the screen, perhaps making notes then he is not following the conversation. Matthew asked us to use our hands more during sessions to communicate too as this increases the inclusion for everyone.
Here's some easy ones we suggested below. It's been encouraging over the last year to see them being used but there is more to do and we'd ask you to think about using them too if you don't consistently include non verbal ways of communicating in your sessions.
|"bye"||Wave your hand|
|"all is well"||Put one thumb up|
|"very good"||Put two thumbs up|
|"Time out"||Hold one hand flat and tap with the other hand at a right angle|
|"Thank you"||Flat hand starts with fingertips on chin. Hand moves down and away from yourself.|
Let's make 2022 the year we all take a step further forward and create the conditions for inclusion and accessibility.