One of the most common questions I am asked is “what do you mean by disability”?
Many organisations know that they have a much higher presence of disabled people in their workforce than have openly identified. Still others are confused by whether disability covers the myriad of injuries that can befall anyone throughout their life; is psychosocial disability included, and what about workplace injuries?
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) doesn’t split psychosocial disability out into another category, that is a peculiarly Australian aspect of disability not recognised by the rest of the world. So, people with psychosocial disability are people with disability.
Here’s a question for you:
How do you know someone on your team is gay or Indigenous?
No, it’s not a trick question.
Usually you know about people belonging to a diversity group because that person openly identifies, and they tell you or talk about it openly. They may also approach you for considerations relating to their diversity. This is how you know they exist and how you count them in your diversity statistics.
It’s the same for disability.
You know someone is disabled because they identify as a person with disability. They will tell you if they consider it relevant, talk about themselves in this context, and they might ask for certain adjustments to the workplace or their position to accommodate their disability needs (most people with disabilities don’t need any adjustments at all).
There are a few things that are generally understood when someone identifies as disabled. Disability is not the same as injury. In other words, people don’t expect to recover from their disability, it’s with them for the long haul. In fact, it can be quite offensive to a person with disability to suggest that they will recover or “get better” over time.
While injuries, including workplace injuries, can have a disabling effect, this is not the same as becoming disabled and identifying as a disabled person. Of course, work injured people should also receive reasonable adjustments and a return to work program, but they shouldn’t automatically be counted amongst your workforce with disabilities.
Most people with disabilities are not evident just by looking. You can’t tell they have a disability unless they tell you. For those who do “look” disabled you must still wait for them to identify as disabled before you make assumptions. There are people who do not see themselves as a person with disability, for whom it is not part of their identity, and it’s inappropriate to impose this identity on them regardless of how they appear at face value. Additionally, half of all people with disabilities have more than one disability, and most disabilities are not visually evident, so you can’t assume that someone in a wheelchair needs only certain access measures, they may have several other requirements.
So, how do you know a person is a person with disability?
They will tell you.
As an employer, or supervisor, it then becomes your responsibility to make sure that the person has any reasonable adjustment that they need and is not subjected to ableist behaviour, or bullying or harassment.
What about all those people who will identify anonymously in organisation surveys, but don’t openly identify as disabled people on a day to day basis?
They will if they feel comfortable and safe, so focus on a culture of inclusion and mutual respect. Are your workers valued for being disabled people? Do they know that they are considered an asset to the organisation because of their diversity and what it brings? Focus on getting your culture right and the rest will follow.
The Team Leading Disability Masterclass is for managers and supervisors of diverse teams.