Top Tips For Academics With Disabilities

     
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It could be that a new manager has changed your schedule, without understanding how this will cause you massive problems due to chronic fatigue syndrome. Or you may have had a recent diagnosis of cancer, and need more flexible hours to continue in your role during treatment. Perhaps you have been discriminated against or bullied because you have a disability.

Whatever your personal circumstances, if the issue is disability, you have strong protections under the law. It isn’t always easy to activate these, so it’s important to know the right way to go about getting help.

Know your laws.

All employees with physical disabilities or mental health conditions in England, Scotland and Wales are protected from discrimination in hiring by the Equality Act 2010. This also requires employers to make “reasonable adjustments” for employees with existing or new disabilities. It replaced several older laws, which you may still see referenced.

Many FE/HE employers have signed up to the “positive about disabled people” programme run by JobCentre Plus, which lets them use the Two Ticks symbol on recruiting documents. These employers have agreed to interview any candidate declaring a disability who meets the person specification. They also agree to carry out disability awareness and support tasks annually. Unfortunately, some Two Ticks employers pay lip service to the agreement.

There is also the Public Sector Equality Duty, although this is under threat. Currently, this means FE/HE sector employers must proactively plan and take practical steps to make their services and their workplaces fully accessible, even before a person with a disability requests this.

Finally, disability-related laws can also protect carers from discrimination. 

Know your rights.

If you have a disability, these protections should mean it is safe to say so when you apply for a job. In practice, however, many advisors say you should wait until after being hired if you can—unless you need adjustments during the interview. Employers cannot ask you health questions during the interview.

On the job, you can request accommodations, such as equipment that helps you work. Examples range from wrist rests for those with carpal tunnel syndrome right up to properly configured desks for wheelchair users. Some academic employees with disabilities affecting text production or mobility have successfully requested PA or secretarial services. You can also request flexible working.

Newly hired or newly diagnosed individuals can get funding for this through the Access to Work programme (www.gov.uk/access-to-work). You have to apply quite quickly to get help. If your job requirements have recently changed, you may also be eligible for Access to Work funding in order to stay in work.

Most barriers can be overcome with support from Equality & Diversity officers within your employer’s Human Resources department.

If you do experience discrimination or unwillingness to accommodate your needs, contact the Equality Advisory Support Service (www.gov.uk/equality-advisory-support-service) on 0808 800 0082. You may find help faster if you are a union member: UCU (www.ucu.org.uk) and the ATL (www.atl.org.uk) both have active equalities committees, and local reps who offer advice and representation.

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