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  • Writer's pictureKyrby Brown

National Inclusion Week - Work in Progress

It’s national inclusion week so we are going to do a little (big) introspection into what equality in the workplace should really look like and why we haven’t come far enough (yet).  

Workplace discrimination is something that is faced by Disabled employees the world over. This can range from something physical such as an inaccessible office/workspace, to dismissal of skills and chronic undervaluing on the basis of perceived physical or mental weakness. 

My disability does not affect my cognitive function and I am truly grateful for this, but, because I am able to fully perceive the world around me, I can’t help but notice that I’m often treated a little differently than others, and not in a good way. For example, I run a business that specialises in Frame Running, a growing adaptive sport in the UK. I am the only specialist in this equipment in the UK. I assess often complex individuals of varying abilities on a daily basis and have tested the equipment to its limits personally to improve my understanding of how it works. I design frames for people from the ground up, often working around specific complex needs and desires. Despite all this, people would still ask my Personal Assistants technical details about the equipment over my head, failing to recognise that the business, and knowledge in this instance, ends and begins with me. 

I have found myself overlooked and underestimated as a small business owner, being told that what I’m doing is “really lovely” and “inspirational” when the person speaking has no idea what I actually do or how my business works. It’s one step away from being patted on the head and given a gold star, it honestly makes me feel sick. 

It’s absolutely fascinating that when I’m talking over the phone I am instantly taken more seriously, my expertise is respected and I feel like I am heard. In person conversation often goes (very literally) over my head or, even worse, assumptions are made about my abilities that leave me outside of consideration for a specific role or position. This needs to stop! 

Disabled people are statistically significantly less likely to be employed in management roles. This means we are statistically earning less than our abled-bodied colleagues and are more likely to be passed over for a promotion. The question I have is why? 

In many cases one Disabled person has more problem solving skills than a room full of abled-bodied counterparts, we have been forced to challenge the norm and think outside the box our entire lives. Many of us become employers ourselves at a young age (17 for me) in order to maintain our independence. We understand the complexities of professional relationships and can manage time like a total boss. 

Intellectually I am equal, despite a dysfunctioning body. I love to work and do so in the full knowledge that what I do has meaning. I do not need to be validated, or patted on the head, what I want, more than anything, is to be respected for the expert I am. Just a person who has worked hard to use their own experience and hard-won skills to build a business.

Sadly, this is not what the world sees, the world sees wheels, sickness, fatigue and problems to come. The world sees my limitations and makes assumptions about my ability. Even worse, the world doesn’t even bother to ask about the finer points of my disability, about the million and one possible work arounds and different ways of doing things. 

I have often had to solve more problems just to get into the office than others may face in a whole day.

It is not yet widely understood that a disabled employee is an excellent prospect because they can offer so much more than the visuals crudely suggest. Disabled people are used to challenges, we have a singularly more complete understanding of our own abilities simply because we need to. Our communication skills are superb because we have had to communicate our needs to others from a very young age. We know how work around weakness and get shit done. Making hay whilst the sun shines because tomorrow might not bring such fair weather.

It is my nature to think outside the box because I have never fit in the box. 

I don’t want to be another statistic, but it’s not up to me to change the world. It’s up to the world to be better, for industry leaders to stop trying to tick boxes and recognise the disabled workforce for what it is - a true force!

It's time for disabled people to be embraced for what they might bring to a business rather than feared for what they might take. We live in a world where we increasingly embrace alternative perspectives and I can wholeheartedly tell you that you'll never find a more unique perspective than that of a Disabled person.

I know that this won't happen overnight but I like to think we are capable, as a society of moving in the right direction. Our way of working has changed making work more accessible than ever, this is our chance to move forward, to change the way the boardroom looks.

One day I would like the room to see past my chair and truly hear what I’m saying, because I like to think I’m making some sense. 

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