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Struggle for Reasonable Adjustments

3 months it took, 3 months for reasonable adjustments to be made at my most recent job. Section 20 of the Equality Act 2010 calls for changes or adjustments to be made to ensure you can access the work environment if you’re disabled. (I would have pasted here the Act’s exact words but ironically the language is not that accessible).

I started working at a reasonably well sized and well established charity so I was confident that my troubles with past employers being inclusive was behind me. That put, it seems the size of the organisation was a key issue among many in my experience. These days I am pretty happy to be openly talking about my disability in job interviews, so I was glad when in offering me a job my manager had confirmed they’d already contacted HR about my needs. Even more delighted I was when I had occupational health not soo long later… So where did it go wrong? 

I had made it clear that I would benefit a lot from a large computer monitor as for me it particularly reduces eye strain and increases my productivity, as had my occupational health report. It was made very clear to me that this would be a possibility, and so I was directed to email the IT department which initiated an internal departmental pinball around the company. IT told me to email the internal occupational health team, who after a number of weeks had me fill out a particularly vague survey not focusing on my needs but asking subjective questions about my activities whilst sitting at a desk.

Some weeks later this survey resulted in a specialist coming to visit me at home, they took measurements of me, sat at a chair and asked questions about my needs. So other than now knowing my sitting height this did appear like progress, so I’d thought. This had led me to another month of chasing IT, eventually I got told my equipment would be dispatched in a couple of weeks time.

At this point I was really getting fed up with having to chase people or ask for things to happen quicker. I know my managers felt the same and with no clear way of making a complaint or having a designated department to talk to, what was I to do? Eventually I found the email to our HR department and made a very strong complaint. And apparently that is all it took.

The HR manager got back to me very quickly, had a meeting with them the following day (getting a lot off my chest), and the following working day I got my equipment, That quick, that easily apparently. But should I have had to complain? If I knew that was the key I’d have done that day one.

Turns out I’m not the only person to have struggles with reasonable adjustments. The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023 presents some quite shocking statistics on this; I joined 78 percent of disabled employees who said that they, rather than their employer, had to initiate the process of getting adjustments.

Man stressed at work

And only 10 percent of disabled employees said it was easy to get the adjustments they needed!!! It gets worse as 1 in 8 disabled employees are waiting over a year to get the adjustments they need. Saddest of all however is that 58 percent of employees said getting the adjustments they needed was due to how assertive and confident they are to ask for that support. And it is this that rattles me, why do those at a disadvantage have to continuously actively fight for their own inclusion? 

A disabled comedian friend of mine made a great comparison, comparing reasonable adjustments to “riders’ ‘. In the same way performers have “riders” to ensure they can perform to their highest standard. Employees have certain reasonable conditions they need met in the workplace, to overcome the barriers they often face to ensure they can work to their highest standard. This really is a win-win-win for all involved, especially if viewed this way should be applied to all employees regardless if they identify as having a disability. It really is a surprise that organisations aren’t on top of this because for employers it means a workforce working at a higher standard, more motivated  and improved well being.

Hopefully this story of my struggle for reasonable adjustments is a clear representation of how disabled people are failed on a daily basis. I am lucky that with my complaining my employer has started to review its processes even admitting its mistakes. Sadly this won’t be the case for everyone, some will be waiting so much longer, others may even be unlawfully dismissed.

When complaining to myself one of the responses I often get is “Sorry this has happened”. As much as I appreciate the sentiment in these, I’m often overcome with both frustration and apathy. Frustration because well what does sorry do? It shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Apathy because it’s not the first time I have experienced it, and for many it won’t be the last.

This Voices article was contributed anonymously by a member of the Disability Group.