The Disabled Staff Network

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The Disabled Staff Network (DSN) provides mutual support and a collective voice for the disabled staff community. Anyone with disabilities, restrictive health conditions or caring responsibilities is welcome to join. Here, Bulletin speaks to members of the network about their recent experiences.

Karen Duncan is Research and Student Support Officer in the School of Divinity. She joined the DSN in early 2020.

“Being a member of DSN has made me more aware of the support available to disabled and chronically ill staff, and the issues we still face in the workplace,” says Karen. “There is still a way to go for true equality and equity and I would like to be involved in helping to make staff aware of the support currently available and helping to inform the University when it looks at its policies and support for disabled and chronically sick staff, especially around issues of accessibility.”

Karen was unsure whether to join DSN at first: “I have an invisible disability and know the kind of prejudice you can face. I was nervous about being accepted and wasn’t sure how helpful it would be. But, the DSN has been very friendly and supportive and I have found them a really good resource. Its also really interesting and informative to be part of the group and be involved in the issues they raise and try to resolve.”

Karen has recently joined the committee and is excited to support and promote the network, especially within her own School: “I was involved recently in the making of the promotional video. It was really good to be a part of that and to help raise awareness of the DSN.

“As a result of becoming a member of the committee I have also approached my manager about setting up a SharePoint space for disabled and chronically ill staff within Divinity as a support resource and to be a point of contact and support within Divinity.”

Making connections

Sio Carroll is a CDT Administrator in Data Science in the School of Informatics and Co-Chair of DSN. Taking over the role last year, Sio and their Co-Chair Kristina Tamane have worked to build the network and support its members. Sio explains more: “In January 2020 half our committee were off sick and Kristina and I stepped in to keep the Network running. We are a volunteer-led network, and we are, more specifically, a disabled volunteer-led network so I’m really proud of the community we have.”

Sio and Kristina have worked with members of the network to build connections across the University community. Sio shares more: “We have been working with colleagues on the Inclusive Language Guide and looking into the rollout of hybrid working in relation to disabled staff.

“We also are part of the University-wide Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Committee and so are involved in ensuring the voices of our members are considered in decisions being made at this level.”

Sio has big plans for the future: “I would love to see the University become a Disability Confident Employer so that staff can feel secure and supported.”

Sunflower lanyards

One of their more immediate aims is to roll out access and recognition for sunflower lanyards. Sio elaborates: “We’ve been working on ensuring DSN members have access to Sunflower Lanyards as needed. I want to see a full rollout of the sunflower lanyards across the University for staff and students with hidden disabilities with a full communications campaign so everyone knows what they mean and how to support staff and students with them.”

A sunflower lanyard, pin or wristband allows you to identify as a person with an invisible disability. These are wide-ranging and can include autism, sensory, mobility or another chronic physical or mental condition that affects an individual’s day-to-day life.

A sunflower symbol wearer may need extra time, not be able to stand in a queue for long, need to use an accessible toilet or may not be able to wear a face-covering. The sunflower symbol is a request for understanding and compassion from colleagues, and to indicate that we all have different needs in our community.

Fiona Oliver is a Laboratory Supervisor in the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Medicine. She explains how beneficial she has found the use of the sunflower lanyards outside of her work: “Even before the pandemic increased awareness of hidden disabilities I have been approached twice in Sainsbury’s and asked if I needed any help. My condition can cause spells of very low energy and brain fog when I can’t remember what I was doing or blank out for a few moments. On one occasion a staff member approached me and asked if I needed any help as they noticed I was pale and slightly shaky and she saw my lanyard so knew I might need help with something.”

Alison Hendry is British Sign Language (BSL) Development Officer and a member of the DSN. She has also been using a sunflower lanyard, and explains how it will help her day-to-day at work: “I am profoundly deaf and a BSL user, and I have always struggled with my confidence in engaging with people who do not know BSL. When meeting new people, I lack confidence to say straightaway ‘I’m deaf’.

“As I use speech as well as BSL, people do not always realise that I am deaf so when I wear my sunflower lanyard this raises awareness that I have a hidden disability. I also wear badges on the lanyard that give that information without me having to say anything right away. It allows people to adapt their communication style with me which reassures me.”

“I would like to see the University actively and openly support this sunflower scheme for those with hidden disabilities, it is a really important thing to highlight and raise awareness of as well as supporting and reassuring staff and students that everyone is welcome and included regardless of their hidden disability.”

So how can you help those wearing a lanyard? Alison explains: “It is important to understand that not every person with a hidden disability has the same support requirements. Ask them what is the best way to support them and follow their lead, do not make assumptions. It’s always nice to ask even if the person is actually ok and doesn’t need any support.”

Joining the network

The Disabled Staff Network is a safe space for anyone with disabilities, potentially restrictive health conditions and caring responsibilities and all staff who feel the Network is relevant to them.

“Please do not be afraid to join,” says Sio. “We will not disclose your membership and you do not have to share what your disability is to anyone in the Network unless you want to. If more people can join we can have a stronger voice when advocating for our staff to the University.”

“Our AGM is in December on International Day for People with Disabilities – come join us!”

You can find out more about the Staff Disability Network on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion webpages.

Images: Unsplash