Work has never worked for Disabled people so why are we trying to go back to how things were? By Mikey Erhardt

Fri,17 November 2023
Blog Employment Equality & Rights
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If recent comments from the Prime Minister are anything to go by, then we all need to prepare for a push to return to the office.

Perhaps this was inevitable. The swift transition towards home working during the pandemic invited those of us with an office job to imagine a new world of work, but this vision is under threat. 

Around a fifth of the British population is Disabled and lives with a sensory, motor, or cognitive disability. We are more than a significant portion of the workforce. When the office environment and its physical barriers disappeared, everyone, regardless of impairment or disability, was meant to finally get a fair shot and work the way they want.

So much has been said about the office, you’d be remiss to forget that for many Disabled people, working in one was never normal. As we potentially move ahead into another era of full-time office work, what does the future of work look like for Learning Disabled people like me?

ADHD and work

For me, the office was the least productive place I could think of. It wouldn’t matter if you took out the commute, or allowed me to wake up at a time that suited me. Even if you ended the pressure of presenteeism common in office jobs I still wouldn’t be productive. 

A mandatory office environment was a barrier for me as a person with ADHD. The traditional office and all of its distractions made it hard for me to function. 

It was only when I began working from home that I started to see that I had a learning disability - and I’m not the only one. Recent research from the US suggests that the pandemic has sparked an increase in the number of people getting diagnosed with ADHD

This is hardly a surprise. Despite all the benefits that the unplanned transformation to working from home has, trying to keep things as “normal” as possible has created jobs that are more demanding and stressful. This is the exact opposite of what the ADHD brain needs. 

When work is vague

Of course, how, where, and why you work will always be a deeply personal thing for people. Whilst some people have legitimate reasons for preferring office-based working – we must not ignore the harm that mandated office work has on Disabled people’

A UK poll early in the pandemic found only 6% of respondents wanted to return to work as it had been before the virus. Speak to a Disabled person, especially someone with a cognitive disability like mine and it is easy to understand why. Having ADHD made me interrogate the idea of the rigid 9-5, which most organisations have continued to enforce even as we worked from home. For me, I know that my disability means I manage tasks better without that rigidity, with flexibility to work when and how I want - providing a real lifeline for me. 

If anything, this flexibility is antithetical to how most of us think about work. Rather than considering how I could change to be a better “worker” ADHD made me question why the workplace had barriers that stopped me from excelling.

Changing the world of work for Disabled people means changing it for everyone

As tough as the last year and a half has been, we shouldn’t forget that flexibility has tremendous benefits for everyone, not just Disabled people.

Change can be difficult, but programmes like DRUK’s Leadership Academy Programme (LAP) are a great start. This course challenges limiting beliefs, real and perceived barriers and aims to remove any ‘glass ceiling perceptions’ for the career development aspirations of Disabled people. 

Schemes like LAP help challenge the notion that the business world can’t change. They show how giving flexibility to all workers can help a business excel overall. 

Perhaps we need to focus more on the solidarity between Disabled workers and non-Disabled workers. The flexibility that helps me juggle my ADHD may help another with childcare or getting enough sleep.

We deserve to be included in work but including us ultimately means fixing the world of work for everyone.