Ann Johnson (52) is the Chair of the Shropshire Federation of Small Businesses and Director of Wave-Length CIC, a national company that supports people and employers to deal with the emotional and mental trauma felt by those who become disabled.
Ann lives in Shropshire with her husband Mark (51). They have 3 children Molly (21), Kate (26) and Jake (24).
Ann was disabled in 2002 as a result of a spinal injury. At the time of her injury she was the HR Director of a medium sized business.
“When I returned to work as an HR Director, the DWP paid for my workplace to be adapted to my disability, such as a new desk and chair. They also gave me a light weight wheelchair”.
“My disability has changed my life hugely. Initially it was a huge struggle but I’m now back to where I was before. It made me reassess my life I have made some important changes. For example, I decided to change my job and I now have a much richer, more enjoyable and less stressful working life.”
“After I became disabled life was pretty hard. I had lots of equipment but I didn’t feel that my employers gave me any emotional support. This is vital in helping disabled people return to work – we are the same people and can add real value but we have different needs.
“My colleagues didn’t know what to do. No one really spoke about how I was dealing with it. This made it harder and I become excluded. I avoided training and social events, where I’d need to ask other people for their help, and this made the situation more difficult.
“Employers probably already employ someone who is disabled, even if they don’t realise it. Only 6% of people with disabilities are born with them, the rest develop them during their life. Some people who develop disabilities conceal them from their employers and colleagues because they are fearful that they will loose their job. This just makes it more difficult for everyone”.
When I speak to disabled people about work I tell them to:
“1. Work out where the barriers to employment are – is it society, the employer or you – and to address them step by step. Even if they are little steps it helps.
“2. Do what you are passionate about.
“3. Become an expert in the benefits that are available such as Access to Work. Many employers don’t know about the support that is available to them from the Government and charities. If you can tell them about the support it can help overcome any concerns that they have.
“4. If you don’t know about the support that is available just ask. Your local Job Centre Plus is always a good place to start.
“When I speak to employers about disabled staff I tell them:
“1. Look beyond the disability and judge the person on who they are and on their abilities, not on your perception of their disability.
“2. Disabled people can add value to a company. Not only will they bring their life experience and skills with them, but they can also give insights into how you can adapt your existing products or services or develop new ones for disabled customers. As 18% of theUK’s population have a disability this is a huge market that you might miss.
“3. All employees require emotional and physical support. Disabled people are no different, although their needs may be more obvious. Pay particular attention to providing emotional support for employees who return to work after developing a disability.
“4. Disabled employees are sometime reluctant to discuss their disability with colleagues. As such employers should develop a formal or informal voluntary mechanism for this to happen.”
“5. Most employers only monitor their staff for disability during the recruitment stage. As 94% of disabilities occur during a person’s lifetime they should carry out this monitoring on a more regular basis.”
**Written by Clive Bull DWP Disability Directorate and Office of Disability Issues
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