From education to employment

#Access to Work: A supportive employer and a flexible workplace makes all the difference

If you are managing an acute illness, have a disability or an impairment, a supportive employer and a flexible workplace can make all the difference to your success.

I started working at First Ark Group in 2014, as a governance administrative assistant, however, sadly my eyesight began to deteriorate three years ago. I went from being an employee that wore glasses, to one with blurred vision and a narrowing visual field. After my sight worsened due to a neurological condition called optic nerve hypoplasia, which results in the degeneration of the cranial and occipital nerve, I became the organisation’s first visually impaired member of staff.

For me to flourish in my role I needed many adaptions in the office to accommodate my impairment, not least adjusting to the fact I had a new partner in crime – my guide dog, George. On a daily basis he accompanies me to meetings, guides me to the kitchen to make drinks and I take him for a walk every lunch time.

I waited for a year to pick him up and we began our partnership by both going on an intensive three-week course. His training was specifically adapted so that he could behave appropriately in an office environment. Working with our health and safety team, we installed a dog bed and water station in a suitable space, so he has a designated space and doesn’t disturb other staff.

My office space was adapted to accommodate my sight. Following advice from Access to Work, a government programme aimed at supporting disabled people to take up or remain in work, First Ark Group were happy to fund the new technology and tools I needed to aid me in my role as a business support assistant. ‘Zoom Text’ was installed on my computer, which magnifies all text and has a talk-back feature, so that I can ‘hear’ what I’m reading and typing. Now my PC has a darker background, as I find it difficult to read on white screens and my keyboard is non-reflective, with a black frame and yellow keys.

My employer [Knowsley Housing Trust] is a unique social impact business in Knowsley, which provides life changing opportunities for our customers and inspires the communities in which we work. Being an inclusive organisation and generating social value is at the core of everything we do. After speaking to friends and family about the core values and purpose of their workplaces I know many companies could learn a lot from us and should replicate our model.

More organisations need to remember that there are so many advantages to having a diverse workforce – a range of people help increase creativity, as employees from different backgrounds have new ideas, it improves community relations, staff can relate to customers and it helps to develop an empathetic workforce.

An encouraging employer is essential, and a person’s condition should not be a barrier to excelling in a role. Yes, adaptions may have to be made but if an organisation invests in you and you receive support from government programmes like Access to Work, you’re more likely to commit to them in the long term.

Equality is key, and the housing sector has always been known for its inclusivity which reflects our customers and society at-large. Different life experiences mean many of us can relate to a range of stakeholders.

Advances in technology have allowed for a level playing field in the workplace and greater inclusivity. You contribute the same value to an organisation as any other employee, perhaps more, as you can comprehend the experiences of many customers.

Helen Brady, Business Support Assistant at First Ark Group

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