Ellen Cole, a British public relations and marketing consultant, went from feeling down at work to running her own business.
“I loved my work and thrived but struggled with workplace ridicule. It knocked my confidence and self-esteem and despite reaching out to Managers and HR, I often found them to be hesitant to get involved due to their lack of understanding of learning differences.”
Cole, who is dyslexic, says that she took matters into her own hands when she sensed a common thread amongst dyslexic professionals.
“With no one to turn to, out of curiosity I began circulating surveys to other dyslexic professionals to see whether they had similar experiences to myself. By 2016, I discovered a major trend in my surveys in that more dyslexic professionals were choosing self-employment and even unemployment, over employed-life, for the sake of their mental health.”
How accessibility impacts morale
According to a 2018 review by a group of researchers at the University of Toronto, a number of studies show that there is a general morale increase when disabled people are employed at the company. This is in addition to positives like increased profitability, improved quality of life for staff, and more awareness about disability throughout company structures.
Andrew Green works as a social benefits advocate, supporting those who have had their disability benefits denied. He says his workplace makes him feel valued.
“I am confident that my workplace adapts to disabled people not because it is an obligation, rather, we are respected and valued. We bring a facet of diversity to the workplace. That significantly impacts my morale. I often say I have the best job in the world because of this.”
While he feels supported in his current role, he says past experiences remind him that this hasn’t always been the case across his career.
“I have been in other workplaces where I have felt like I was an extra effort. Anything done differently was a burden or a special favor. Of course, that impacts my morale. However, I also realize now that the workplace lost in many ways. They lost me being able to fully participate and bring my perspective and experience to the table. When I am included my workplace is a little fuller picture of the wider world.”
That piece of the wider world means that colleagues are mindful of his access needs as a person who is blind and that non-work-specific communication, like the digital equivalent of watercooler chat, is made more accessible for him. One advantage of his workplace’s approach, he says, is that he can choose to use the tools that fit best for him.
“The software I use to do my work is my choice. Therefore, it is not simply accessible but something more. I describe it as placing something on a shelf just within reach. It is accessible but if you are going to use that item every day you probably want more. You would place it in a spot where it is more useable. That is what I have. Not just an accessible workplace but useable. Set up based upon what I need but also what works best for me.”
Some workplaces are still inaccessible to many
Cole started her company because there was a lack of access, but she says her disability is part of what makes her clients value her work.
“I opted to go self-employed after years of seeing no workplace changes for people with learning differences [...] I have gone on to carve out a successful Marketing, PR, and Social Media business and now work with clients who value people who think differently, however, self-employment isn’t for everyone.”
Awareness for accessible workplaces is growing, the question many in the disability community ask themselves is:
Why should disabled people have to take on the risk of self-employment when the tools to implement an accessible workplace are right in front of businesses?
As new accessibility initiatives are adopted and implemented, many businesses are beginning to ask the same question.