Lawyers with disabilities

Webinar: Disability in the legal profession

The Leeds Law Society diversity and inclusion conference (in partnership with the Law Society of England and Wales), which took place earlier this year, explored several topics within diversity and inclusion. In this webinar we’re joined by a panel to discuss disability and the experiences of disabled people within the legal profession both from a disabled and non-disabled perspective. 

The panel answer questions on reasonable adjustments and the benefits of having a diverse, disabled staff base, and discuss their own experiences and what the profession could learn to improve inclusion and equality.

Take a look below at tips shared by the panel to improve culture and working environments for disabled people.

Recognise what your disabled staff bring to your organisation

It's important employers recognise and appreciate the huge number of positives disabled people bring to their work.

Disabled people often need to think creatively and outside the box due to challenges in their everyday life. This allows them to develop many valuable and transferrable skills.

Determination, ambition, organisation, inventiveness and resilience are just a few of the vast and varied skills that come with disability diversity within an organisation.

Diversity of experience and perspective is an asset to an organisation. The more diverse your workforce is the better it is, particularly for innovation, problem solving and ideas and for sparking considerations which may otherwise not be explored.

Working with diverse people gives opportunity to colleagues and employers to be more inclusive, thoughtful and aware.

Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are very personalised and, although some are more common, you, as an employer, should bear in mind that these will be different for every disability and every person.

Employers need to be open to, and actively encourage, conversations with disabled staff about how they can work to their full potential, and how you can work collaboratively together to have the most mutually inclusive and beneficial experience.

Normalise asking for reasonable adjustments. Many disabled people feel they are being difficult by asking for them in order to do their job more effectively. It's very important that organisations put things in place to help mitigate these thoughts and assure disabled employees that they are welcome to ask for the reasonable adjustments they need.

An example of this may be publishing what reasonable adjustments you’ve made previously on internal intranet pages.

It’s also helpful to note that disabled people’s needs will change and evolve over time as they discover more about their disability. It’s vital to remember that reasonable adjustments will be an ongoing process.

Organisations should be patient and willing to accommodate their disabled employees. Equally, the process of requesting reasonable adjustments should be easily accessible and straightforward – particularly if the reasonable adjustments will be revisited frequently whilst the learning continues and new adjustments are needed.

Also, consider reasonable adjustments for those with caring responsibilities and/or situations where a family member, child or partner of one of your employees is disabled. 

Accommodating varying and diverse experiences throughout an organisation is of great benefit to both the employer and employee. True inclusion and support builds loyalty and productivity among many other things. Recognising where you, as an employer, can offer adjustments and help is good for business.

Advice for line managers on working with disabled employees

Communication is key

Try to create and nurture an open and accepting culture throughout your team, and workplace, where people are encouraged to speak candidly about their disability and their lives outside work. This will give you a greater understanding of their experience, what they need from you to perform at their best and a better insight into how you can effectively manage them.

Creating an atmosphere like this is extremely important in building trusting relationships with your colleagues, especially your disabled colleagues.

Showing humility, compassion, vulnerability and humanity as a manager will meaningfully contribute to a culture of inclusion and acceptance, in return giving you dedicated and loyal employees.

Don’t make assumptions

Managers should always create an open dialogue with their disabled employees about reasonable adjustments and their disability instead of making assumptions.

Ask your employee what they need, listen and work together to find a solution. You do not have to be an expert in someone’s disability; there is no expectation for this to be the case. However, there is an expectation for you to ask about and understand the barriers your disabled employees may face and the impact their disability has on them.

The intrusiveness of discussing disability only comes from probing on the personal and/or medical aspect of a disability. Actively listen to your employee and ask questions which will give you a greater understanding of their situation and what they need to overcome any obstacles.

Disability Passport Scheme

This scheme allows disabled people within an organisation to record what reasonable adjustments are working, if any more are needed and prevents a repeated conversation.

This process makes it a lot easier and less exhausting for both managers and employees.

You may also consider doing this for all staff so as to not single out disabled people. This is also particularly helpful to promote an inclusive culture and allows those with invisible disabilities or people who have not disclosed their disability to get the support they may need.

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