With a discernible and necessary focus on support offered to disabled students throughout COVID-19, higher education must ensure that the differential impact of the pandemic on disabled staff is also being considered. While not specific to higher education, there have been several articles and studies commissioned during the pandemic which highlight additional barriers to support for disabled staff; ranging from a lack of reasonable adjustments implemented in the home, to disabled employees being put in an ‘impossible’ position of having to choose between keeping their job or staying safe.
Through their Disability Staff Networks, a number of institutions have liaised with staff to better understand the unique challenges created by the pandemic, and to find out what measures could be put into place to ensure inclusive and accessible work environments. The University and College Union also published specific advice for disabled staff, and stressed the employer’s duty to implement reasonable adjustments, as well as providing employees with assistive technology to allow them to continue working safely from home.
While COVID-19 has undoubtedly brought about further additional challenges and barriers for disabled staff, the topic of support for disabled staff in higher education precedes this global event. In 2008, Equality Challenge Unit (now Advance HE) published the findings of a survey investigating disclosure and support issues for disabled staff in higher education. The research found that there were notable issues around opportunities and encouragement to disclose, as well as an inconsistency between the expertise in supporting disabled students and the level of advice and support provided for staff. No doubt there will be a number of lessons learnt from the experiences of disabled employees during the pandemic, which may go on to shape more inclusive work environments in future.
This colloquium invites participants to share findings on the picture of support for disabled staff in higher education, pre, during and post-pandemic and covering both academic and professional services staff (PSS).
The event will offer insight into the issues surrounding disabled staff support, as well as examples of good practice and ‘what works’ when supporting disabled staff. In particular, the colloquium welcomes researchers and disability practitioners to share new and innovative research on this topic, and to open up to new ways of improving disabled staff support. The net for applicable research could also be widened to consider support for PhD students who are either funded or working as a staff member.
Who should attend?
This event is for academic staff, professional services staff, disability practitioners and support staff, independent researchers and PhD students. It is open to those at any career level.
Diane Lightfoot is CEO of Business Disability Forum, a not-for-profit membership organisation that supports businesses to recruit and retain disabled employees and to serve disabled customers. Business Disability Forum’s c.400 members now employ around 20% of the UK workforce and 8 million people worldwide. They range from FTSE 100 companies and central Government departments to technology, transport and construction companies, retailers, higher education providers and public services bodies.
Diane sits on a number of boards including the Government’s Disability Expert Advisory Panel and the Institute of Coding’s Diversity & Inclusion Board. She is Chair of the Disabled Students’ Stakeholder Group, a Commissioner for the Disability Commission, chaired by Lord Shinkwin and hosted by the Centre for Social Justice, co-Chair of the Disability Charities Consortium and Chair of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation.