Kate Toomey, Chair of the SCW Disability Network shares her experience living with a disability and how SCW is working to increase awareness and support to colleagues who may need it.
As the SCW Disability Network launches its hidden disabilities campaign in September 2021, I have asked myself 'What does disability mean to me?' frequently, and it has different meanings each time. As Chair of the Disability Network, which launched in May 2021, I have seen first-hand from our members that disabilities are not static. A disability can be perceived as a weakness or strength, and I often call my deafness my superpower. As I have recently been partnered with my first hearing dog Roary, I am even more conscious of these powers through the bond I have with him.
Hidden disabilities are often overlooked as many people do not realise that a long-term health condition, such as chronic pain, is a disability and reasonable adjustments should be made. The positive contributions of those with a neurodiverse condition are sometimes unrecognised when in reality their unique outlook brings a lot of benefits to a team. The network aims to increase awareness of all conditions that may not be obvious.
Working from home during the pandemic highlighted new challenges. MS Teams is now our daily companion, and it is not always apparent if a colleague has a disability on a video call. This concern was brought up at the inaugural SCW Disability Network meeting and is something we are working to change. Together, the network volunteers developed a sunflower visual campaign where staff have the option to add a sunflower graphic to their profile photo and email signature. This gives colleagues the choice to share the message that they have a disability and may require additional support.
Having a disability means hard work and dedication, a disability does not take a day off or go on holiday. It can be exhausting to live with, especially when we try to fight ourselves to be 'just as good' as our peers. A disability can also lead to funny moments, I recommend trying out the MS Teams transcription on one of your calls - the software must think I am Yoda!
Having the sunflower support readily available for our colleagues is the start of building an inclusive community within SCW. We aim to increase awareness of all disabilities and we have endless ideas to make this happen. Through tools and training, we want to minimise the differences and hard work we often face due to a disability.
This is the first step forward on an exciting journey to be kind, be bold, be inclusive.