Develop, support, promote disability leaders

Tag Archive: workplace adjustments

  1. Be That Leader

    Be that leader

    by Christina Ryan, DLI CEO

    A cluster of coloured pencils standing upright.

    Culture comes from the top, from the very top.

    Leaders intervene when they see something. They change the way work is done in their organisations. It is the leadership of an organisation that makes it an employer of choice.

    Leaders are responsible for generating a culture of inclusion, and for making sure that disabled people can get their work done on the same basis as their colleagues.

    Leaders send a strong message when they:

    insist that only one person speaks at a time in a meeting. Many meetings become a competitive solution sharing festival, with people talking over each other and interrupting when they have something to say. Such meetings are noisy and fast paced. They also exclude many people by confusing captioners, denying interpreters the ability to keep up, and by preventing an ability to focus because there is too much noise. Be the leader who insists that only one person speaks at a time. Use a talking stick to help if your team has fallen into the trap of competitive solution sharing. Diverse teams solve problems faster, but only if all team members get to participate.

    cancel the meeting because not all staff members can participate if there is no auslan interpreter or because the alternative format meeting papers weren’t distributed in time. If members of your team are unable to participate, they are unable to do their job. Make sure everyone is prepared for the meeting and has the mechanisms in place that make it possible to participate alongside their colleagues.

    insist on hearing the opinion of every person in the room. Loud raucous meetings are great environments for extroverts who are not disabled. For everyone else they are stressful and hamper thinking and collaboration. Not everyone finds it easy to loudly interject. By checking in with each team member for their views you are ensuring that everyone is part of the collaborative effort. Why are they on your team if you don’t want to know what they think?

    step in when overhearing ableist language. Employers now have a positive duty to prevent harassment in their workplace. For disabled staff, ableist language is harassment. There are many words about disability that are used widely as insults. Nip it in the bud and make it clear that this language is not welcome in your workplace. If your organisation has a revolving door for disabled staff, it is not unlikely that this is a contributor to their sense of being unwelcome.

    ensure workplace adjustments are in place. As soon as you know adjustments are needed make sure they happen as a high priority on your task list. Don’t ask once and assume it has been done, keep checking until they arrive. A team member without their adjustments in place is a team member who can’t do their job and can’t contribute. Make it clear to the team member that it is your responsibility, not theirs, to get adjustments happening and then take responsibility. Don’t exhaust your team member by questioning what they need. Most employees will know what it takes to set them up for success. Your job is to listen and promptly act on it.

    There are many ways that leaders can contribute to a culture of inclusion, a workplace culture that ensures all of their team are able to work effectively and comfortably. A culture that is safe. These are just some examples.

    When you are this leader the message you send to your team, and to the wider organisation, is that being disabled is part of how we do business here, not an awkward add on or the responsibility of individuals who have less power than you do. If your disabled staff don’t need to speak up about inclusion they can put their energy into their work, rather than wasting their valuable time and energy making your organisation accessible.

    Can you be that leader, or are you waiting for someone else to step in?


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    Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person.









  2. Allies

    article by DLI CEO Christina Ryan

    Allies of disability leaders step back out of the way.

    A pile of corn kernels


    When asked outright, most people would claim to be allies for disabled people. Yet in practice it seems that very few are.


    One of the most intractable and widespread experiences for disability leaders is the power imbalance in our daily lives. There are so few disabled people in senior positions which means a constant requirement to work within the boundaries and expectations set by others.


    “This is really a five day job, doing it in four is going to be impossible.”

    “Can you stay back to get this done? We all need to put in extra effort.”

    “I worked ridiculous hours to get here, I expect my team to do the same.”




    “Yes, diversity is great, lets make sure we have more people with disability on our team.”


    Except, there won’t be more disabled people on your team if you expect them to think and act as you do. Disability means diversity, and that means different.


    Expectations that everyone on your team will operate the same way with the same hours and the same work style will override any diversity present because you are expecting everyone to be a clone of you.


    When asked outright, people think they are being supportive and inclusive, yet any expectation that disabled people will think and act as you do is ableism. It is exclusive. It creates an unsafe workplace for disabled people if they need to ask for adjustments or flexibility. It often results in bullying.


    Allies recognise that people, all people, are not robots. We all work differently, have different optimum operational times, different flexibility requirements, and different lives. Every member of every team will need different adjustments so that they can work to their best and be in a safe environment for them.


    Allies recognise that their roles as team leaders, supervisors and executive staff means they need to step up to initiate flexibility and create safe environments. Waiting for the less powerful person to ask is perpetuating the power imbalance.


    Allies step back and listen.

    Allies know they cannot know the disability experience and turn to those with expertise.

    Allies foreground the voices of disabled people.

    Allies never take senior appointments over competent disabled people, rather they ask “where are the disability leaders, appoint one over me” and step away to create space.

    Allies get out of the way.