Ways in which the workplace is experienced differentially by disabled people and the role that managers/organisations play in the processes identified.
Diversity is an important aspect of the workplace today. At present, any successful organisation is no longer confined to employing ‘just white men’; people from different genders, races, ethnicities and disabilities constitute the workforce. Consequentially, different disadvantaged groups will have different workplace experiences. As such this paper outlines the experiences of disabled people in work organisations and the roles managers, organisations and society as a whole play in it. Research conducted by Adams and Oldfield (2012) states that work provides meaning and value to disabled people, providing a sense of balance and purpose in life. Loss of jobs entailed various unpleasant consequences such as deteriorating health as a result of being out of work, troubles in keeping qualifications up to date (as some need to be renewed often and require the applicant to be in full-time employment), loss of self worth derived from being in employment and reduced chances of re-entering the labour market. Furthermore, participants also felt the chances at advancing in their careers were little given the culture and attitudes towards disabled people at workplaces. There was a general consensus about the lack of disability awareness, which in turn led to ignorance. This was particularly true in cases concerned with mental disabilities; employers had trouble understanding the severity of conditions such as depression and anxiety. Whilst employers were more accommodating of physical conditions, mental health issues were either ‘just not discussed’ or not taken less seriously.
Employment levels among disabled men and women are comparatively lower in comparison to their nondisabled counterparts whilst there is a large group of disabled people capable of and willing to work. Disabled people, especially women are also disadvantaged in work roles that require a ‘good appearance’. In addition, employees with disabilities are more concentrated at the lower end of the workforce and underrepresented at the top end. Disabled employees also face the hurdle of tackling the many myths, stereotypes and negative attitudes in work organisations (Kirton and Greene, 2010). There is a shortage of disabled employees in professional and managerial occupations. There is also a widespread notion that disabled employees are unable to adhere to the workings of the capitalist labour markets (Barnes and Mercer, 2005). This can be contested, as there is evidence that suggests that the productivity of disabled workers is equal to or surpasses that of non-disabled workers (Zadek and Scott-Parker, 2000). Negative assumptions about capabilities were also prevalent which further complicated career progressions. In addition Adams and Oldfield (2012) add that employees felt they were sometimes immediately discounted due to their health conditions or offered uncalled for help from colleagues. Sometimes disabled employees were not offered a certain task, as they did not ‘fit the role’. Bullying was common workplace harassment. Verbal and practical jokes, name-calling, gossip and such, became a part of the working lives of some disabled employees. Favoritism was another issue – disabled employees experienced resentment from their non-disabled colleagues due to the adjustments the organisation made to accommodate the former. Fear
of such resentment sometimes prevents disabled people from asking for workplace adjustments that could improve their potential and make them better assets to the organization. Foster (2007) documents several disabled employees’ experiences of negotiating workplace adjustments under UK’s Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Despite obligations on employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’, disabled employees still experience workplace discrimination. A few disturbing findings from Foster’s...
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