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Disability inclusive working environments

30 September 2020

Person using accessible keyboard control

Attendees at Cardiff Business School’s latest Breakfast Briefing have heard how an increase in remote and flexible working since the COVID-19 pandemic could make the legal profession more accessible for disabled people.

Led by researchers Professor Debbie Foster and Dr Natasha Hirst, together with Jane Burton and Chris Seel from the Law Society of England and Wales, the session shared the findings of a recent survey of over 100 disabled lawyers.

Professor Foster got proceedings underway by contextualising the findings of their recent survey within a wider and more substantive project, entitled: Legally Disabled? The career experiences of disabled people working in the legal profession.

A game changer

She said: “One of the key findings from our research was that the most requested reasonable adjustment was actually homeworking or remote working, but this was also the most refused reasonable adjustment.

“Many disabled people complained that they weren’t trusted to work from home and to work autonomously.”

With these practices thrust upon a huge majority of workers across all sectors during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the team wanted to understand if this has changed the culture in the legal profession and the way of working too...”

“Many disabled people during COVID have said that homeworking has become a gamechanger for them. And that they can now do the job that people told them that they could never do from home.”

Professor Deborah Foster Professor of Employment Relations and Diversity

This kind of experience was also evident in the researchers’ recent survey carried out together with the Law Society. They found that, for the majority of respondents, working from home during the pandemic enabled them to manage their disability more effectively.

As well as outlining the size and shape of the survey, co-researcher Dr Natasha Hirst shared more findings including data on:

  • Physical and mental health experiences of homeworking
  • Changes in working arrangements
  • Reasonable adjustments
  • Trust, confidence and work-related pressures
  • Productivity
  • Managing an impairment and work.

Control and flexibility

“70% of respondents said that they would prefer to continue to work from home in the longer term,” said Dr Hirst.

“And the comments from the survey added a bit of nuance here. Many demonstrated a preference to have greater control and flexibility over how they might split their time between the office and homeworking...”

“Almost 75% were anxious about their future working arrangements. And so, employers really do need to be properly engaging with their disabled staff about this to understand what their concerns are and find the best possible solutions for meeting people’s needs.”

Dr Natasha Hirst Legally Disabled co-researcher

In concluding the presentation, Professor Foster stressed the need for organsiations to assume nothing and co-produce rather than consult on matters related to disability and other forms of diversity.

She called for a re-imagining of the work environment characterised by choice and hybridity, where health, safety, well-being and homeworking are concerns for all.

“In this country, we need to open up this debate and think about the future,” she said.

Bringing the briefing to a close, Chris Seel, from the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Team, and Jane Burton, Chair of the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division, joined Professor Foster and Dr Hirst for a question and answer session.

Cardiff Business School's Breakfast Briefing Series is a network of events which enables business contacts to find out more about the latest research and key developments from industrial partners.

Following lockdown measures, implemented by Welsh Government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the School’s Executive Education Team has moved the series online.

If you were unable to attend, watch this recording of the event.

Find out more about the career experiences of disabled people working in the legal profession.

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Enabling our business contacts to find out more about latest business research and key developments from industry partners and practitioners.