Inclusion and Diversity – A True Story

Posted by: NHS Horizons - Posted on:

Originally published by Bev Matthews

Needs intro about being a guest blog. Include something about how Horizons is trying really hard to make our events inclusive, and encouraging others to do the same. This emotive story shows exactly why it’s so important to take every effort to make sure everyone is included, and to make changes to make sure that people are able to fully participate. 

I want to share a story with you. It’s a story that does not seek to apportion blame to anyone. It’s a story based on fact and experience. 

It’s a story of a deaf nurse.  A nurse who is profoundly deaf and cannot hear people speak without her hearing aids in, and who relies heavily on lipreading when she has them in. A nurse with 20 years’ clinical experience.  

In October last year this nurse found the courage to speak up about her experiences as a nurse working with a disability in the form of a blog that was published on the NHS England website. It wasn’t an easy thing to do but she did it because she thought “Great, surely people will listen now and NHS workplaces will become more inclusive.” 

However, over the last year she has realised that there is still a lot more to be done and that actually very little has changed.  

How does she know this? She knows it because of what she still experiences, and has experienced during the past year. 

She still attends training days, meetings and conferences where videos are played without subtitles. This means that she is unable to participate fully, is unable gain the full learning experience, and is often embarrassed to mention the lack of subtitling. Because, hey, what could be done at that point anyway? She doesn’t want to upset anyone, or cause a fuss. 

She sits in meetings with poorly-designed layouts; especially the old classroom style layout; have you tried to lipread someone when you are looking at the back of their head? It’s nigh on impossible to do unless they turn around.  

She does have coping strategies: for example, when entering a room she surveys it to find the best place to sit to hear everyone, but if someone else is already sitting in the optimal seat she doesn’t like to be a nuisance or bring attention to herself. So, she sits where there is a seat available, again, not able to participate fully. 

This year a piece of equipment was installed in her workplace, where she is the manager, which she couldn’t use. Despite protestations and calls to various departments she was told that there was no alternative and that she had to make do. After an impromptu conversation with a union member a senior nurse got involved and the correct piece of equipment quickly arrived. Another application for new equipment that would massively enhance her accessibility at work took months to come. There was no single point of contact between internal and outside agencies and the whole process felt very disjointed. This left her feeling unvalued, unsupported, demoralised and frustrated. 

You may ask why doesn’t she speak up. She doesn’t speak up because she has raised these issues before and yet they are still happening. She doesn’t speak up because of the emotional blows she suffers and the reminder that she doesn’t quite fit in each time they occur. Her resilience is low at times. 

None of these things were done intentionally. No-one meant to upset anyone. No-one meant to make people feel excluded; but nevertheless these incidences of exclusion happened. The issues here stem from a lack of awareness of what is needed, a lack of understanding of the difficulties that are faced by people with a disability, and a lack of listening to what people with a disability need. 

To actively listen, that is, really listen to a person with a disability is crucial. They can tell you what the difficulties are that they face. They are the ones who know what is needed to redress the balance. They are the ones who are aware of the gaps in service provision. They are the ones who can offer solutions to the problems they encounter.  

Listen to them and act on what they have to say. 

Now, going back to the nurse, who for those who know me will have deduced is me. I would like to suggest 3 things that could help her: 

  • If you are playing a video at any meeting, training session or conference…think inclusively and make sure that it has subtitles. She will be so excited and feel included if they are in place and can then contribute to any ensuing discussions. 
  • Think about room layouts and encourage people to shout out if they have any additional needs. If you are running an event or meeting ask the question before the meeting starts “Is everyone happy with where they are sat, or do they need to move seats for any reason?” Try to make sure that everyone feels included and that they are offered the opportunity to voice any concerns. Demonstrate compassionate leadership. 
  • This one is a bit trickier, but let’s get some Standard Work (got my QI head on now !!) in our organisations around the processes involved in obtaining equipment for people with disabilities. There are a number of managers who would be unsure as to what is needed and how to support staff with additional needs. The rapid advancements in assistive technology also mean that this is an ever-evolving issue So let’s get the conversation started and create some solutions. 

We need to create environments in which people feel included, valued, safe and secure in the knowledge that they will be able to understand what is going on around them and can participate fully. Environments in which people feel free to speak up if they have additional needs. My vision is for workplaces in which everyone’s needs are accommodated without them having to ask for it. As someone said to me recently: “Nearly everybody has something.” Be it poor eyesight, hearing loss, MSK, dyslexia or mental health issues to name but a few. So let’s create working environments that cater for all requirements. 

Let’s make inclusion the norm rather than the exception 

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