What is the key to a more disability friendly work environment?

Mo has worked for a nation wide store for the past 7 years, working the night shift. This hasn’t always been easy for Mo however as he has had knee problems since the age of 12 owing to an extensive accident. I sat down to speak to Mo about what it’s like to work a physical job with a disability, what work does well when making adjustments, and what they could do better to make work easier for people with disabilities.

Can you tell me a bit about why you use your cane and how long you’ve had it for? 

When I was 12 I tore my ACL, my plica, and my meniscus in my right knee playing soccer, which means I now have tendinitis, arthritis and bursitis in both my knee and hip on my right side. Bursitis has to do with the bursa which is a fluid filled sack and can basically enflame. It’s part of the structure that is supposed to keep the knee cap in place and keep everything where it’s supposed to be. My knee has had surgery on it three times to try and fully repair it. I’ve used a cane for the last year and a half because of injuring it again.

How does it affect you day to day? I’d imagine it causes quite a lot of pain considering you use the cane? 

The ligaments in my leg are tighter or looser or stretched on any given day which in turn causes pain. Because of the fact that my pelvis is tilted and my hip is not properly in the socket it puts extra pressure on it. Basically it’s like pulling a rubber band almost to breaking point. Pain is one factor I have to consider. I mean I do have a bit of a higher tolerance to it and will push myself to an extent but I also know that if I push myself too much I know that the next day I’m going to be at the point where I can’t really get out of bed.

 

Can you tell me a bit about what a normal work shift looks like for you? 

I help out around the store switching out displays or making decisions of which displays to switch. I work on making sure that we have everything inventoried in the back room which is where we store everything that won’t fit on the floor. I do some lifting and things but I do have some limitations surrounding this.

What are some of those limitations? How does your injury affect you at work? 

With the lifting I have limitations but my job is aware of them. Certain things they’ll say “Hey I need you to get this done” but if it’s something like lifting heavy furniture then they know that I’m not the one who is going to be physically doing it just orchestrating it.

Do you feel like work are supportive in making adjustments for you?

I mean, I’ve worked here for 7 years and luckily both managers that I deal with directly, the over night managers, have both been here for all the time that I have so that definitely helped. I do wonder if I were to switch to a different shift if the accommodation would be more of an issue. Because they know me they know what I’m capable of and even though there are some things that I can no longer do they know there is still plenty that I do to help. Maybe it’s not the exact same things that I used to help with but they have other people that can do what I used to.

What are some of the things that they have done to help you? 

Now that I’m just a regular minion rather than a manager I do a lot more work in the back room with the inventory. I’m basically scanning a lot of things with a hand held rather than being out on the floor and moving boxes and pallets around. I mean I do move boxes and pallets in the back but the good thing about that is that we have the power equipment in there which I am licensed on all of them. So I don’t have to physically put my own weight into pulling anything because I have machines to do it for me.

Are you happy with the way they have supported you over the years? Or do you think things could have been done differently?

I mean, I know that it’s an adjustment for them as well in that I used to be able to do x, y, z and q and now I maybe can only do y and half of q but I do believe it could have been handled a little better. When I came back to work more recently I had to say I physically cannot do all of this and I got demoted. I understand why I was demoted but I definitely think they could have looked into other options and said ‘hey would you like to maybe work in a different department?’ rather than be demoted. The decision to step down was sort of made for me not by me.

Do you think there is a stigma around disability in the work place? On the whole is the attitude positive or negative? 

It’s kind of a mixture of both. It’s one of those really touchy subjects because you have policies about disabilities and medical leave and I think people are stuck; it’s almost a disadvantage to them because they know I can’t do everything I am supposed to but they’re so cautious of any legal proceedings that could be started if they don’t deal with it right and of causing offence. They tip toe around it because they don’t want to say the wrong thing.

What do you think would make it easier for both employers and employees living and working with disabilities? What could employers in general do better? 

At the moment you have to go and find people and really dig to find out what you can do. I feel like they could make more of an effort to be more giving on information. Even if it’s just a poster on the wall that tells you who to get in touch with. Or even just a list of phone numbers of who you can call in different situations; the number for home office, human resources etc. because then it’s not like you’re only listing numbers that single people with disabilities out. Just be more open and communicate better.