Last Word

13.12.14

Professionally disabled

Source: Public Sector Executive Dec/Jan 2015

Andy Rickell, CEO of Action on Disability and Work UK and a government adviser on disability issues, talks about the barriers and challenges for disabled people entering the professions.

By very definition in traditional thought, the term ‘disabled’ applied to an individual implies that they are incompetent in some aspect of their abilities compared to non-disabled people.

Conversely, the word ‘professional’ implies a particularly high level of competence in some abilities of the person described. The clash of these two contrary thoughts can result in an expectation that ‘disabled people’ ought naturally to be under-represented in any and every ‘profession’. This is, of course, unhelpful to disabled people keen to join a profession, and unhelpful to the profession if it means really able people being denied access to that profession because of global assumptions.

Whilst I am aware that many professions have been keen to remove unnecessary barriers to disabled candidates, it continues to be the experience of disabled people that they find unfair barriers to obtaining admittance to a profession. The most obvious barrier is where an unnecessary health requirement is set. Less obvious ones include, for instance, expecting a certain minimum level of general academic qualification for entry to courses and placements necessary to achieve professional qualifications. A disabled person may have experienced barriers in academic education, which have undermined their prior formal academic achievement. Ideally there could instead be some alternative standard entry exam to prove academic competence.

A further barrier can be the failure to offer appropriate reasonable adjustments in professional placements, professional courses and professional exams. A distinction needs to be made between the competence being tested, for which no adjustment can be made for any candidate if professional standards are to be maintained, and the manner in which that competence is taught or examined, which may need adjusting to address barriers the candidate may face that are not associated with demonstrating competence.

The two issues are unfortunately often conflated, and reasonable adjustments are therefore sometimes unfairly denied. Some thought on this can improve the inclusiveness of the professional route. (Some ideas on how this might be done can be gleaned from Ofqual’s duty under the Equality Act, in respect of general qualifications, to determine what reasonable adjustments for disabled candidates do not undermine the rigour of those qualifications.)

That’s enough about achieving professional status – obviously there are issues about the help student placement providers need to provide too, but I wanted to concentrate on the issues particularly pertinent to professional bodies themselves. I also wanted to say a little bit about professionals who become disabled after achieving professional status. Most disabled people at work will acquire their impairment in middle to later working life, rather than at birth or whilst young. Professional bodies should be doing all they can to ensure members are able to retain their professional status and hence ability to continue practising and working if they become disabled. This might include such issues as ensuring CPD is accessible in its variety of formats, and whether any process that might deny continued membership or access to the range of member benefits to a disabled member is really necessary and proportionate.

This does sound like a list of ‘thou shall nots’ but actually the goal of addressing barriers must be to ensure that talented people, whatever their circumstances, are able to be members of your profession and enhance its reputation. In particular, disabled professionals’ personal experience of disability should enhance the quality of their professional work insofar as it relates to taking account of the needs of disabled people in the practising of their profession. This ‘expertise by experience’ can then be used to enhance the quality of the professional knowledge base accessible to all members of your institution.

The under-representation of disabled people as fellow professionals is symptomatic of a bigger deficit for professions – ensuring that the experience and aspirations of disabled people feed into the development of professional expertise and practice.

Whilst about one in six of all people living in the UK are disabled people, it is remarkable that for many professionals they have no experience of disability in their own lives or anyone close to them. This is a major weakness if professional development is to take account of the impact of disability in society, an impact that can only increase given the correlation between ageing and increasing levels of impairment. This professional deficit can be addressed in part by systematically including the voice and views of disabled people into individual and collective professional development; for most professionals that will require talking to organisations of disabled people to learn about how to do it effectively.

The ultimate outcome has to be a profession which is well-versed in the needs of disabled people, either as customers or as people who are otherwise affected by what the profession does, and which can demonstrate its successful commitment to disabled people as professional peers. This can be achieved, with the right advice and motivation.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Peterborough City Council to tackle homelessness with its own housing company

20/09/2019Peterborough City Council to tackle homelessness with its own housing company

Peterborough City Council to ask for cabinet approval to set up their own Housing Revenue Account (HRA), enabling the council to provide&nbs... more >
Home Office encourages civil servants to volunteer with police

20/09/2019Home Office encourages civil servants to volunteer with police

Civil servants who take up the option of volunteering as special constables will get up to 12 days paid special leave a year, in order to sp... more >
Network rail proposal for UNESCO World Heritage Site

20/09/2019Network rail proposal for UNESCO World Heritage Site

Network Rail has submitted a planning application to City of Edinburgh Council proposing to install a bridge walk and visitor centre at the histori... more >

interviews

Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need to invest in technology to help make better use of their resources. Bu... more >
Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

17/12/2018Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

One of the public sector’s key technology partners has recently welcomed a new member to its team. Matt Spencer, O2’s head of public ... more >
New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

05/11/2018New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

The new chief executive of one of the new unitary authorities in Dorset has outlined his approach to culture and work with employees, arguing tha... more >
Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

15/10/2018Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

On 6 September, the biggest decision-makers of the north joined forces to celebrate and debate how to drive innovation and improvement through th... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

last word

Prevention: Investing for the future

Prevention: Investing for the future

Rob Whiteman, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA), discusses the benefits of long-term preventative investment. Rising demand, reducing resource – this has been th... more > more last word articles >

comment

Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Being on the receiving end of some “thanks” can make communit... more >
How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

19/06/2019How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues that community-led initiatives are a productive way of helping to solve... more >
Aberdeen's green transport fleet attracting international attention

19/06/2019Aberdeen's green transport fleet attracting international attention

Aberdeen City Council’s hydrogen spokesperson, councillor Philip Bell, highlights the Granite City’s determination to play a leading ... more >
A fifth of public sector workers have never received a thank you from the people they serve

13/06/2019A fifth of public sector workers have never received a thank you from the people they serve

A fifth of the country’s public sector workers say they have NEVER received a ‘thank you’ for doing their job as Public Service... more >
Peterborough City Council to tackle homelessness with its own housing company

20/09/2019Peterborough City Council to tackle homelessness with its own housing company

Peterborough City Council to ask for cabinet approval to set up their own Housing Revenue Account (HRA), enabling the council to provide hundreds of new homes over the coming decades&nb... more >
Home Office encourages civil servants to volunteer with police

20/09/2019Home Office encourages civil servants to volunteer with police

Civil servants who take up the option of volunteering as special constables will get up to 12 days paid special leave a year, in order to spend more time supporting their local police force.... more >

the raven's daily blog

Northern Powerhouse Partner aims to connect the North once again

02/09/2019Northern Powerhouse Partner aims to connect the North once again

In February this year, official Northern Powerhouse Partner, Cognitive Publishing, delivered EvoNorth 2019.  The two day event was designed to amplify and highlight future developments the region has to offer - uniting leaders responsible for fuelling the Northern Powerhouse agenda, including Dr Nicola Headlam, Head of the Northern Powerh... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >