For Grant Beuken, a commercial analyst, disability-confidence is an idea he’s just begun to think about. His employer, the international computer services firm Computacenter, have a people panel to look at diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the business. It’s a good fit, says Grant.
‘Being at the start of the journey there’s so much we can do,’ he says. ‘For me disability confidence is about being comfortable talking about my differences. I’m not all the way there yet.’ Grant has only ‘known’ he has an impairment for a couple of years. Now aged 31, he got his autism diagnosis at the age of 29.
'I found out through my son who was getting excluded at school. The school were talking about ADHD. We were trying to get a special educational needs assessment. I mentioned it to my boss’s wife and she said the behaviour sounded very much like her autistic son. I realised that it sounded very much like me too.’
Grant’s experience will encourage anyone who wonders if they may have autism or a similar condition to find out more. ’I had a view of autism based on how it is portrayed through the media, and the types of individuals portrayed but that is not the full spectrum,’ he recalls. ‘At first my GP didn’t even know where to refer me but I eventually got a diagnosis. I struggled at first to come to terms with it. I thought it was life-changing but I now realise it is not. I have not changed. The things I can do, I can still do. The things I find difficult, I will still find difficult but now I can begin to understand why. I have higher self-awareness which must be a positive thing.
‘I grew up not knowing and struggled at times to just “get on” with life. I had a breakdown in my 20s when I felt suicidal. Later, at work, I found myself in a customer-facing role which wasn’t the right environment for me. It was because I didn’t fully understand the ways in which I was different. Had I had an earlier diagnosis perhaps I may not have had to go through those sorts of experience. Now I can make the decisions and choices that can make my life happier and healthier.’
Although Grant has always had his impairment he has only just found out about it. This makes him perfectly placed to advise on what newly-disabled people might find useful. (Many newly-disabled people don’t, at first, necessarily know what they need.) ‘I can still feel anxious about talking about my differences. It shouldn’t feel like a disclosure or a confession but it does. That is probably in my head. I’m sure I won’t be treated differently but when you’re anxious you can catastrophise. Employers need to help employees feel comfortable talking about their differences. Currently it’s up to the individual to decide what to say. The company can step in with a workplace adjustments passport you could take from project to project.’
These are the sorts of issues that the Computacenter People Panel is looking at as it drills down to look at D&I more holistically, as well as in relation to specific protected characteristics. One of the outcomes of this, is that Grant is helping set up the company’s first staff network which will cover accessibility and wellbeing. Computacenter have joined PurpleSpace to assist with this.
The company marked the 2018 International Day of Disabled People with an event to challenge disability stigma and raise awareness. Grant shared his story alongside many senior staff. The company is looking to put together a personal and career development programme for staff, including accessibility in development and streamlining its adjustment’s process. Grant says: ‘we have passionate people and the building blocks for workplace adjustments, but it’s fragmented and confusing depending on what sort of adjustments you need and the various purchasing rules. Going through the process myself, at times I thought I just couldn’t be bothered with it. It’s a barrier we need to remove.’
Disability-confidence is not something you can just pluck from a shelf. It is a journey. And Grant’s experience of autism enables him to express that very well: ‘I tend to be very black and white in my thinking,’ he says. ‘But living with an impairment is not something that can be fully understood in all its aspects right away. Your viewpoints can and will change. I’ve come to realise that.’
This applies as much to a business as to an individual and at PurpleSpace we’re impressed with the, apologies for the techie pun, open-source approach taken by Computacenter. The People Panel is a genuine bottom-up technique. It is invaluable to involve people like Grant who are also at the beginning of their journey not just those who are already disability-confident. It is good for the business and the employee. Grant says: ’In my job, I analyse new services to customers to help price them. Working on the panel and staff network requires very different skills and I need to work with a wider variety of people including staff more senior than me. Disability-confidence begins within.’ Have you had a look at the Purple Confidence toolkit to understand where you are on your journey to disability confidence?
Computacenter Fact Box
- Independent international provider of IT infrastructure services
- Founded in the UK in 1981
- Over 15,000 employees including over 10,000 customer support staff
- 30 service centres operating in 30 languages supporting 4.2 million end-users
- First staff network 2019: Accessibility and Wellbeing
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