Chris Ralph is an Ambassador for the Diversity Project. He is also Chief Investment Officer at St James's Place.
What do you think about if you are asked about diversity? Gender, ethnicity and sexuality always spring to mind but, on many occasions disability is missed off the list. That’s odd given that most would assert that disability discrimination is a problem in many organisations. And yet my experience is of the benefits that working with a disabled individual can bring to a team. Allow me to explain.
More than five years ago, I was contacted by one of our non-executive directors to ask if we could offer any opportunities for a young man who had the terrible misfortune to be involved in a car accident that will likely require him to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I admit to having some misgivings. Mea Culpa. How would he interact with other members of the team and vice versa? Are the facilities in our office sufficient for his needs? Can we source equipment that will enable him to develop a role in the organisation on a similar path to any other individual that works for our company?
My fears were of course misplaced. Indeed the opposite is true. It brings me great joy that not only does this young man continue to make a great contribution to the business. I would argue that, in his frequent interactions with others who are not familiar with his disability, he is treated exactly the same way as they would any other individual. Which is of course exactly how it should be. Disability doesn’t inhibit capability.
At the same time, I would like to believe that the environment in which he works has been a positive in terms of his confidence and his mobility. It’s great that he has developed the confidence to making a strong contribution to debates amongst the team – in a far more engaged manner than when he first started working with us when he was quieter and, in truth, less self-assured.
At the same time, it is obvious that his mobility has improved. His ability to type emails and notes appears to be the same as other members of the team albeit that I am conscious that, for example, working on a spreadsheet is not as straightforward for him as it is for others.
Despite having the good fortune to work with him, I can’t begin to imagine how challenging his life must be. The necessity of having a personal assistant who, in my experience, seem to change on a regular basis making it difficult to form relationships; health issues relating to his immobility; not to mention seeing others kick a football or throw a Frisbee which he is unlikely to be able to do any time soon. He is indisputably a very brave and a very humble young man; and an example to us all.
My message is simple. If you have the opportunity to employ a disabled individual, see them for the positives that their employment will bring to everyone. You can make a difference.