Despite working for a company that delivers support under the Access to Work scheme, I had very little idea of how it worked. I’d always known my thinking was a ‘little different’ and wasn’t surprised to be diagnosed as dyslexic/ADHD as an adult. However, being reasonably clever, I thought I had worked out my own strategies to get round things that caused me problems. It wasn’t until I had an accident that caused me a physical difficulty (I won’t go into details in case you’re squeamish) that things got bad enough at work that I needed to seek help. I was overloaded with pain and being distracted and my performance was really starting to suffer. I applied for Access to Work support, and because it was quite a journey, I thought I’d share my experience here for anyone in a similar position.
Step 1: Call them
Access to Work is a government-run program that enables anyone with a disability to access support whether employed or self-employed. As soon as you have difficulties (or think you’re going to have difficulties) at work you can refer yourself to this service and avoid a lot of common issues.
Step 2: Assessment
On contacting Access to Work the usual process is to first be assessed by a “workplace needs assessor”, who will then write a report recommending the support they think you need to perform effectively in your job. Recommendations can be for things as diverse as a speech-to-text piece of software (that means no more typing!), some one-to-one strategy coaching sessions (that might look at your organisation, memory or time management skills) or even support with the cost of taxis to and from work because your condition means you can’t drive or take public transport. Access to Work can even provide training for your colleagues in how to manage and understand disability. This is really important for neurodiversity, mental health and where physical conditions affect thinking, as these are ‘hidden disabilities’ and not everyone understands what is going on for you.
Step 3: Get adjustments in place
Following this assessment if you work for small employer (under 50 employees) the support is free of charge, and if you work for a larger employer they will have to contribute some or all of the costs. For this reason, it’s really important that employers see the benefit of providing disabled employees with the support – there is lots of information on why this is a good idea and Genius Within are always happy to help raise awareness – see our research section or give me a call if you want to know more.
If you are self-employed the Access to Work scheme will even refund the cost of any support ordered.
Step 4: Learn, develop, adapt
Then there’s usually a period of training – whether that’s on how to use new technology, co-coaching with your line manager to navigate communication difficulties or strategy coaching so that you can use your strengths to overcome any difficulties that you have – whatever it is it doesn’t happen overnight!
I struggled on my own for years before starting my Access to Work journey because I was afraid it would take too long and I couldn’t afford to be less productive in my job whilst I did the training. My coach was amazing, she patiently listened to all the things that I had difficulty with which involved her listening to me rambling on a breakneck speed and then very cleverly, with what seemed like just a few simple questions, enabled me to find the things that would work and make everything simpler and better.
Step 5: Review the impact
I’m calmer in meetings, more organised and my to-do list seems to disappear at an incredible rate now. I’m no longer procrastinating about writing long reports and even this blog post is being written with my new assistive technology. Even my line manager has noticed the difference. Having come out the other side, if I’d done this years ago who knows how far I would have gotten in my career now as everything is easier, quicker and a lot less stressful.
Our evidence shows that performance can be dramatically improved following strategy coaching and my own personal experience of Access to Work is that once I gave it some time, attention and value, the difference in my working practices has been huge. My stress levels are massively reduced meaning that I can be better at work, I can do more and what I do is better.
I’m only kicking myself I didn’t do it sooner!
So if you think this is something that you need to do – don’t delay – apply today:
Kate Gilbert, Head of Business Development