Not all disabilities are visible
On International Day for Persons with Disabilities, Deutsche Bank staff share the challenges of living and working with hidden disabilities.
“I imagine a day, and one quite soon, when disability will not be a separate topic, but one which is integrated naturally into our way of working, enabling everyone to bring all dimensions of themselves to work and to feel genuinely included”. Michael Morley, Executive Sponsor of Deutsche Bank’s employee network dbEnable (UK and Ireland), has a clear ambition for inclusion at work for Deutsche Bank and its people. On International Day for Persons with Disabilities, the bank is using the occasion to have tough conversations. Are we doing enough? Is disability an after-thought, or is it part of decision-making? With the ongoing support of its employee network, dbEnable, the bank aims to nurture an inclusive and supportive workplace for people with visible and invisible disabilities. At an operating level, Deutsche Bank continues to provide accessible workplaces and workspaces. Flexible working due to health or a disability has been in place since long before COVID-19. And there is a cultural change emerging with subtitling, sign language, limited use of flash imagery and screen-reader ready formats becoming standard practice to make communications more accessible.
“Deutsche Bank is for everyone, and I am personally committed to making inclusive working practices part of our culture,” says Bernd Leukert, Chief Technology, Data and Innovation Officer and Member of the Management Board. “Diverse teams will be most successful in the long run, and that is why we support global movements like the “Valuable 500” to drive cross-industry awareness.”
Three colleagues share what it’s like to live and work with disabilities that many people cannot see.
Grace works in the bank’s Technology team in the UK. She suffers from severe hearing loss in both ears and, without her hearing aids, she cannot hear anything at all. She relies on lip reading to process the sounds that her hearing aids pick up. The pandemic has made things more challenging. With everyone wearing masks, she is unable to lip read, making it difficult to carry out simple tasks, like shopping, by herself. At work, Grace uses a wireless microphone that amplifies and transmits speech directly to her hearing aids via Bluetooth. Meetings ideally take place around a table so she can see everyone’s lips. She also uses video conference technologies as much as possible so she can lip-read. During a recent presentation, participants typed their questions, which she verbally answered. “My colleagues and managers have been supportive and accommodating in making sure I get the information I need,” Grace says. But there are still barriers. This is why a day like today is so important, Grace explains, so that we can shine a light on our differences and help change perceptions. “Our goal is Inclusivity, and that’s not about pushing disabled people to the front; it’s about removing barriers unique to the disability so we have the same starting line as everyone else.”
Our Singapore-based colleague, Alan, has worked for Deutsche Bank for more than 23 years. He was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP), a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture and may come with related conditions such as vision, hearing and speech problems. “When I meet new people – especially at work, where I need to give presentations, chat with IT support staff or interact with new users – they need a little time to get used to the way I move and to understand my speech.” It can be a little challenging, Alan explains, because people don’t immediately understand that he has a disability. Alan hasn’t needed special accommodations to be able to work at Deutsche Bank, other than extra time for frequent medical appointments. “Overall, I think I am treated fairly and equally, and that’s so important for many people with disabilities,” he says. “In fact, I want to encourage people to focus more on what we can do, as opposed to what we can’t.”
If Sarah is feeling good, well rested, and energised, she might push herself a little too far. Then it’s sometimes her manager who spots it, intervening to ensure that she doesn’t “hit a wall and wipe out.” Sarah suffers from Fibromyalgia, a condition causing extreme fatigue and widespread pain throughout the body, and Alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss on the scalp, face and other areas of the body. Although Alopecia has a very obvious outward symptom, Fibromyalgia is a hidden condition. “There is a fine line between trying to live a normal life and making the most of my life. There are things I simply cannot do and, if I do them, there is a physical cost,” she says. Understanding her triggers and symptoms helps her manage her condition. Sarah says it can be difficult to discuss her condition, especially as not much is known about it, but she also concedes that there needs to be more awareness and education around it. She has always been upfront with her managers, asking for support when she needs it, and has felt the response from colleagues and the bank has been great – but it’s not always easy, and may be more of a challenge for other staff in similar shoes. “It’s hard to find that balance. People with disabilities don’t want to discuss their conditions all day, every day. I want to have a normal day just like everyone else’s, where I can get on with my life and my work.”