Public and private sector employers urged to ‘work with the strengths’ of people with disabilities

Fórsa trade union conference hears of experiences of woman with hearing loss and man with formal identifications of autism and ADHD

Almost everyone suffers some gradual hearing loss as they age but for Grace Doyle the process started rather more dramatically.

One morning she woke up and “it was just like when you’re in a swimming pool and you have earplugs in”.

“That was 2010 and it’s happened twice again since,” she says. “Each time, I’ve lost hearing that has never come back.”

The problem, she now knows, is an autoimmune condition and she is on medication which it is hoped will prevent further episodes. However, by 2020 the scale of the loss already experienced meant Doyle, a senior pharmacy technician, had to go the management at the hospital where she works to seek help.


Her line manager was supportive, as was the health and safety person, but she says human resources fought “tooth and nail” to resist having to provide some of the supports she was seeking.

“Some of it was things hearing aids, I need new ones each time I lose some hearing, and I wanted some help with that. Some of it was small, silly things, like a quiet closing bin because the hearing aids tend to pick up a lot of background noise,” she says.

“I’m good at my job and I just wanted to be able to keep doing it well but it took a long time to get the accommodations I needed. Initially, I just hit a brick wall.”

Doyle was speaking at the Fórsa trade union conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, where she one of a number of delegates backing motions calling on public-sector employers to be more supportive of staff and “to work with the strengths of people with disabilities, rather than their perceived deficiencies”.

There was some acknowledgment that the public and civil service can be more accommodating than some private-sector companies, but a definite sense too that things could still be much better.

The minimum statutory employment target for people with disabilities in the public sector is currently is 3 per cent and is due to increase to 6 per cent next year.

However, Brian Dooley, who works in Dublin, said the rate should be 22 per cent so as to more accurately reflect the percentage of the population who require some accommodations.

Dooley (29), who has formal identifications of autism and ADHD, left university with a commerce degree but his first job was in a call centre and involved a long commute. When he moved to another office, an issue arose over noise and he asked to move desks but it took months for his request to be facilitated.

Now working in the public sector, Dooley deals with inquiries from the public “but I have asked that I don’t speak to anyone on the phone because sometimes they talk about the emotionally difficult situations they are in and I can find that overwhelming at certain times”.

“So I focus on what I’m good at,” he says. “I’m a lot better at answering emails, it’s a very formatted style of working that that works for me. That’s one of my accommodations. Another is earplugs or earphones at work, like a lot of autistic people, and the lights on my side of the room are switched off.

“My communication can be direct,” he adds, “but I’m not made to feel bad about it by my employer because they know I don’t mean it in a bad way. I don’t communicate like other people but then I wouldn’t want to.”

The accommodations are small enough things, which he says other employers might look to emulate because neurodivergent people “have huge value to add”.

His own line manager, Dooley says, is supportive and, more generally, “I think the public sector is an inclusive organisation. I think everyone can always improve, though. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times