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Hiding in plain sight: why self-identification matters


For Giles Davey, one of the most significant moments in his life was when he learnt how to teach himself. Davey, the relationship manager at Flexability, was diagnosed with two learning disabilities as a child.

“I was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia really early on, but in the Nineties, they didn’t really know how to deal with that,” he says.

“So I was taking summer school, I was staying after the bell rang to do spelling, because I couldn’t get my spelling tests right ... I didn’t understand that I couldn’t really spell very well. That really kind of shaped me throughout school.”

A native of California, Davey says it wasn’t just spelling that was a challenge, learning methods that worked well for most of his classmates often didn’t work for him.

“Teachers would come back from the summer [break] and say, for instance, we’re going to do Cornell Notes [a popular note-taking method], because 70% of students do better with Cornell Notes. “Well, I was always in the 30%. They would never let me deviate from that.

“It wasn’t until college that I finally got to teach myself, really understand my disability and how to make it work for me. And I really started getting into this space of seeing how my disabilities can be strengths instead of weaknesses, as I’d always thought in the past. Schools kind of made me feel like I was ‘lesser than’ when that wasn’t the case.”

"I was afraid of repercussions from saying I had learning disabilities in the workplace"

Figuring out a learning method that worked for him when it came to absorbing and retaining information was a turning point for Davey, and this understanding has resonated with him in the working world as well.

“In my last job, there would be meetings where there would be all-day training and I would be forbidden to bring my laptop. But, for me, to take notes and to properly learn, I need to write fast enough. Especially with dyslexia, writing with a pencil is too slow for me.

“I can take all the notes on the computer, and spelling’s not a big deal, and this allows me to remember things better. So, I’ve learnt to push back on things like that in the workplace. It was a big step for me not to try to hide my disability, but to be open and to ask for accommodations when necessary.”

Davey, who works with Flexability’s clients (read about what we do here), comprising companies and organizations that want to develop more inclusive, effective strategies for their teams or recruit diverse teams, says this issue of self-identification is a challenge for many people with disabilities in the workplace, and the reasons are clear.

“When I got that form at my last corporate job that asked ‘do you have a disability?’, I said ‘no’. I didn’t think I was ready to speak out, but I was also afraid of any repercussions from saying I had learning disabilities in the workplace. And that was a big step for me at the end of my employment there. Moving to Flexability was [taking] ownership of what that means, and moving forward.”

"Our ‘people first’ approach is a big differentiator"

“We know that 25% of Americans identify as having disabilities, but when I go into large organizations’ DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] pages, disability is completely left off. Or if they are there, they show metrics for large organisations of 3% or 4% [for representation of people with disabilities]. Statistically, that’s not right.

“There must be a lot of people in those organisations who have disabilities who are afraid to disclose them. Companies are hiring people with disabilities. There’s just no avenue for those people to feel comfortable disclosing [their disabilities] in the workplace.”

We've put together a comprehensive set of resources on disability and employment here.

Working with Flexability has been an eye-opener for Davey.

“I really think our ‘people first’ approach is a big differentiator in the system. Many corporations aren’t ‘people first’. They choose a couple of people who would move up the ranks – the ‘stars’. And everyone else kind of gets left by the wayside. It’s a turn-and-burn. People go in, people go out, there isn’t a lot of retention going on.

“I think something that really sets us apart is making sure that the people are happy.”

Read about how we help organizations become more inclusive and diverse here.

Get in touch with our team to talk about how to create a diverse, successful and productive workplace in your company or organisation. Or share your stories using the hashtag #MyAbility and tagging @getflexability on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.