Chronic Illness and Disability Support at SSE
Hi, I’m Vikki Mohamed, Chronic Health and Disability Group Lead at SSE. I’ve worked at SSE for 15 years. During that time, I've worked in the sales arena and more recently, I've joined the business support department as a Change Readiness Agent.
The Chronic Health and Disability Group
The Chronic Health and Disability Group was launched in May 2021. It all started when our manager put a post out asking if anyone is interested in setting up a resource group, so I approached her and expressed my wish to set up a new belonging community that revolved around chronic health conditions and disabilities.
Initially, the interest was very personal for me. I was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease in 2015. It was a really rough time going to the doctors, getting referred to hospital and then having scan after scan. You go through this emotional rollercoaster until you get the diagnosis. Unlike dealing with a visible disability that you can easily see, hidden disabilities are not obvious at all. It’s hard for people to tell if you need support. I wanted to set this group up because we need to start the conversation about this. You can't solve a problem if you don't know there is one and I don't want anyone to feel isolated or to think ‘no one understands me.’ There are people that do understand you.
Progress so far
- Currently have 80 members
- Connected with two other leaders who have got similar chronic conditions. We check on each other regularly and share useful resources
- A communication campaign on migraines for Brain Awareness Week and how it can impact people and work
- Continue to educate and raise awareness around different disabilities and hidden disabilities and how these can impact performance and general wellbeing
- Rolled out focus sessions and listening panels where people from the community can share their experiences with managers and board members with the aim of making changes to improve support for employees.
- Highlight the support message and make it more visible, by implementing ‘hidden disability’ sunflower lanyards. Watch this space!
Disability Support at SSE
Different people have different needs. SSE has made a range of tools available for people to access them if they need to – some practical examples of these:
- Enabling live speech to be automatically transcribed and captioned by Microsoft systems (built into Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Stream) which is used to host internal videos. Now you can see the subtitles and have a transcription afterwards to read through.
- For dyslexia:
- SSE provided the choice of coloured filters for computer monitors to aid with reading.
- Dragon speech recognition software which is used to read text back to the user and translate the spoken word into text
- Vertical joystick style mouse and ergonomic keyboards with trackpads
- DRC assessors who will work on providing all the reasonable adjustments you need. If you can't change the brightness on your screen, they'll arrange for you to get a new screen and things like that.
- Special desks and chairs can be ordered to make you more comfortable. This can be used for the office and at home
Flexible and Hybrid Working
COVID has forever changed the way people work. I don’t think we will ever go back to the office five days a week as we used to. SSE is adopting a hybrid work model. The offices are going to be used for more collaboration meetings and we will continue to hold online events. I believe this is a better way of working because if you're not feeling very well, the last thing you want to be doing is travel to the office to attend an event. Virtual events are more inclusive allowing more people to be involved.
Personally, I am so happy to go back to the office to collaborate, but I would much rather be working from home where I've got my home comforts, without having to worry about queues or whether the disabled toilet is occupied. For my condition, working from home has literally changed my life. If I'm having cramps, I can lay down, while sitting up at a desk at a 90-degree angle all day used to make me incredibly uncomfortable. Plus, I don’t have to worry about putting on a brave face when I'm in absolute agony.
I've recently shared a newspaper article with our group about a lady with a disability who said it is the first time that she's ever actually been able to hold down a job, thanks to remote working. Many of us could relate because we have gone from part-time to full-time work for the same reason. I used to work part-time because I used to avoid the rush hour traffic on Fridays, and I don't need to do that anymore. I feel empowered to do my role with the added support SSE have given me and read on to understand why I am proud to work at SSE.
Proud to work at SSE
Looking back, I remember March 2020 and how SSE quickly responded by conducting a survey as to whether or not you were high risk from COVID. By lunchtime, given all the factors, all people at high risk were just sent home to await further instructions. SSE has always taken safety very seriously. If it's not safe, we don't do it. In this incident though, I was speechless at how fast they acted. Around 10,000 people were sent home and eventually, everyone received laptops to work remotely. We've got a lot of Mental Health First Aiders who set up mental health cafés twice a week that you can join virtually or over the phone. The way they look after us is amazing. Many companies would not go to the extent they do to support their workforce. It's just been brilliant, and the company has been so sensible in choosing a 100% commitment to their safety license.
A couple of months ago, SSE released a new policy called Flexible First which is all about working from home because they can see the difference it has made to the lives of so many people. They have recognised that things aren’t going back to how it was before the pandemic and they've adapted their policies accordingly. The new policy is supporting people like us, it's supporting all the parents and carers, and making the organisation more inclusive.
SSE listens to us. They run regular surveys and encourage comments to keep enhancing the way they support us. They truly look after the welfare of their workforce. I can't express how proud I am to say I work for SSE.