A companies duty of care to hidden disabilities
I became an accountant because I love accountancy. When I say I am an accountant most people’s reaction is to think I did it because it is a well-paid career. This is actually the only thing that ever put me off finance. I am driven by growth and value. I don’t study to add letters to my name and ask for a pay rise, I study because I want to become a better accountant.
My interview process with Exchequer Accountancy Services was proof that my own and their beliefs were on a similar page. It revolved around conversations about the value of data and how to use that to benefit clients. Much to the bemusement of my family it did not revolve around salary. The interview process showed me that Exchequer cared about their clients.
Duty of care
Companies that have stairs are expected to have lifts (as they should). Companies do not have to consider invisible disabilities, far less so neurodevelopmental ones. Supermarkets do not by law have to give any consideration to their autistic shoppers. I do however believe strongly that they do have a duty of care to do so. Companies are expected to take their corporate social responsibility seriously in terms of the environment, but not for those with hidden disabilities.
Without going into detail, I have had countless times as an autistic when companies got this wrong. They did not uphold that duty of care. I have had a bus driver get aggressive with me when I misunderstood the situation. I have had fines for misinterpreting subjective information. I couldn’t even begin to consider the amount of times employees of companies have given me horrible looks because they take me to be rude and ignorant. Paid employees, while working, judging me for not talking or not holding eye contact. It just shouldn’t happen.
A business case for doing the right thing
I was sat at work one day and wondering how it could ever change. How does society change? Who are the big influencers on society? Companies are. The biggest impact on my life outside of Exchequer as an employer is the companies I interact with. They come into my life and nearly all cause me a huge amount of stress, because of being autistic. My phone company, my estate agents, the shop workers and bar staff, to name a few. Their outlook on autism shapes if and how I can interact with them, they directly impact my quality of life.
Upon this realisation I started thinking what do Exchequer do? We are predominantly based virtually, online and phones. We are a construction specialist firm; our clients are generally manual, hands on people. Then it hit me. I bet there is a correlation between dyslexia and the construction industry.
When I got home I researched it and quickly found I was right. 30% of construction workers are dyslexic. Then to be honest I felt terrible. As an autistic I know what it is like when someone demands that I need to pick up a phone. And here we were entering their lives, sending wordy emails and putting processes on them full of instructions and information. I started recalling countless phone conversations I had heard with clients struggling to approve documents or understand the process. To Exchequer’s credit while they did not know why some clients were struggling, they had all the patience in the world talking clients through things on the phone, providing every avenue of support they could to overcome client’s obstacles. Exchequer generally goes the extra mile to support all clients, with or without a specified driver.
I spent that weekend researching dyslexia. The more I read, the more dyslexics I spoke to, the more it just broke my heart. Dyslexia is vastly misunderstood. The amount of people with dyslexia that were opening up to me about being called stupid and uneducated when that is not what it is was just horrible. I couldn’t find any evidence or experience of an accounting firm trying to be dyslexia friendly.
The following week I made a meeting with Victoria Delafaille, my boss and an Exchequer director, to discuss a business proposal. I was so nervous! I knew I was being driven by doing the right thing, I wanted to help these people. But I could not expect a profit-making accounting firm to do it for those reasons. I spent hours and hours putting together a document I called ‘a business case for doing the right thing’. It included statistics, business opportunities, ways to implement it into the business and drive efficiencies, etc. I went into that meeting ready to fight my argument and to be honest expected to be shut down and thought of as a bit of a dreamer, believing in an imaginary world where companies would do that.
As soon as I told Victoria that 30% of our clients were likely to be dyslexic and that our processes would be making their life harder, that was all she needed to be on board. The initial reaction Victoria had, with no data, no business opportunities, that’s why I am incredibly proud to work for Exchequer. The managing director and then the board of directors all approved the notion of Exchequer becoming a dyslexic friendly accounting service.
We will be having staff training to raise awareness as well as redesigning all our processes, website and communications to ensure they are inclusive to all our clients, including the incredible dyslexic ones.
Be the change you wish to see in the world
All this came from one person sat at their desk and asking, ‘What do we do?’. I encourage everyone to look at what they do, in their personal and professional life, to ensure this society is an inclusive one. If you haven’t considered this the odds are on you are naturally catering to the majority. Have you ever watched someone leave a disabled parking spot and thought ‘they don’t look disabled’? Are you assuming only those in a wheelchair or with a stick have difficulty walking? It has been found that 74% of disabilities have no visual sign, ranging from neurodevelopmental disorders to physical ones like narcolepsy, cataplexy and muscle dystrophies. Sometimes you just need to consciously consider what effect being oblivious to hidden disabilities can have. As an autistic I know first hand the difference it can make when someone simply acknowledges my needs may not be that of the majority.
Disabled people can’t change. Society can.
This site will follow Exchequer’s journey to becoming dyslexic friendly. Please also look at the page on here titled ‘Accounting for autistics’ where I explain our inclusive service for autistics.
Exchequer will provide a tailored service to any disabled client that requires one. Contact me on this site or email me at email@example.com to discuss anything Exchequer related.