My name is Gareth Smith, I work in Funeralcare as an Operational Risk Officer. I’m also the Deputy Chair for our Represent Network for disabled colleagues.

The theme for National Inclusion Week 2021 is about being #Unitedforinclusion.

I wanted to share my story this week as I’m relatively new to being a disabled person. My inclusion journey I guess only started when I was diagnosed as severely sight impaired (legally blind) a little over six years ago with a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. The main symptoms of my condition are no peripheral vision and severely reduced vision in the dark and dim light. It’s a hereditary and degenerative condition with no cure currently.

So this is a reminder really to everyone that things can change very quickly and having support and an inclusive culture is so important, even if you think things are fine for now – we’re all made up of so many different identities, some we don’t even know we have yet.

As a parent, this is quite frightening as there’s a chance that my three children could also inherit my condition. My family have learnt how to live with my sight loss and without their support, doing even the most trivial of tasks could become very difficult.

I still have some useful vision, in fact the vision I have remaining is 20/20. I’m still able to read a book, use a smart phone, tablet and laptop. Unfortunately, this has led to a large number of occasions where I’ve been accused of faking “blindness” as people don’t realise that only 7% of visually impaired people in the UK have no remaining useful vision.

I joined the Co-op nearly three years ago. I’ve been lucky in my career in that I’ve always worked for managers that have made me feel able to talk about support needed. This has also made me confident enough to disclose my disability during the recruitment process when I applied for a role at the Co-op. 

I’m very comfortable speaking relatively openly and honestly about my condition, as well as what support I need. Unfortunately, I know this isn’t the case for everyone. Colleagues can be worried that they’ll be seen as not able to do their job if they disclose their disability, rather than what can be put in place to make sure they can continue to do their job.

In order to help colleagues feel comfortable talking about their individual conditions, we need to equip leaders with the knowledge of how to start conversations and how they can support their colleagues. In addition, we as a Co-op need to able to support colleagues and allies and allow them to freely speak up if they see or hear behaviour that doesn’t reflect our Co-op values.

I’m so proud of our approach to inclusion and that we’re publicly supporting it by sponsoring National Inclusion Week too.

As a disabled person, there are a lot of barriers in everyday life that most people aren’t aware of and it will only be through working towards endless inclusion that we start to remove these barriers.

A powerful quote I always remember is “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance”.  National Inclusion Week is an opportunity to get involved and learn about how you can start the conversations in your part of the business – so please get involved in the events planned. 

Working together with our other colleague networks gives us the opportunity to share the message of being United for Inclusion. There are five colleague networks who are there for all colleagues, you can find out more about them in the file below.

Join the conversation! 5 Comments

  1. ‘Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance’ – that one will stay with me, what a great quote.

    Gareth, thank you for sharing your story with us, you’re right, none of us know what is to come and your story really highlights that. Hoping for the best for you and your family.

  2. That was a really inspiring and honest insight into your experiences living with a life changing condition. I hope your words will encourage colleagues with a disablity to reach out to their own colleagues and managers for support when needed in the workplace. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Inspiring Story Gareth I have a condition called Glaucoma which again affects my vision not as serious as yours but worrying about the future at times

  4. Gareth, How inspiring that you choose to share your truly challenging experience to support others.

    • Thanks Sue, if we can help just one person feel comfortable then we know we’re doing something positive

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