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Disability Narratives

We asked the people we interviewed about any issues or problems they may have had with the offices, buildings and areas of the city that they worked in, including access, equipment, and general environment.

Some of the issues that people raised would be those that might affect most people, such as problems with office temperatures (too cold in winter, too hot in summer), lack of ventilation, or poor (natural) lighting. In themselves they would be unhelpful or not beneficial to working well. But for some people, it was how they interacted with their condition that made such issues particularly problematic.

Click for Stella's interviewStella describes how the environment she worked in interacted with her mental health so that she felt anxious and devalued.


It is clear that the taken-for-granted furniture and logistics of everyday life can become problematic. This includes difficulties that mobility or visually impaired people might have with navigating to or from work, through cobbled or muddy streets, or gaining access to and around old buildings.

"One-size-fits-all" desks and (although less frequently) chairs of many offices can aggravate or exacerbate musculoskeletal and neural-dynamic issues. Contemporary working arrangements, such as open plan offices and hot-desking, can also present difficulties for those with conditions that affect concentration and hearing, as well as those who require routines or dedicated working spaces.

Click for Jo's interviewJo explains that making adjustments for disabled access to old buildings has to take into account conservation and listed building laws, which can slow the process down compared to making changes in newer buildings one.

Click for Devon's interviewDevon explains some of the difficulties she had gaining access to old and new buildings for people with mobility problems.


Click for Stella's interviewStella explains how finding accommodation in Oxford on a budget can be stressful.


Click for Jo Z's interview© Disability NarrativesJo Z explained that having meetings around the University could be problematic.


Managing and mitigating

People were largely able to find ways of managing or mitigating the issues they faced. These included:

  • Requesting a corner desk and/or listening to music (or having ear plugs) to minimise disruption in an open plan office.
  • Leaving the office and going to quieter spaces for meetings or working at home when needing to focus on a particular piece of work.
  • Finding ways to be prepared for potential problems, from purchasing a back-pack to carry a laptop, to emailing requests for any adjustments ahead (such as for an adjustable chair, or to find out how long a meeting will be).
  • Working with Occupational Health and/or a Health and Safety officer for Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessments (see also Institutional Support) to get adjustable chairs and desks, automated doors, or disabled bathrooms installed.
  • Requesting a desk nearer windows for natural light and ventilation.
  • Going for walks whether outside for fresh air and natural light, or simply around the office, to get a screen break and [encourage mobility].
  • Requesting a heater and/or using hot water bottles and blankets to keep warm.

Click for Sue's interviewSue found hot-desking meant she did not have the desk and chair set-up she needed, but a change of office and DSE assessment helped her manage her back problems.


Click for Liz's interviewLiz explains that when she returned to work she had particular requirements for an accessible bathroom.


Click for Maria's interviewMaria’s explains how her guide dog helps her negotiate her way to work.


Click for Kevin's interviewKevin found a simple IT solution to not being able to access meetings on the third floor building.


Click for Jo Z's interview© Disability NarrativesUsing a hot water bottle and blanket helps keep Jo Z warm in the winter months in her older building.


Making changes to buildings, such as installing automatic doors, is expensive and there may be delays while funding is agreed.

Click for Liz's interviewLiz urges caution about telling people how much the adjustments cost, as it can (intentionally or not) make people feel guilty about the changes that are made.


Click for Gabrielle's interview© Disability NarrativesGabrielle explains how hot and cold temperatures affect her MS and the dilemma she feels when seeking equipment to mitigate that.



Click for Kevin's interviewKevin describes how some simple planning ahead and being prepared help him get through the day.


Click for Susannah's interviewSusannah describes how she has to plan ahead for events to ensure she avoids a migraine.


Open plan

Working in an open plan office was also noted to have positive features. It was associated with having colleagues to speak to. Some people reflected how their role or the time of year (in holidays) meant that they may not get to speak to many people in the day, leaving them feeling isolated. There were also more practical benefits, as Ruth reflected, "So, one of the things I realised now that was helping me, was I was working in an open plan office [at that time]. So whenever I was getting stuck on computer technology, I could just shout out to somebody. Here, it's not like that, because I'm on my own. Most of the time."

Click for Lyn's interview© Disability NarrativesLyn describes how she tries to avoid distractions in an open plan office.


Click for Jo's interviewAlthough Jo enjoys open plan offices, she tries to have meetings in a quieter space as this helps her hear what is going on.


Click for Paul's interviewPaul explains how his dyslexia posed some challenges when he worked in an open plan office and how he found ways to mitigate distractions.

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