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”Typing up a storm – why we need better awareness of disabilities and adjustments in the workplace”

8 March 2023

Recent headlines about the Twitter exchange between its CEO, Elon Musk, and a former Twitter employee, who has a type of Muscular Dystrophy, opened up conversations about perceptions of disability in the workplace. The employee, Halli Thorleifsson, is accused of “doing no actual work” and “claiming an excuse that he had a disability which prevented him from typing yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm.” Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Employment Officer, Jack, tells us why this is sadly a familiar story he has seen before.

Many people would have been shocked and surprised by such a negative and inaccurate worldview being projected so publicly on social media – particularly from someone so successful in business. However, I saw a familiar story – one which focuses on what can’t be done, not what can be.  

Musk’s reference to Thorleifsson’s use of Twitter is an illustration of something that is sadly not uncommon – a disabled person in work is reduced to a binary of either being able to work exactly like everyone else, or they can’t work at all. The idea that people with muscular dystrophy might work in a slightly different way, but still achieve the same level of results, seems incomprehensible to some.  

Mapping the employment rate

Perhaps this is why, according to the most recent official figures published by the Department of Work and Pensions, the disability employment rate was 52.6% from July to September 2022, compared to 82.5% for non-disabled people. 

This is a great opportunity for Musk (and anyone else unfamiliar with how someone like Thorleifsson can still work effectively in a slightly different way) to learn how people living with muscular dystrophy can and do work in various roles and industries. Someone’s condition isn’t something that stops them from achieving their goals and making a difference in the workplace.  

Living and working with a muscle-wasting condition

Thorleifsson used the exchange to talk about his experiences of living with muscular dystrophy, and the effect it has had on him. He describes the life that he has built for himself, including the successful company that he set up nine years ago, which was eventually sold to Twitter, as well as some of the adaptations that he uses. 

The value that Thorleifsson could bring to a technology organisation seems clear based on his past achievements. It is irrelevant whether he is physically able to type for hours on end, contrary to Musk’s view, as this isn’t what constitutes value in a workplace.  

Supporting access to employment

The MDUK Trailblazers report, Ready and Able, highlights some of the concerns raised by our community regarding employment – including disclosure of disability. For example, the report highlights how many people felt there was very little point in stating the name of their condition, as it didn’t provide an accurate picture of them or their needs. It’s not difficult to see why this may be the case, given the recent online rhetoric.  

In the UK, Reasonable Adjustments regulations places a responsibility on employers to make adjustments in their workplace to make sure that disabled people are not disadvantaged. This recent saga serves as a reminder to all employers that they should think about the adjustments that can be made to enable and utilise everybody’s talents. 

Besides, none of us – regardless of disability – work well when we are forced to fit in a box. We work best when we’re in an environment that is focused on amplifying our strengths, not focusing on what we can’t do.

MDUK’s placements and resources

MDUK’s Moving Up programme is here to help people living with muscular dystrophy get into work and reach their potential. Through this project, we offer placements, events, and career resources to young disabled people living in London, and we work with project partners to improve employment opportunities. 

If you’re an employee or employer looking for additional support, we have lots of information and support available about disclosure to employers, reasonable adjustments, discrimination, and other practical advice such as what’s available under the Access to Work Scheme.  

For further support and guidance call our free helpline on 0800 652 6352 (open Mon – Thurs 10am – 2pm). 

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