Remote work and inclusion

A conversation with disability campaigner and Founder of the Diversability Card, Shani Dhanda

Shani Dhanda is the founder of busy events-management company, Social Butterfly Events. She’s also an active campaigner on disability issues, driven by her own experience of living with a disability, and facing discrimination in the workplace. Most recently, Shani has launched the country’s first official discount card for people with disabilities, the Diversability Card. We spoke with Shani about her current projects, the pros and cons of working from home – and why flexible working should be the norm for all of us.

Q: Hi Shani! Could you tell us about your work life, and current projects? For the past 10 years, I’ve been running Social Butterfly Events, my own events management company. I’ve been working on that full-time – I love putting on great events, but it’s a demanding industry, as the hours can be tough.

Given my own personal experience of living with a disability, I also do a lot of campaign work on disability issues. [Shani has the condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta, more commonly known as Brittle Bones, which is characterised by bones that break very easily.] I’m a role model for the charity Scope, and an Ambassador for Include Me Too, the national disability charity for young people and their families from Black, Asian, minority ethnic and other marginalised communities.

Shani Dhanda, disability campaigner and Founder of Social Butterfly Events and Diversability Card.

In August 2017 I also launched the Diversability Card, the UK’s official discount card for people with disabilities. The response has been fantastic – around 6,000 people signed up within the first few months, and lots of local retailers have come on board. Right now, I’m keen to connect with larger, national retailers – it’s just a question of finding the right people to speak to!

Q: Do you work from home? If so, what do you think are the pros and cons of working remotely? At the moment I do work from home, yes. I like it – it’s usually pretty quiet, and I like the flexibility of being in control of when and where I work. I feel that I work better in the evenings, and you can’t do that if you work in an office, with set office hours. I’m involved in lots of different things, and that combination of working from home and working flexible hours means I can juggle everything I need to get done. Being my own boss helps too, of course! As the projects I’m working on grow, I would like to expand into an office space. Working from home can sometimes be a bit lonely, and it’s not for everyone. For me personally, I think you can’t beat working with other people, and bouncing ideas around. But I also think working from home can work. It’s all about giving people your trust – we’re all adults, as long as we get the work done, and are present at events or meetings when needed, that should be all that matters. I’d like to be that kind of employer myself.

Q: What’s your view on flexible working and disability? I think flexible working is great for all of us, including people with disabilities, working parents, and carers. Many of us would benefit from being able to work flexibly, for different reasons and at different points in our lives. For example, the majority of people with a disability actually develop their impairment or condition during their lifetime (rather than being born with it.) As we all live longer and go on working for longer, more and more of us are likely to experience things like long-term health conditions or impairments of different kinds.

There are still many things to improve in the area of accessibility in the workplace. I think it can be particularly difficult for people with hidden disabilities, who can struggle to have those understood by employers and colleagues. I’ve spoken about the difficulties of being hired as a person with a disability. [In a piece for Channel 4, Shani spoke of her experience of applying for 100 jobs – and only obtaining an interview after she made the decision to remove any mention of her disability from her CV.]

Another thing to consider is the problem of keeping your job if you are disabled and your condition changes. I personally experienced having my request for flexible hours – which would have made it possible for me to continue in my role – turned down, despite the fact that others at the same company were permitted to work flexibly. That made me feel so undervalued that I decided to leave that organisation.

I’m involved in lots of different things, and that combination of working from home and working flexible hours means I can juggle everything I need to get done. Being my own boss helps too, of course!

That said, I think a lot is happening at the moment with people with different kinds of disabilities and conditions connecting and being more visible in the workplace and other areas as well. We need to be speaking with a bold, strong voice. That’s what the Diversability Card is all about – it’s helping to reduce the cost of living for people with disabilities (who face hundreds of pounds a month, on average, of extra costs) – but it’s also showing retailers what a powerful and valuable consumer market we are. It’s the same with flexible and accessible working too – it’s great for employees, sure, but it’s good for employers too, who get to access a much wider pool of committed, talented people that they might otherwise lose out on.

Thanks to Shani Dhanda for sharing her views on flexibility and inclusion at work. You can read about Shani’s campaign work and connect with her here or find out more about the Diversability Card here. If you are a retailer who would like to support the Diversability Card, Shani would love to hear from you!

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