UNISON disabled members rep hails new epilepsy toolkit

A new toolkit battles misconceptions about the condition and provides support to employers and employees

UNISON has welcomed a new employer toolkit which was launched in October by Epilepsy Action to support employees with epilepsy.

Louise Ashworth (pictured above), a member of Barnardo’s branch and of UNISON’s national disabled members committee, has lived with epilepsy for over 20 years. Speaking of working with the condition, she said: “Some employers do not understand epilepsy and, frequently, they consider epilepsy in a medicalised way rather than focusing on removing barriers.

“The low percentage of people with epilepsy who are in employment is really concerning and it illustrates the discrimination and stigma that we face daily.”

People with epilepsy have one of the lowest rates of employment among disabled people, with just over a third of those who identified epilepsy as their main health condition being in employment, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics.

In a 2016 YouGov poll, a quarter of respondents said that they would be concerned about working with someone who had epilepsy, with almost two thirds of those saying this concern was because they had no idea what to do to help a colleague during a seizure.

Epilepsy Action commissioned research in 2018 to understand why people with epilepsy are disadvantaged at work and how to reduce these effects, with the results informing the toolkit.

It includes:

  • Information about epilepsy and the different types of seizures;
  • Videos of how to help during seizures;
  • Templates to help employers find out about their employees’ epilepsy, provide support, assess risks and talk about epilepsy in the workplace; and
  • Completed templates to show how they can be used.

Speaking of the toolkit, Louise said: “It is very welcome but long overdue. I think it will be extremely helpful in bargaining and negotiating, as well as in representing members, especially when used in conjunction with UNISON’s own bargaining advice and guidance.”

On the launch, Deirdre Costigan, national officer for disability equality, said: “This is an excellent toolkit, and fits right in with UNISON’s focus on persuading employers to adopt the social model of disability, which involves making changes to the work environment, rather than forcing the employee to change.

“UNISON has 200,000 disabled members and many of them have epilepsy. They do a great job delivering crucial public services but sometimes they struggle with rigid workplace policies and unhelpful managers. Some of our members with epilepsy have even had health and safety wrongly used as a reason to stop them doing their jobs.

“Employers often don’t realise that, if they just make small adjustments, it could have a massive impact. UNISON has many other great resources that can be used along with this toolkit and I would encourage all branches to take a look.”