Construction must change attitudes towards disability

Let’s normalise the conversation about construction workers with disabilities, writes Jez Cutler

We all know we don’t live in a binary world and that we are complex and multifaceted individuals. So why do I struggle so much with identifying as being disabled?

I started in construction in 2005. I knew I had a rare form of muscular dystrophy, although outwardly was showing no signs. My condition is progressive, but the loss of muscle function didn’t really impact on me until I was in my early 30s. I had a dream job at Travis Perkins, guiding the business towards better environmental outcomes. Moreover, I had some great bosses and mentors. 

In about 2010, I started walking like John Wayne – I’d hitch my thumbs in my belt and swing my hips – so I could still get around. My colleagues and my boss took their cue from me and nothing was ever said. But the group’s fleet manager banned me from driving because I was no longer safe. So I had to ask my boss for help. Three years later, I was in a powered wheelchair having had no significant time away from work and still making a substantial contribution. 

My bosses found the balance between offering support and allowing me to stay in control. My identity was never taken away from me and I worked at Travis Perkins for another two years. I continue to work full-time and set up my own sustainability consultancy.  

But I’m not sure others are as lucky as me. A good friend resigned because of poor health and told me he didn’t want to lose respect and influence by staying on when he was “past his best”. That’s what can happen if a safe and supportive environment is not created. 

At Construct-Ability, a new networking and campaigning group, we aim to normalise conversations about disability. There are many people working in construction who identify – at least to themselves – as having a disability, but make fantastic contributions. Let’s create an inclusive industry that values the skills these individuals have to offer. 

Jez Cutler is founder of Cutler Consulting and co-chair of Construct-Ability

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  1. Inspiring story, thanks Jez. Are you folks connected with the Building People initiative? Their mission is to promote connections and sing out about diversity in the industry.

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