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Thursday 05 December 2019

Kris Barnfield: Championing openess about disability in the MoJ

By Kris Barnfield

Disability History Month runs from 22 November until 22 December, and the theme this year is Leadership, Resistance and Culture. This month, we’re hosting blogs from leaders within the civil service about their experiences of disability in the workplace. Kris Barnfield is a Deputy Director and Head of Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Project Delivery Function. Here, he writes below about his personal experience with dyslexia and why he’s a Disability Champion.

Becoming one of MoJ's SCS Disability Champions last year led me to think about my own experience of a hidden disability and being dyslexic. My story starts with school where I was described as lazy when it came to my spelling, through to university where my geography lecturer finally picked up on the fact that my lazy spelling wasn’t me being lazy at all and asked if I had ever been tested for dyslexia, and then on to 20 years of working in MoJ.

My experience in the MoJ has been very positive with widespread support from colleagues who used to check my work (especially when we didn’t have spell check when I started in a County Court) and the department itself when stepping in with more specific help. I realised that for me IT isn’t the solution (although I know it can be beneficial for some people). As those who I work with will know, IT means that whereas previously I would use the correct word, but spelt incorrectly, auto correct now means that I now regularly use a correctly spelt wrong word; ‘triangles’ instead of ‘training’ being a recent example. For a time, I combated this by painstakingly checking every word or asking someone else to proof read my work. The biggest positive for me hasn’t been that the MoJ has helped me find a ‘solution’ to my dyslexia, but more that it has given me a space where I can be open and honest about it. Being open about my dyslexia has helped. With everyone knowing, it means that e-mails and written work to those around me now get sent un-checked which isn’t just quicker, it’s kind of liberating and less stressful.

While my experience has been positive, I do wonder… what if I was just lucky? What if being comfortable with being open about my dyslexia meant I got the support I needed? Is my increasing openness somehow linked to seniority? Whatever the answer to those questions are, or however good an experience one person may have, we can always do so much more. Along with my fellow champions, I want to listen to experiences of those with disabilities and am working with the department to make these more positive. This is why I am a Disability Champion and why I am proud to chair the department’s Neurodiversity Working Group.

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