September 5, 2022

Invisible disabilities at work: A story to challenge perceptions

Invisible disabilities

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“In life, there are many different paths for you to choose. Although it can be difficult, the path less travelled can make all the difference.” 

Wise words from Kashveera “Kash” Chanderjith, and all they’re more powerful when you consider it’s Kash’s job to assess risk. 

Kash is the Senior Manager Risk Controls & Frameworks for Woolworths Group, and helps the business make better decisions through managing their risks. She and her team are responsible for developing risk frameworks, reporting, coaching, and training, evaluating emerging research, and managing systems to support risk management. 

So, why would the path less travelled be valuable to someone whose job it is to understand risk? Because this is the road she took to get where she is today. 

When Kash was four, growing up in Apartheid South Africa, doctors gave her parents a devastating prognosis — their child was profoundly deaf. Given the severity of her disability, they said she would never be able to speak. 

“But my parents, though very poor, did teach me to speak,” said Kash. “Still, my childhood was characterized by isolation.

“Many people didn’t want to be friends with a child who could barely say a word or speak properly. It was simply too embarrassing. I had a tough time at school because I couldn’t lipread new words or understand some technical terms. I suffered discrimination. People called me names. 

My life is a very silent one — I can’t hear the birds or my mother’s voice, let alone my own voice.” 

Early career success and setbacks 

Despite these challenges, Kash graduated high school with distinction and was the first profoundly deaf graduate at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. She then became South Africa’s first profoundly deaf chartered accountant. 

Throughout her life, study, and work she has, however, had many experiences of inaccessibility. Because her disability is invisible, many people forget she is deaf.  

“Once, I was stuck in an elevator for six hours because I couldn’t hear the person on the speaker. Another time, I was placed on performance management – a manager had given me instructions as he was walking out the door and I couldn’t lipread him. I’ve also experienced feelings of inadequacy because I lacked any disability role models.” 

But there have been moments of joy too. One instance was when Kash visited Australia on a business trip seven years ago. 

“When I went to a cinema, I could watch a movie for the first time with Captiview. The feeling of independence was indescribable. That was the main reason I moved here! I thought if public services were this good, private companies would be great too.” 

Choosing a company that prioritizes diversity 

Today, Kash is raising her voice to challenge perceptions of disability. 

“By doing so, I hope it inspires a way forward. I hope it helps us live our purpose at Woolworths Group: creating better experiences together for a better tomorrow!” 

For people with a disability, working for an organization that values and prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion can make all the difference. Kash chose to work at Woolworths Group because its people value diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). She joined as a Business Risk Manager, looking after the Group Services portfolio. After a restructure, she was promoted to her current role.

“On my first day, I couldn’t enter the office because I couldn’t hear the click of the revolving door. But I was rescued by a fellow team member. My career progression has taken a lot of hard work to feel equal to my peers because of my disability. But I’ve felt so supported by my line manager, who believes if I’ve come this far, I can go further. 

“I love working with the team and learning more about the business. Everyone aspires to do the right thing and live our company values.” 

Kash knew she made the right decision to work for Woolworths Group because of the support she’s received from her General Manager and peers. 

“Once, my GM announced our leadership team wouldn’t attend a conference because it wasn’t accessible. Her belief was that if it’s not accessible for one person, no one should go. And my peers supported this decision. It was a real watershed moment for me.” 

To better enable Woolworths Group to become a purpose-led company, Kash advocates for inclusion and care for all team members, especially people with visible and invisible disabilities. 

“I’ve come such a long way, even though I still have feelings of inadequacy. We’re making Woolworths Group a safe place for team members to feel comfortable having disability-focused conversations through education. We’re thinking about our facilities in a different light.” 

Getting to bringing her whole self to work 

Kash grants she’s probably one of the most diverse team members you’ll meet at Woolworths Group

“I encompass various cultural, gender, disability, and sexuality identities. Instead of conforming to a single identity, I’ve integrated all these various parts of me together to form my unique self. 

“I’m a deaf advocate. I’m a woman who’s spent most of my career in male-dominated environments. I’m having conversations around nationality and languages, as I’m an Australian, born in South Africa of Indian descent. I’m a proud mother of an eleven-year-old daughter. My partner and I had one of the first same-sex weddings conducted with Hindu rites and rituals. I think Woolworths Group is supportive of bringing your whole self to work, so it’s beyond identities and intersectionality.” 

Woolworths Group was the first major food retailer to be recognized by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality.

Being Australia’s largest employer, Woolworths Group strives to ensure its values and purpose resonates with everyone. 

“Everyone genuinely tries to do the right thing across the board, and that makes me proud. I’d love to see accessibility ingrained throughout the organization. Team members are becoming more comfortable having difficult conversations because they’re empowered to do so.” 

Kash looks forward to continuing to advance her career and pursuing equitable opportunities, while being a strong advocate for people with disabilities.

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About the Author
Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job. Check out the latest job vacancies with Woolworths