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Downton Abbey ahead of its time on helping workers

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Although it harks back to a period of time when there was a clear divide between “upstairs” and “downstairs,” British period drama Downton Abbey can offer today's employers valuable lessons on how to ensure they have disability-inclusive workplaces, according to one blogger.

Although the show — perfect comfort-blanket TV — is set in a bygone era, there are lessons that modern employers can take from the actions of Lord Grantham, head of the eponymous household, according to Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary of labor for disability employment, who writes a blog on the U.S. Department of Labor's website.

As well as soap opera-esque drama, Downton Abbey addresses changing social mores and among the more nuanced of these is “the show's depiction of disability-inclusive workplace practices,” Ms. Sheehy writes.

“For instance, when Mrs. Patmore, the estate's longtime and beloved cook, begins experiencing vision loss, Lord Grantham arranges for cataract surgery and lays out a return-to-work plan,” the blogger notes.

“This is the kind of thing that really excites us in the department's office of disability employment policy, because we've long trumpeted the importance of strategies for retaining the talents of workers as they acquire disabilities or develop age-related disabilities,” she said.

There are also examples of Lord Grantham — the “CEO” in this case — showing his support for staff with combat injuries sustained in WWI, Ms. Sheehy notes.

Downton Abbey will end at the finale of the current season, but Ms. Sheehy says she hopes that its portrayal of flexible employment practices will help reinforce to 21st century employers the “importance of ensuring their doors to remain open to all qualified workers, including those of us with disabilities.”