Disabled people want to work but so much is stopping us

In a time of great political and economical uncertainty, most of us crave stability and security more than ever.

But for many of the 13.9 million disabled people living in the UK, working – maintaining an independent life with a stable income – can be almost impossible.

I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, even as young as girl I’d proudly say that I wanted to go to university and be a teacher, or become an actress, which is exactly the path I took.

From family members and teachers to medical professionals, few shared my optimism and my declaration was often met with patronising words such as ‘oh bless her’.

My abilities were constantly underestimated and although I eventually landed my dream job, success did not come easy. To this day I battle against prejudices, barriers and lack of understanding of my needs by work colleagues, sentiments felt by many disabled people today.

So many disabled people, including myself, are more than capable of work – and more importantly, they are desperate to work. Yet there were an estimated 3.7million disabled people of working age (16-64) in the UK in employment in January-March 2018 – an employment rate of 50.7 per cent (compared to 81.1 per cent for people without disabilities).

This is an issue being tackled by MDUK Trailblazers, a network group of 750 young disabled people and their supporters who campaign for change, as well as the Young Disabled Persons’ Working Group.

They’ve highlighted that one of the first barriers many disabled people face is the simple act of disclosing their disability.

This quote comes from a 28 year old member of the Young Disabled Persons’ Working Group: ‘I did an experiment with a friend with an identical CVs and cover letter other than disability I disclosed I was disabled. I didn’t even get an interview and my friend got the position.’

Although I am working and in a job I love I still feel the need to downplay my needs or requirements to support me, I often hide when I am in pain or need longer to complete tasks to avoid being seen as incapable or unable.

Every member of the group has faced similar struggles, and the fear that this disclosure may lead to discrimination were felt by all, even though discrimination on the ground of disability is illegal under the 2010 Equality Act.

Employers are also under a legal obligation to provide reasonable adjustments for their disabled employees, but what is provided varies from employer to employer.

The government’s Access to Work grant goes some way to covering specialist equipment and support but many aren’t sure what support employers should supplement and Access to Work is only available for paid employment – those working on a voluntary base do not receive any help.

It has become almost a mandatory requirement in today’s job market to have some work experience before your first paid job and even more so for young disabled people.

I have had a number of voluntary positions working in the charity sector to gain experience and build up my confidence. They laid the foundations of my career and were a vital stepping stone for my own personal development but costly taxis to get there and back led me into financial hardship.

In addition, some disabled people rely on Personal Assistances (PAs) or carers and require some level of care during the work day but frequently care packages, provided by Health and/or Social Care within a local authority, aren’t enough to cover them.

I know of one young person received only eight care hours a week and otherwise relied on family, which would not be possible if they were in work themselves. If young, disabled people are going to have any hope accessing employment, they must have what they need to get through the working day.

Disability Awareness or lack there off continues to be a major barrier to employment too. Disability charity SCOPE identified that the majority of disabled people (62 per cent) feel they are treated differently because of their impairment, increasing to a shocking 76 per cent of disabled people aged between 18 and 24.

Disability Awareness training is therefore vital: the Young Disabled Persons’ Working Group felt they would be more content if employers had an accurate understanding of disability and would not judge them during the recruitment process.

It could also make employers aware of what is and isn’t appropriate to ask and say to a disabled person, including how to approach sickness absences and other disability related absences.

Tanvi Vyas, a trustee of MDUK believes that disability should be treated as any other diversity issue. She said: ‘Diversity in the workplace didn’t seem to include disability and there was so much awkwardness around disability – it was almost comical at times!’

It is an injustice to say that disabled people don’t want to work when in reality attitudes, financial and physical barriers are stopping them.

Although I am working and in a job I love I still feel the need to downplay my needs or requirements to support me, I often hide when I am in pain or need longer to complete tasks to avoid being seen as incapable or unable to do something out of fear from not getting more work.

For me, going to work is much more than having a steady income: it gives me a sense of achievement, self-worth and pride. I feel part of society.

That sense of belonging and feeling valued is paramount for someone with a disability as we can often feel isolated, pushed to the side, patronised, underestimated or simply forgotten about.

Source: https://metro.co.uk/2019/06/11/disabled-people-want-to-work-but-so-much-is-stopping-us-9830401/

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