Ruth has Cerebral Palsy and Perthes Disease, a condition that affects her hip. Six years ago, she became a wheelchair-user. She used to be an English teacher and now works part-time for a charity, and today she will share her advice for improving access to employment for disabled people.
Ruth: Finding meaningful employment when you’re disabled can be challenging. We are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, more than half of us will experience bullying or harassment at work and don’t get me started on the challenges of commuting by public transport. There are so many potential hurdles, and if you’re anything like me, you may sometimes feel pretty powerless, and be in danger of talking yourself out of potential vacancies before you’ve even applied. I don’t claim to be an expert on job-hunting or flourishing in the workplace as a disabled person, but I do have a few ideas that might help:
- Remember that being disabled gives you lots of extra skills; spend some time thinking about what they are. I have a brain injury that means I can’t drive, get lost in places that I have been to a hundred times, and am very, very bad at origami. However, my impairments have also made me more articulate, more empathetic and have turned me into a great planner and organiser who is excellent in a crisis. These are all skills that employers want.
- Do some research about all the help and support that’s available. This can be time-consuming, and you may have to prepare yourself for a few battles, but it could reap rewards. Schemes such as Access to Work can help with equipment and travel. Employers are sometimes (wrongly) under the impression that a disabled employee will be more expensive than a non-disabled one, so make sure that they know about this programme and other existing schemes. Personal Independence Payment is another in-work benefit and could help you deal with the many additional costs of being a disabled person. The application process can be energy-sapping, but it’s worth pursuing if you feel able to.
- Think carefully about the work environment and patterns that will enable you to stay as healthy as possible. I, like many disabled people, am always at risk of overestimating what I can do. I imagine that a journey that I can do once will be possible every day, or that because something was no problem for me a decade ago, it won’t be now. Of course, specialist equipment, adjustments, and an understanding employer can make a huge difference to what you can achieve, but it can also be very hard to prioritise your own wellbeing. Look for employers that offer flexible working and who make efforts to recruit a diverse workforce. These things also suggest that the employer will be open-minded during any negotiations you choose to pursue.
- Know the law. Under The Equality Act, your employer has a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments for you. That word ‘reasonable’ can be a very tricky one to define, but knowing a bit of employment law can make you feel more confident when job-hunting and working. If you experience any workplace discrimination, being informed can make all the difference. Join a union so that they can support you if needed. Think carefully about when, and how, you want to ask for adjustments. Will you need any before your interview or before you can start work? Do you want time in the role before deciding what you need? It can be exhausting, intrusive, and frustrating to have to discuss your impairments and conditions repeatedly so if you can, ask your employer to identify one person with whom you will deal, and ask if you can have a say in who that is. Some workplaces offer ‘passport’ schemes where your needs are written down so that you don’t have to repeatedly explain. Once your reasonable adjustments are in place, make sure that they are officially recorded to reduce the chance of there being any future misunderstandings.
- Don’t forget that you have some say in when and how you talk to your employer about your needs. In my case, my wheelchair may do the talking for me, but I can still decide what I disclose about the more invisible aspects. Some employers guarantee an interview to disabled candidates who fulfill the minimum requirements for the post, so you may want to make use of that.
- An employer may have little or no experience in employing disabled workers and therefore have much to learn. Of course, whilst you are under no obligation to try to educate them, it’s worth asking yourself if there’s anything you can do to help the situation. I have found that suggesting solutions to barriers I may experience saves a lot of time and hassle for both parties, and makes it far more likely that I will end up with adjustments that work for me.
- Last but not least, pick your battles. Make them the ones that will enable you to do your job to the best of your ability. If I wanted to, I could be constantly angry about all the issues that I face navigating the world as a disabled person and could use all of my energy fighting for change. However, whilst a bit of anger can sometimes be useful, do remember that you’re allowed to just get on with your day. Be kind to yourself, and do what you need to do in order to thrive
(Article by Astriid, the charity using its online platform to pair chronically ill workers with inclusive employment opportunities that match their talents and requirements)