Why Are Persons With Disabilities Absent From Discussions About Employment?

The Albino Foundation Public Notice

The Albino Foundation Public Notice

Barely half of disabled people are in work. Why are we absent from discussions about employment?

People tend to be disabled more by barriers in society than their condition. Without support from employers and government ministers, we’re being left behind.

In society, we speak a lot about inclusion. Working together, no matter your race, sexuality or disability, is key to being accepting and hungry for a better and more diverse future where all creeds of humanity are respected.

However, being disabled and treated equally is something we haven’t come to grips with. Especially when it comes to employment. In truth, for many of us, it can feel a bit like a lonely and voiceless battle.

Research from Scope says two-thirds of the British public admit that they feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people and one-fifth of 18 to 34-year-olds have avoided talking to a disabled person because they weren’t sure how to.

This behaviour extends to employment. Only 53.6 per cent of disabled people aged between 16 and 64 are in employment while able-bodied people are employed at a rate of 81.8 per cent.

Conversations are making more waves since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 – modified in 2010 – was passed in parliament; however, much more needs to be done.

For a start, central government needs to break the awkward silence and barriers between employers and disabled people. To enable a transparent and fair recruitment process, exercises on disability awareness within the workplace should be made mandatory.

If given a chance, disabled people, who make up 13.9m of the UK population, can make a massive, positive contribution if we are seen as people rather than a faceless collection of individuals with conditions.

All that the disabled community wants is to be on equal footing with able-bodied people, starting with being heard, supported and understood while making awareness on how sensitive a topic like disability can be handled through holding honest and open conversations. Only then as a nation can we improve that figure of 53.6 per cent.

People tend to be disabled more by barriers in society and not by their impairment or difference. In Lewisham, a company called Appa.me works with disabled resident’s to inspire community and society to eliminate the biased approach of the medical model, whereby society is made to feel a disabled person must be fixed.

Appa.me’s approach is to take a skills-based approach with the people it works with. It involves an appreciation of the experience and pure talent of people with disabilities, rather than their condition. Those first few months in employment, especially as a disabled person, can be tough and overwhelming, so having that extra pair of hands through help such as Appa.me can be reassuring.

As an advocate and disability commissioner for the borough of Lewisham, I am very passionate about all forms of in-work support, particularly since I have seen the benefits first-hand, as I support people with learning disabilities to gain skills and become more employable.

The government needs to bring back an activity support system similar to the £40m personalised support package launched in 2018. The need for supported employment and in-work support for disabled people in this uncertain climate is vital. If Boris Johnson and his government carry on the Tory government’s pledge, it would assist in helping disabled people to be motivated and independent, enabling the definition of the social model’s ethos of inclusion in the workplace and wider society.

The inclusion of disabled people without judgement has a positive economic effect too. With contributions of £249bn to the economy, disabled people must not be ignored. The financial pulling power alone shows you that disabled people have a major impact on economic growth as well as communities and businesses.

In 2016, Theresa May’s government published a green paper outlining a 10-year plan pledging to halve the employment gap between the disabled and able-bodied communities, which at the time stood at 32 per cent. In August 2020, 42.6 per cent of disabled people are economically inactive, according to parliament records.

The question that I and the disability community have been asking, is that with Covid-19 being a global prison sentence for many of us (as we are told to shield and keep safe) how can the sitting government stick to May’s pledge to get 1m disabled people into employment by 2029?

Giving disabled people a voice and a strong visibility could shake up the employment sector for the better.

I talk from my own experience of being disabled and not being able to be heard – this only changed when I voiced my concerns and my employer took them into account. Not everyone will be met with the same treatment.

As Covid-19 continues and impacts the disabled community, I have some basic but helpful advice to employers as well as ministers: Be flexible, considerate and seriously think about making reasonable adjustments to keep the most vulnerable staff safe and in employment. It’s the least we deserve.

Nana Marfo aka Mr Unique Voice is a freelance disabled advocate, writer and founder of Unique Abilities Ltd

Credit: www.independent.co.uk

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