This life

Many organisations in the disability field are reluctant
to employ disabled people, says Julie Turner.

In the summer of 1987 I, like many other graduates, began my
search for employment. I was uncertain about what reception I would
receive as a potential employee, as I have a speech impairment.

So it was something of a surprise when, after only my third
interview, I was offered a job as a centre worker in a resource
centre for people with disabilities. I worked there for five years,
during which I was promoted to assistant manager and obtained a
diploma in counselling. I then took a career break to start and
raise my family.

When my youngest started pre-school, I decided my best route
back into employment would be voluntary work. I approached several
centres for people with disabilities and, given my qualifications,
experience and abilities, I did not anticipate that this would be a

How wrong I was. The responses I received included: “You can
only become a volunteer after you have been a user”; “We do not
think this is a suitable placement for you”; and “We do not need
any volunteers at the moment”. I imagine people would have
responded very differently if I had been able-bodied with
everything I have to offer.

I challenged one of these organisations and found that the real
issue was my speech impairment. It took all my powers of persuasion
to be allowed to give it a go. Interestingly enough, at a review
meeting six weeks later it was no longer considered to be a

Over the past six months I have applied for numerous paid
positions in the disability field, all of which have been well
within my capabilities. I have a 100-per-cent success rate in
obtaining interviews and have been told by my employment adviser
that the quality of my applications is the best he has ever

While I have had some really positive experiences from a few
organisations for people with disabilities, I have also had some
dreadful experiences with organisations that should have known

I can’t help but wonder whether non-disabled people in the
profession feel threatened by people like me who can use personal
experience to be more understanding and empathetic towards the user

There’s meant to have been progress for disabled people in
recent years, but this does not appear to have included people with
speech impairments. Some feedback I received referred negatively to
my communication skills. I pointed out that just because I have a
speech impairment does not mean I have poor communication

Having had such a positive experience in 1987, I am shocked and
disappointed to find how prejudiced and discriminating those
working in the disability field are today. I don’t need a training
scheme – I need employers who are not prejudiced and don’t switch
off as soon as I start talking.

Julie Turner is a disabled service user and works in
social care

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