This life

Discrimination on the grounds of disability is illegal, of
course, but it still happens, says Nick Lewis.

Most adults define their worth in terms of what they produce. In
our society that often means a job. Paid work. Disabled people,
often objects of sympathy but traditionally ignored as useful
citizens, have more need than most, both financially and
emotionally, to get a job.

My experience, that of my friends in the disability field, and
that of the disabled people I work for as the editor of a
recruitment bulletin, is that it is not easy to find work. You need
to engage employers at a human level.

When I was diagnosed with MS, I was eking out a living doing
bits of editorial work on books and magazines. Interest rates –
including my mortgage – suddenly went sky high. I thought I had
better get a proper job. Although I then had no significant
impairments, I thought I should declare myself as disabled. At the
time a number of organisations and local authorities were
presenting themselves as anxious to employ disabled people. I
applied for press and publications officer jobs. Nothing happened.
I reviewed my CV and decided I was quite well qualified. In the end
I obtained a job with a disability association.

In the disability movement, I was asked by a young manager: “Do
you consider yourself as disabled?” I thought about my experience
looking for work and said yes.

Later, I discovered this manager’s own experience: she was a
psychiatric social worker who had a stroke and became disabled. A
flight of steps into her office prevented her from returning to
work. “There was no support. I just went off sick. When I tried to
return to work as a social worker and wanted to get from A to B, I
remember falling over and feeling so embarrassed. I had no support
in altering the way I worked. I just felt I had failed. I was on
the scrap heap.”

My closest friend in the association said that his first
experience of discrimination was when he finished his education and
started applying for jobs. The chairperson of the association told
me about her experiences looking for work as a teacher. At
interviews she was invariably asked how she was going to manage as
a blind teacher and about how she would deal with the class,
despite having passed her teaching practice exams. The further
education work she did get was always temporary, and part-time. She
felt as if the college was waiting for her to slip up.

Two of my correspondents are entangled with both the medical
profession and the law. Their employers have used medicals as
grounds for doubts about employing them. Resort to the Disability
Discrimination Act 1995 has been their only option.

Ican only conclude that although prospects have improved with
the act, disabled job-seekers still need humane employers, and
support from other disabled people.

Nick Lewis edits Ready Willing Able (RWA), the recruitment
bulletin for disabled people. For details contact
or 020 8696 7006

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