Double Trouble

    Rosemary Tozer is research fellow at the Centre for
    Research in Primary Care, University of Leeds. She began her career
    in social work and has worked on a number of qualitative research
    projects in the past 10 years. She has a long-standing interest in
    disability issues.

    Two groups in society face disproportionate disadvantage in the
    labour market – people from ethnic minorities and disabled people.
    Disabled people are only half as likely to be in paid work as the
    general population, and unemployment is significantly higher among
    ethnic minority groups than in the white population.

    Further evidence suggests that people with a sensory impairment are
    even less likely to have jobs. According to the RNIB, three out of
    four blind or partially sighted people of working age are not in
    paid work, while Sense, which campaigns for deafblind people,
    reports that only one in 20 of those with a dual impairment have a
    job. But there is little information about people in the labour
    market who are from ethnic minorities and have sensory impairments.
    The recent Cabinet Office strategy document for ethnic minorities
    in the labour market has little to say on this.(1)

    Research financed by the Community Fund and managed by a consortium
    of two universities, the RNIB and other voluntary organisations
    concerned with sensory impairment is gaining a picture of the
    barriers faced in finding and keeping work and will identify good

    Before carrying out interviews and focus groups with people from
    black and south Asian communities, key informants were interviewed
    in London, the West Midlands and West Yorkshire. The informants
    were working to increase the access of people with sensory
    impairments to job opportunities. Most were based in voluntary
    sector organisations in development work, with a particular role
    with local ethnic minorities. Questions about their knowledge of
    the problems faced by their clients and the kinds of support that
    worked best produced some clear messages.

    Employers’ limited knowledge of sensory impairment, or disability
    generally, was seen as a major obstacle. This is a critical issue
    as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is implemented further.
    Little awareness of support available in employing a disabled
    person was reported, such as the Access to Work scheme, which can
    provide essential equipment for visually impaired or deaf people,
    meet transport costs to their jobs and provide interpreters in the
    workplace. Informants joined employers in trying to raise awareness
    of the benefits and support available. They reported that an
    employer who had taken on someone with a sensory impairment was
    more likely to do so again. This could be helpful to deaf employees
    who might find it difficult to communicate with their hearing

    Personal contacts with employers and timing made a successful
    placement more possible. Someone from an ethnic minority was likely
    to find his or her first job at the local corner shop or another
    small business. Delays in bringing together a potential employer
    and employee could result in a loss of motivation. The availability
    of multi-lingual signers, or transport to attend an interview could
    make all the difference.

    People with sensory impairments from ethnic minorities were
    reported as having fewer qualifications on leaving school. This put
    them at an immediate disadvantage in the job market, exacerbated if
    they had an additional learning difficulty. It was felt that the
    building blocks for employability had to be in place throughout
    schooling, with adequate support and specialist equipment. With
    high expectations and long-term preparation, some considered that
    even those with the most severe impairments could work.

    But statutory transitional arrangements were often inadequate to
    provide the help to young people and their families making
    decisions about training or employment. There was concern that they
    could give up because of the difficulties they encountered. Ethnic
    minorities located in deprived areas had a double

    Cultural factors were also reported as potential barriers in the
    job market to disabled people from ethnic minority groups.(2) All
    communities were ill informed about sensory impairment but families
    for whom English was a second language, or who had recently arrived
    in the UK, had little knowledge of support with daily living, let
    alone work issues. Multilingual or large print information and
    signers are needed to help people with sensory impairments and
    their carers access support agencies and find work.(3) A shortage
    of interpreters was reported in all sites.

    Traditional values and attitudes in some communities, particularly
    among older people, could involve low family aspirations for young
    people with sensory impairments. In these circumstances, there
    might be no expectation that they would work, with a corresponding
    reliance on benefits and a protective attitude, especially towards
    women. For instance, mobility training might not be regarded as
    essential or even acceptable if provided by a male worker. Agencies
    worked with these cultural factors, trying to bring the family on
    board and employing staff from ethnic minorities, some of whom were
    formerly clients.

    Informants emphasised that long-term support was essential even
    when people were working. Several agencies provided training
    programmes that might last six months, some tailored to particular
    communities. Staff emphasised that people who had suddenly lost
    their sight or hearing needed considerable confidence building,
    often basic literacy and numeracy, and practical everyday skills.
    Sometimes there was mutual support in a group or job club.

    In addition to their own activity, agencies felt that adequate
    resourcing of other services, such as rehabilitation training and
    specialist social work, would improve self-esteem and basic skills
    transferable to a job. Increased mainstream facilities, such as
    transport and specialised software at public libraries or in their
    own homes, would allow more people to access the help they needed
    in finding and keeping work.

    Approaches that can help people with sensory impairments
    from ethnic minorities in the job market include:

    • Culturally specific projects.
    • Good links with local employers.
    • Training tailored to the needs of the local community.
    • Individual and long-term support.
    • Good liaison with education and job centres.
    • Understanding and working with families and communities.
    • Adequate provision of other services such as rehabilitation and
      social work.
    • Accessible transport and mobility training.
    • Access to specialised IT training.
    • Good availability of interpreters and signers.

    This article reports some preliminary findings from a
    study examining the barriers faced by people with sensory
    impairments from ethnic minorities in the labour market. Key
    informants working mostly in the voluntary sector reported that
    lack of awareness among employers, limited long-term preparation
    and support, and cultural attitudes to disability could all create
    extra disadvantage finding and remaining in employment.

    (1) Strategy Unit, Ethnic Minorities in the Labour Market,
    Cabinet Office, 2003
    (2) G Craig, “Race, poverty and social security”, J Ditch (ed)
    Poverty and Social Security, Routledge, 1999
    (3) Y Hussain et al, South Asian Young Disabled People and their
    Families, Policy Press, 2002


    • For further details of the study e-mail the co-directors Gary
      Craig at or Karl Atkin at,
      or the main researcher Nasreen Ali at
    • E Grundy et al, Disability in Great Britain, Department of
      Social Security, 1999
    • L Jones et al, “Supporting Asian deaf young people and their
      families”, Disability and Society, 16(1): 51:70, 2001
    • Joseph Rowntree Foundation, A Policy Framework for Supported
      Employment, JRF, 2000
    • A Vernon, User-defined Outcomes of Community Care for Asian
      Disabled People, Policy Press, 2002

    Rosemary Tozer can be contacted on 0113 343 4854

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