I was delighted to be asked to speak recently at the Blaby District Means Business event on the divide between employers and disabled people.
This was part of my ongoing work alongside the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to change attitudes around employing disabled people in support of their Disability Confident campaign.
My presentation, titled “Are Disabled People Crap?” often draws a few giggles from the audience for it’s bold and upfront messaging. But the difficulties disabled people face when it comes to gaining paid employment are sadly no joke.
It’s a topic that means a great deal to me personally and is something I have written about at length in my best-selling book, I Can I Will.
22% of employers will not hire disabled people
Having a job is something every person, disabled or non-disabled should be able to have. It gives a person a distinct sense of purpose in life. Imagine how you would feel, if every morning you woke up with no purpose?
There are a number of false misconceptions around hiring disabled people. Primarily, businesses think that disabled people are less productive.
As the Founder and CEO of several successful businesses and someone who is disabled, this is this misconception that hurts me the most. It’s something that I have personally had to battle against. The reason why, for many years, I resisted meeting clients for fear of discrimination against my disability and race.
Disabled people WANT to work. And because so many barriers have been put up to stop this from happening, when they are employed they are just as productive as any able-bodied employee.
If an employee of yours broke their leg, you would support them back into work as best you can. Why should a permanent disability be any different?
Sadly, businesses also feel that disabled employees will take more time off sick, negatively affect their business image, and lack the skills needed to do the job properly.
These misconceptions have no hope of being dispelled until employers make the reasonable adjustments necessary to hire disabled people.
Reasonable adjustments are just that – reasonable!
I remember the days when I would jump out of bed in the morning as a child and go to play outside with my foster siblings and friends. Not a second thought would be given to my environment – if I’d be able to climb stairs, enter buildings or navigate around.
That’s the blessing of being able-bodied – something you sadly don’t think about until you’re no longer able to go where you want without thinking about it.
I want you to imagine your day. Now, imagine the same day as a disabled person. What might be a simple journey to work quickly becomes laden with obstacles to overcome. Sadly, many buildings are still not disability friendly.
It shouldn’t take a friend or loved one become disabled for people to open their eyes to the injustices disabled people face on a daily basis.
To truly become disability friendly as an employer, you need to make your workplace AND your employment processes disability friendly. And thought this seem like a big task, really it isn’t! All it takes is a little time, thought and empathy.
To go even further, consider seeking the help of a disabled person to give you advice on what you need to change.
Both of my businesses, Easy Internet Services and Easy Internet Solutions and Disability Confident employers.
Disabled people shouldn’t feel they have to hide their disability
When I first started trying to get a full-time job, I felt I had to hide my disability for fear of it hindering my employment, and I was right. It took months of rejections until I finally got one at a disability charity. And those constant rejections made me feel depressed and incapable. When in reality, I was completely capable.
Disabilities come in many shapes and forms. Some are completely invisible to the naked eye yet still make everyday life more difficult to manoeuvre. These types of invisible disabilities still need to be considered when it comes to making employment processes more accessible.
Even simple things like filling out a form or writing a CV can be difficult for people with physical and learning disabilities. Think about creating an alternative way of accepting applications for people with disabilities.
Communication really is key. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Disabled people will be pleased that you thought to ask, rather than be offended – and trust me when I say that it won’t be anything they haven’t heard before!
Disabled people really are far from crap. In fact, having a disability forces you to think in ways that able-bodied people cannot. This can be a huge asset in the workplace. When given the right support, you will soon see that disabled employees will thrive under your support and be incredibly grateful for the opportunity to do so.
You can read more about my experiences of gaining employment as a disabled person in my best-selling book, I Can, I Will.
I love the opportunity to spread my message of disability positivity. Therefore if you would like me to speak at your event you can also contact me here.
And lastly, you can keep in touch with me on Instagram and LinkedIn.