‘We have stairs…’: on disability and job-hunting

disability

Kerrie Nicholson on how being articulate, motivated and having two degrees doesn’t mean anything when you’re looking for a job and considered disabled.

The Equality Act of 2010 defines a person as ‘disabled’ if  they have: ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.’

Negative. I’ve always had issues with that word as a disabled person myself; I have a disability, Cerebral Palsy, which affects things like my motor control and movement. I use a wheelchair; I was born three months prematurely and weighed just two pounds. I think myself very lucky, my form of the condition isn’t as severe as it can be for some, and I am generally very happy go lucky with an amazing support network of friends and family. Therefore, yes my condition is a part of me, but I try not to let it define me.

Sadly though, that very thing seems to be rearing its unwanted and ugly head of late, particularly when it has come to me finding a job. I have spent four years of my life at university, and now have both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. I guess in a way, I was quite naïve. I knew jobhunting would be difficult, as it is for every graduate regardless of whether they are able-bodied or otherwise, but I wasn’t expecting to face the hurdles I have. At the very least I was expecting the situation to be handled with more tact and sensitivity.

‘…we don’t think you’re capable of holding down a full-time job…’

I attended an interview last week and I felt it went well, considering it was only my third ever. Essentially, the feedback was: ‘we like you and you have a lot of the skills we are looking for… but we don’t think you’re capable of holding down a full-time job’.

This was from the company who liased with the agency helping me look for a job; specialists in getting people with disabilities into work. I’ve never felt more patronised in my life.

If that wasn’t bad enough, today I applied for an apprenticeship. I was invited to interview, and given my knockback last week, was overjoyed. About a half hour later though, that bubble was burst with the words: ‘Umm, Kerrie? I’ve just finished reading your cover letter properly… I’m afraid we have stairs.’

‘…nobody has the right to tell me what I may or may not be capable of when they’ve known me for a half hour…’

So aside from patronising attitudes, the main problem is the wording of the 2005 ammendment made to the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), which says: ‘physical features that create a barrier to access should be removed or altered, or a reasonable means of avoiding said barrier must be found.’ What counts as reasonable? Even then, this only applies to new builds. The adjustments I would need, a hoist and level access, are deemed unreasonable due to cost and the amount of work that would need to be put in. I understand that concern, I really do, but the thing is: I’d work 100% hard as everybody else does, if not harder, and nobody has the right to tell me what I may or may not be capable of when they’ve known me for a half hour. Attitudes need to change, the law discussed, at very least. I’m ready and willing to talk, and will be here when local business and politics want to join in.

While my disability does inevitably present challenges, I always focus on the positives; I’m very articulate, enjoy working with people and extremely motivated and driven to achieve my goals; I would love to become a teacher and a writer. Who wouldn’t hire me?

Have you faced discrimination when looking for work? Tell us about it in the comments. Or tweet us @rifemag

Also, check out WECIL – The West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL) is an organisation of disabled people working together to enable choice.

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