By Declan Carey
PEOPLE with disabilities are still experiencing discrimination when job seeking – and it’s preventing skilled workers finding employment, three times HBSA Disabled Sportsperson of the Year and 2019 Pride of Britain nominee David Williamson told Redaction Politics.
Speaking from personal experience, David told this publication that despite the positive energy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London, little has changed for people with disabilities.
He said: “I was born without tibia bones which is one of the load-bearing bones in the leg. I had both legs amputated through the knee when I was about three months old.
“My parents made that decision, which must have been heartbreaking, primarily because the artificial leg technology was really starting to take off at that point.
“I’ve been for interviews and turned up in a wheelchair and people have said they don’t have room for a wheelchair in the office.
“It’s such an old fashioned stereotype but people do tend to see the disability first and not the skill set that the person has, they immediately focus on the negatives and not the positives.
“You have some amazing positive experiences but for some people I think they really miss out on the skill sets that are available with disabled people.”
Like many people at the moment, David is searching for a new role and has spent months looking for work without luck.
Government figures released at the end of 2019 show that the disability employment gap is gradually improving but many disabled people are still struggling to find work.
It revealed that 53.2 per cent of people with disabilities were in employment compared to 81.8 per cent of those without a disability.
The economic inactivity rate – people not in work or actively looking for work – was also much higher for people with disabilities at 43 per cent compared to 15 per cent for those without a disability.
Around the world, there is a similar picture.
The United Nations (UN) Factsheet on Persons with Disabilities highlights that in developing countries unemployment rates for people with disabilities can be as high as 90 per cent.
In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2019 as little as 19.3 per cent of people with disabilities were employed, a marginal improvement from the 19.1 figure for 2018.
David believes that more progress needs to be made and employers and people with disabilities must share the responsibility of improving working conditions.
He said: “Even if you get to the interview stage, if you turn up with a wheelchair, or a mobility aid, or an assistance animal, or any kind of visible disability, people won’t look at your CV.
“If you’re a disabled person and you are given a job, there is a danger that you can fall into being so grateful for that job, that if they say to you at interview stage do you need any extra time off you will say no.
“There can be a responsibility if you have a disability to be as upfront and as honest as you can.
“Me for example, sometimes my artificial legs break, sometimes my wheelchair needs to be repaired, I’m gonna need time off.
“There are so many disabilities, and possibly that’s one of the problems that workplaces face or don’t deal with very well.
“They treat every other person as an individual, for example John may need to leave early on Thursday to pick his kids up, that’s an individual treatment for that person.
“But when it comes to disability, they need to understand that every disability is different.
“It’s frustrating, annoying, it chips away. You’ve got this suit of armour on to protect you from stares and comments, and when you’re rejected without even a consideration it just chips away at the armour of confidence and self-esteem.
“You think why bother trying anything, and of course then you’ve got to build yourself up and that uses so much of your mental health energy to go back out again, it’s exhausting.
“I think that’s what people don’t realise about living with a disability, you’re not just living with that disability, you’re living with everyone’s opinion of that disability and everyone’s comments and it is such an exhausting way to live.”
On television screens and in the media, disabled people are significantly underrepresented, leading to a lack of awareness of the kind of day-to-day issues they experience.
An investigation by the Creative Diversity Network found that disabled people make up only 7.8 per cent of on screen contributions in the UK and 5.2 percent of off-screen contributions, despite accounting for 17 per cent of the working population.
This is part of the reason why people often see the negatives in disabled people without understanding what their lives are really like according to David.
“The media has a huge responsibility. Channel 4 did an amazing job during the Paralympics, but they have this tagline of superhuman and what that has done in my opinion is create a situation where disabled people are either Paralympic athletes or scroungers.
“It’s probably not very interesting as a TV show but there are no shows about a disabled person who just happens to go to work and comes home and cooks dinner for the children and takes the son to football on Saturday. You’re either one or the other.
“After 2012 we had a huge opportunity and it was thrown away.
“Has my disability prevented me from finding a job? I don’t honestly know.
“We’re in a situation where there are more people looking for work than there is work.
“I suspect it has, but that’s only based on experience, not data.”
The Department of Work and Pensions was contacted for comment.
Featured Image: Brendan Williamson (credit)
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