Disability & Ignorance: Are you the master of your own fate?

Never assume disabled people can’t enter a particular career. Nursing, teaching, sport, business, law, media, IT, veterinary science – you name it – there are disabled people working in every imaginable field.

Many successful people have, at some stage, been told their career ideas were unsuitable. It’s important to persevere, take advantage of any available support and try to get the skills and knowledge you need for whatever job appeals to you.

The Equality Act 2010 means that employers have to remove barriers in the workplace for disabled people and financial support is available to help them do this.

This quote, from the Disability Rights UK website, is a truism that should not have to be stated. Or pointed out. However, it is apparently such a truism that employers completely fail to acknowledge it and nobody seems to notice! I have been asked by my cousin, with whom I am extremely close, to write something about this issue. Not for anything in particular; she just feels very strongly about the matter for personal reasons, which I shall expand on immanently, and wants me to put words to her anger.

I only hope I do her feelings justice; my writing normally stems from my own emotions not someone else’s…

So.

Let me introduce you to the source of my cousin’s personal anger: a young man, whom she happens to be in love with, called Patrick.

I met Patrick about six years ago; we were both regular volunteers at a place called Skylarks, a holiday centre for disabled people (no longer open) ran by the charity Vitalise, which I loved dearly. One time, not long after I initially met Patrick, I dragged my cousin along to Skylarks with me for a week, convincing her that she would love it. It would be fun, I told her. Never-mind the ‘Arse-wiping’ side of things (an acceptable term for me to say as I spent a few years in the care industry), you won’t even notice it after you’ve done it once-or-twice. Think what you could put on your C.V. I said! It may seem like hard work. But it isn’t. Not really. It’s amazing. Truly. Just Amazing.

She came, after a not extreme amount of convincing. She wanted to be a nurse after all, and thus wasn’t scared of a bit of elbow grease.

During this week she met Patrick. They got together that week, and have been together ever since. Six years in fact.

Patrick is what you may call disabled.

He is partially deaf. He also has a condition (don’t ask me what it’s called) that means he has shorter arms than what is expected in comparison to his height. Apart from this he is absolutely a ‘normal’ human being. Your average bloke. It is strange to write this actually, as I forget on a day to day basis that he is disabled.

Why then, in those six years that he has been with my cousin, has Patrick been consistently unsuccessful in finding employment?

It seems as though employers, regardless of Patrick’s potential and talent, persist on letting personal misgivings and ignorance get in the way of employing him. One company, upon being asked by my cousin for feedback on why Patrick had been unsuccessful after an interview, gave such a pathetic a reason for not hiring him as that “he had an unstable location”. In fact he had informed them that he his current home was Nottingham, yet he had chosen to look for jobs in Sheffield as the aim was that, if successful, he would be able to permanently move in with my cousin. This seems a personal matter, and nothing for the employer to worry about. He would have had the means to get to work, and had a place to live in Sheffield; what was the problem?

It was clearly his appearance. I don’t want to say his disability because that would not have prevented him performing the role in question; a shop assistant for a mountaineering shop called Blacks. It was the appearance of disability that bothered them.

Reaching stuff, picking stuff up, unpacking boxes? No problem. He would have been absolutely fine. In fact his strong work ethic means that he would have been more than fine. He will probably work harder, work faster, and get much more done, than any able bodied employees; all of whom probably take for granted their position, and the employment they have acquired.

Patrick has remained unemployed not for the lack of trying. He has applied for hundreds of jobs over the years, and yet whenever he reaches interview stage he stalls. The situation repeats itself over and over. If he puts his disability in his C.V. he doesn’t get an interview. If he doesn’t? He gets an interview. He has the interview. They ring up after the interview and make up some excuse as to why they couldn’t employ him. Never a valid reason – always an excuse.

So what is he to do? What can I say to convince someone to look past the disability and give him a chance? To give him an opportunity?

What really makes me laugh is the absurdity of the ignorance.

Case point?

As a manger in a store I once hired a lovely young girl who was four feet ten inches tall. She couldn’t reach any of the top rails of clothes down for customers, and couldn’t fetch many shoes for customers either, as they were piled too high in the back store room. Even on a step ladder she couldn’t reach. Yet she was pretty, and polite; so it wasn’t a problem. We worked around it.

Patrick’s C.V. and personal qualities qualify him for many of the jobs he has applied for. I should know, I work in retail (currently). Any ‘problems’ caused by his disability could be easily worked around, with little to no cost to the relevant employer.

Yes he may not have any paid experience – but the reason for this is obviously the vicious circle of experience-required-to-get-experience. He has plenty of voluntary experience at places that appreciate the qualities he holds personally, and are willing to overlook minor aesthetic non-conformities. He has many hobbies; namely tons of outdoor experience. He is doing his Mountain Leadership Award at the moment, and there isn’t much about hiking and the great outdoors that he doesn’t know, or isn’t willing to learn.

Myself and Patrick climbing Kinder Scout peak last year, in the Peak District.

Myself and Patrick climbing Kinder Scout peak last year, in the Peak District.

Perhaps, you may well say, if he was degree educated then his chances of employment would even themselves out. Statistically, so I have read, you would be right. They would. But he isn’t. And he shouldn’t have to be. All he wants is a normal, run-of-the-mill job. Preferably in an outdoors shop, but he isn’t fussy.

I just cannot get my head around why at least six long years of nothing have gone by? Not one, single, goddamn opportunity.

It really is ludicrous.

Maybe with the increasing profiles of such as the Paralympics, and the Invictus Games, the notion of seeing disabled people doing things, amazing things, will become more normal; their aesthetic differences becoming unseen.

Maybe disabled people will have the full ability to smash through barriers, and break through glass ceilings, in order to fully take hold of their own fate.

Maybe we will learn, as a society, to take people for face value. Or should I say, for inner value.

Maybe, just maybe, somebody might give Patrick a chance, and offer him a job.

 

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate

I am the captain of my soul

 

Invictus, by William Ernest Henley.

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