As mentioned in the previous post, the battle for equality of employment for disabled people is on-going. Looking back at the previous post, I am now of the belief that I should have maybe entitled it ‘The Erosion of Employment Opportunities for Disabled People’ and this post will carry on in the same vein I’m afraid. However, I am not really of the opinion that you should criticise without giving solutions, so by the end of this series I hope to have given some idea as to what we can do to reverse the trend.
The previous post concentrated on people who used day services but I now want to tell you about some worrying conversations I have had with disabled people who used to have paid employment. A number of years ago when I worked for Mencap, (the largest UK charity for people with learning disability) part of my role involved visiting support groups and social clubs for people with learning disabilities. I got chatting to one of the members on a visit to one such club in Kettering Northants and during our conversation he told me that he had worked for a world renowned footwear manufacturer in the county. However, he then went on to tell me that after 23 years he had been made redundant when they moved their main operation to Eastern Europe.
Now, I know that redundancy for whatever reason is a fact of life for many of us and I myself have experienced it. The concerning thing for me is that this man has not been in employment since. This begs a lot of questions and you have to think to yourself, what a waste of talent! For this individual to have worked in the same company for 23 years I believe shows tremendous loyalty. In addition, they obviously have the ability and talent to hold down a ‘real’ job. So when you weigh everything up I believe that a potential employer is missing out on an obviously committed and loyal employee.
The second case is in a similar vein and came to my attention at my own wedding 3 years ago. A friend, who just so happens to have a learning disability was unable to attend due to a minor illness, so his girlfriend kindly, came along as a representative. I thought at the time that it was very brave of her considering that she didn’t know anyone there, or so I thought. As it transpired, she knew one of the guests whom she had worked with at a well-known cosmetic company for 15 years. She was however, made redundant a number of years ago. I’m afraid there is a common theme here, and yes, she has not worked since. Again, I presume another good, loyal worker on the scrapheap.
The great worry for me is that these personal experiences are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and with proposed reforms to the welfare system likely to further disadvantage disabled people. The first solution I propose is for employers to take a ‘leap of faith’ and show a willingness to employ disabled people. This will not only help to create equality in society but also add to the diversity of their workforce which I have already stated the benefits of in previous posts.
Disabled people have been waiting a long time to achieve equality both in society and in the workplace so we must work together to create solutions.