We first published this guest blog from Emily Birkinshaw in May 2014. Emily supports 16-24 year-old disabled people in East London to find work through Scope’s employment courses. Emily has Non Epileptic Seizures, and draws on her own experiences to support the young people. We’re republishing her story here as part of Scope’s 100 Days, 100 Stories project.
You have got so much stacked against you, if you’re a young disabled person looking for a job. Your confidence is just knocked over and over again. We see a lot of people who have reached a stage of ‘I will never work, there’s nothing for me; no-one wants me’.
Often the young people we work with are going for the same jobs that graduates are going for, because of the way the job markets have shuffled. We see a lot of people who haven’t done any work experience; there hasn’t been any careers input in their schooling. Maybe they’ve gone to a special educational needs (SEN) school, where it’s expected that they will just go into a day service.
Application forms are such a barrier – so many of our young people really struggle with application forms, they’re so complex to navigate. Another barrier is people’s perceptions. A young person may get to the interview stage of a job, and they’ll have cerebral palsy and their speech may be a bit slurred, so the job will go to the guy who doesn’t have that. Or they don’t even get to that interview stage because there are still employers who think ‘Why would I take the disabled person over somebody who’s going to be no bother?’
There are so few employers who are willing to take that chance with a young disabled person. I do a lot of work with employers, calming their fears about what disability is. Even when an employer says ‘we’ll take somebody on a placement’, they panic. They’ll say ‘we don’t have a ramp’ and I’ll be like ‘it’s OK, he’s got schizophrenia, it’s fine, he doesn’t need a ramp’.
It really frustrates me when people write off young people, saying ‘they don’t care, they don’t engage, they don’t want to do the opportunities you give them’. If you gave those opportunities to the young people I work with, they would bite your hand off!
I get really passionate about what I do, I think because I’m disabled myself, and because I’m from a very working class background. I did go to university but I was the first person in my family to go to university. I had lots of health problems going through school, so I feel really fortunate to end up in the situation I’m. I wouldn’t wish seizures on anyone, but I can accept that they happen to me and that means that I can be even better at this job – and that sort of gives my disability a purpose.
I love seeing employers changing their attitudes, and how they’re blown away by their experience. But seeing the young people grow and develop, and stand up for themselves and have some power and autonomy as disabled people, is the best thing ever.
My job is frustrating, sometimes, because you can’t change society, but to see where you are helping somebody to change their life for the better – is the best feeling in the world.