Tag Archives: access to work

Working with disabled people: it’s so simple to get it right

Today we publish ‘Working for all?’, our new research about experiences of employment support among disabled people with high support needs. Aidan is 27 and works in London. In this blog he talks about his experiences of accessing support and colleagues’ attitudes at work.

Like many people, I get up at 6am each morning and commute to London to do a long day’s work at a job I love and an organisation I’m proud to be a part of. The only difference is that I’m blind, having been born with a genetic condition that affects my retinas. I’ve experienced a lot as a disabled employee: the amazing and the truly awful. I want to share what I’ve learned and explore where in-work support goes wrong and, most importantly, how we can get it right.

Not all employers think flexibly

I have had experiences in work where my disability has been viewed as a problem. The simplest adjustments have been refused, despite many adjustments not being expensive or requiring a lot of effort to implement. I once asked a line manager if I could structure my tasks in a way that would enable me to get the most out of my Access to Work support worker on the days she was in. This was met with the dismissive retort that it wasn’t “a part-time role.”

In another job, it was virtually impossible to get the managers to commit to the highly practical job descriptions that Access to Work require. I was refused simple requests such as using an alternative to PowerPoint or recording meetings. As a consequence, I’d often be working at home until 11pm to catch up and require far more support than would otherwise have been necessary. I was even told that because I had help with minuting, “you don’t look like a leader. You don’t look in control.” The message was always the same: I was presenting them with problems, and that is all they were. It was one way or no way.

I can’t hide my disability and wouldn’t want to, but I’ve developed tricks for subtle positive advocacy. At interviews, I always ask a question about the practical day-to-day work involved with the role. It allows me to slip in that I’m considering whether I’d need to use certain bits of equipment, or seek some support from the Access to Work scheme. I use a question to give them a crash course in case they were hung up on the disability. I believe that, right from the start, disabled employees should have a strong partnership with the employer. We are, after all, experts in our own disabilities. We need to support our managers, who in turn must take into account our needs in order to get the most out of us.

Employers’ mindsets need to change

In my experience, there are many people willing to challenge themselves and learn more about disabled colleagues. In my current organisation, for example, describing slides in meetings and running through proposed events in advance, have all become standard practice.

Colleagues understand that a disabled person is a person first and foremost. Combining their adaptability, my skill in offering solutions, good will and a sense of humour on both sides, we just make it work. Indeed, the fact that I require help sometimes has brought me into contact with colleagues in many different departments and roles. What might be thought of as a weakness is actually an asset for building strong networks, knowledge about other areas of the organisation and relationships that enable us to work better.

I want to see us get to a point where, instead of persuading employers to take a chance on disabled talent, they would say, “Why ever wouldn’t you?” I believe that with disabled people increasingly willing to express themselves and talk about their experiences, more and more employers are going through that game-changing mindset shift. That’s a great thing, but we’ve still got many more battles to fight before we win the war!

Find out more about experiences of employment support amongst disabled people with high support needs. Read our new research report, Working for all?

“I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary” – disability and employment

At a fringe event at the recent Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, organised by Scope and the Fabian Society, senior Labour Party parliamentarians, policy experts and disabled people shared their experiences of employment. The group considered how to ensure disabled people played a key role in the changing world of work.

The panel consisted of Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Debbie Abrahams MP, Neil Coyle MP, General Secretary of the Fabian Society Andy Harrop, Scope’s Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs Anna Bird and Lauren Pitt.

In this blog Lauren talks about her experiences of employment and her thoughts following the panel event.

I lost my sight at the age of 13. When I graduated from university in 2015, I began what turned out to be a long and difficult job hunt. I applied for over 250 jobs but despite being qualified, I only got interviews about 5% of the time. The interviews were generally very negative about my disability. They’d ask “How are you going to be able to do this job?” and I would think “Well I can, otherwise I wouldn’t have applied” but it’s difficult if you’re not being given the chance.

“In phone interviews, when I mentioned that I was disabled their attitudes changed. Potential employers were suddenly less interested in what I had to say.” – Lauren, in her opening speech

I eventually got offered a job and I’m really enjoying it.  When Scope invited me to speak at this event, I immediately said yes. For me, none of the process of getting into work was easy. I came because I wanted to make that process easier for other people. I’m keen to change attitudes towards disability in the workplace and by sharing my story, I want to help disabled people have the confidence to get jobs.

I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary

People think it’s extraordinary that disabled people work but I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary. We want to contribute to our communities as much as an able-bodied person. We have no reason not to be and we shouldn’t be stopped from doing that.

Employers may see disabled people as having certain disadvantages, but those disadvantages can actually be very advantageous. We have to be problem solvers, we’re determined, resilient and we want to work.

A massive barrier is people’s attitudes. People see us in the Paralympics and think “oh look at that blind person running” but we can do so many other things. People need to see the variety of jobs that disabled people are in.

The panel sit behind a white table in front of a screen that reads "An inclusive future"

Policies and support need to be better

At the Job Centre, there was the assumption that I only wanted part-time work. Well, no. I might be disabled but I can still work full time. I want to contribute as much as anyone else and I can.

Information about the support available also needs to be better. Technology is essential in supporting me to do my job as well as anyone else can and that’s provided by Access to Work. But it took four weeks after my assessment for my equipment to arrive – four weeks where I wasn’t able to do my job. Also, research done by Scope showed that around half of people said they don’t know about Access to Work or don’t know how to get it. Well, that needs to change. Without Access to Work, there’s no way I could do my job.

Stories show people what’s possible

We need to share success stories and use them to show disabled people and employers that disability doesn’t have to be a barrier. Stories change people’s minds. Scope’s End the Awkward campaign has changed people’s minds already – people often talk to me about it. By seeing disabled people doing things, you believe that it’s possible.

It’s also important that disabled people believe in themselves. When you see others succeeding, you think “Maybe I can do that”. Commonly more negative stories are shared and people see those and think it’s not going to happen. I know towards the end of my job hunt I wanted to give up. I just didn’t think I was ever going to get a job. I knew I could do it but by the end it was like “Can I?”

A massive thing for disabled people is confidence. The world is not an easy place to live if you’re disabled – you’re faced with barriers left, right and centre. But there are also ways to overcome those barriers. And it’s about learning those ways and being given the right support. You get ground down by applying for jobs and not getting anywhere.

Lauren crouching down with her guide dog, both wearing robes at her graduation ceremony
Lauren and her guide dog at her graduation ceremony

Sharing knowledge is really important

Another thing I would love to see would be the option to have a mentor – either another people who is disabled and currently in work or an employer. Sharing experience is a massive thing because it builds up that self confidence and that knowledge. You’re not going to learn something unless you’ve got someone showing you. I want everyone to see that disabled people can work just like everyone else. My line manager went for an interview and said that she worked with someone who’s blind and they were like “How?” and she was liked “Well, like this…” and that’s the thing, it’s a transfer of knowledge.

I also think it’s important to educate people when they’re young, which is something Scope are doing at the moment, with their Role Models programme. The more people see at a younger age, the better their attitudes will be. Sometimes older people say it’s amazing that I’m working – well, it’s not really that amazing and they wouldn’t say that to my brother, who’s sighted.

Working together to change the future of employment

Today was great. Everyone on the panel spoke about the many things that can be done to help disabled people find and stay in work. We also spoke about things that aren’t being done that should be – some things that can easily be implemented and other things that may be more difficult and how funds can be better used.

I really enjoyed having this opportunity to talk to disabled people, politicians and people who worked for different charities, all of us coming together to share the knowledge and ideas that we have, to help change the future for disabled people in employment.

Scope has partnered with the Fabian Society to produce a series of essays that look at how the modern and future world of work can be inclusive for disabled people.

To read more about Lauren’s journey into work, read her previous blog.

If you have an employment story you would like to share, get in touch with the Stories team.

A spotlight on disability employment

You won’t hear this on the news, but a couple of events taking place this month show how important disability employment is at the moment.

Disabled people still face a broad range of barriers to work – however a renewed focus on disability employment across government, the charity sector and employers, could give us reason to be hopeful.

The employment gap

Employment is an important aspect of living independently for many disabled people. While more people are working in the UK than ever before, just 46.7 per cent of disabled people are in work. This puts the disability employment gap at 34 per cent. It has hovered around this level for the last ten years.

Scope’s analysis shows that nine in 10 disabled people have worked, but only half are in work now.
Employer attitudes, inaccessible workplaces and a lack of accessible transport remain significant barriers. Other barriers include lack of effective support to enable people to enter or get back into work, and employers and disabled people not knowing about schemes such as Access to Work which pay for additional adjustments some disabled people need in the workplace, such as screen readers or taxis.

Time for change

Clearly, there is a real need for a new approach. Recent announcements from Government could indicate steps are being taken in the right direction. Scope has been campaigning for parties to commit to halving the disability employment gap. Last year, the new government took on this goal, which will mean supporting 1 million disabled people in to work.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has just launched an inquiry in to the disability employment gap. This marks an opportunity to review support available, explore alternative options for support and hold the Government to account on their commitment to bring about real change. We will submit evidence to this inquiry, ensuring the Committee’s recommendations to Government are informed by the real experiences of disabled people.

This morning, I’m meeting the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to hear about their proposals for employment support for disabled people.

Later this year, the Government will also publish a White Paper on disability, health and employment.

We are calling for:

  • Employment support that is specialist, and tailored to individual needs
  • Investment in schemes like Access to Work
  • Employers to offer flexible, modern workplaces

Harrison’s story:

Tell us about your experiences

Are you a disabled person looking for work?

Or, if you are working:

  • Have you asked your employer for a workplace adjustment?
  • Have you used the Access to Work scheme?

We would love to hear from you. Please contact stories@scope.org.uk

I was fighting to stay in work – #100days100stories

Jacqueline picGuest post by Jacqueline, who turned to her entrepreneurial skills after being forced to leave her job due to a fluctuating condition. But she’s still fighting for the support she needs to fulfil her work ambitions. She shares her story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

I have always been interested in reducing inequalities. It surfaces at times when I see something that just isn’t right and suddenly I find myself challenging what is happening and developing ways to improve it.

This impulse led me to my first experience of being an entrepreneur. Actually it was the second – my first was selling old toys at the end of the path when I was little.

I had seen how disabled children were being denied equal access to play and childcare. So I developed and managed an inclusive play and childcare scheme for Bolton. It was built on the principle of the social model of disability so that disabled children had the same access to play and childcare as other children.

A dream role

This all led to what was a dream role for me – working as access and inclusion manager for Bolton Council. It involved rolling the model I’d developed out across the borough and eventually around the country. It involved speaking at conferences, sitting on national advisory boards and developing national policy guidelines.

I was at the height of my career and enjoying every moment of bringing significant and long-term change to this area. But my world came tumbling down when I started to experience some frightening changes in my health, which was later diagnosed as Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a fluctuating condition that affects around one in 20 people in the UK. There’s no cure and it affects everyone differently.

My mobility is affected which means it takes me a while to get going in the mornings. I find my mind is ready but my body isn’t. It’s as if someone has pulled my plug out – my energy levels just drop and I have to stop what I am doing.  I experience chronic pain and fatigue, IBS and disturbed sleep. I didn’t realise at first that not managing the symptoms results in cognitive dysfunction – the harder I pushed back against them, the worse it became.

Fighting to stay in work

I was also fighting to stay in work. My employers were refusing to meet the recommendations made through Access to Work, a scheme that provides funding for workplace adaptations, specialist equipment and transport. After an 18 month battle that ended in a tribunal, the process was taking its toll on my health and I felt there was no option but to resign.

I suddenly found myself moving from a secure job and a good salary to incapacity benefit.

During this time I set up a local support group for people who were in similar circumstances. I also tried to get back into mainstream employment. But the interviews were a disaster. It seemed understood that you might need reasonable adjustments once you had the job, but not in the process itself.

Like me, other members of the support group were having problems staying in work and finding other positions when they lost their jobs. I turned my efforts to developing a workforce retention programme to support our members to stay in work. I had quite a lot of success particularly with Sainsbury’s and the NHS.

Access to Work for entrepreneurs

I decided the only way forward for me was to become self-employed. I found gaining support through Access to Work involved substantially more assessments and questioning about my condition. The scheme didn’t seem to understand entrepreneurship, or chronic and fluctuating conditions.

However, I was eventually awarded the support I needed and was able to enjoy a successful working life once more. I developed an inclusive entrepreneur programme aimed at introducing people who face barriers to mainstream employment, to the possibilities of starting their own businesses. I also launched a social enterprise called the Inclusive Entrepreneur Foundation.

Unfortunately my health deteriorated due to complications following a routine operation. After further battling, I was able to get the support I needed to continue working through Access to Work. But the recent restructure of the scheme has now led to the total loss of my award.

The fight continues

I’ve appealed the decision and have been an active campaigner in highlighting the impact changes to the scheme are having on disabled people. If I’m not successful in the appeal, I will be forced to close my business and return to what I believe is now termed Employment and Support Allowance.

For too many disabled people there are barriers to entering, staying in, and progressing in work. Scope’s new report out today shows the economic impact of enabling one million more disabled people to enter work by 2030. 

Find out more about our 100 days, 100 stories campaign and read the rest of the stories so far.

A driver wouldn’t let me on the bus. When I complained, they offered me a job – #100days100stories

Guest post by Jean from London. Jean has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a painful condition which means she is prone to muscle tears and dislocated joints. She uses a wheelchair most of the time. Jean is an active campaigner for disability rights. She is sharing her story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

At the beginning of 2013, I had to put a complaint in to a London bus company because a driver refused to deploy the ramp and let me on.

Instead of dismissing my complaint, the company actually asked me to go in and speak to the management about how disabled passengers should be treated.

Then they asked me to go in again and speak to the bus drivers – and after a couple of months they said, “How would you feel about us paying you for it?”

Jean holding the catBefore that, I hadn’t been able to work for seven years. Part of the time this was because I was unwell, but for a lot of the time it was because employers weren’t prepared to support my needs or make adaptations.

A couple of places I applied even offered to give me an interview, but then withdrew the offer because their offices weren’t wheelchair accessible. It was ridiculous.

Getting support

My new bosses have been really supportive, even offering to contribute towards a new reclining wheelchair, which I will need at work.

However, when I applied for funding from Access to Work for a support worker and a better wheelchair, I was rejected.

One of their reasons was that I wouldn’t be working enough hours, and would still need to claim benefits. But how am I supposed to build up my hours, and start to come off benefits, without the right level of support and equipment?

At the moment, my fiancé has to take me to work and act as my carer. It is difficult – we find it hard to balance his being my partner and being my employee. When he doesn’t do things how I want them, it feels very hard to tell him so.

Add in his own health issues, and wanting to pursue his own interests which have to constantly be put on a back burner, and it causes conflict in our private time.

I felt this was unfair so I appealed, and with the help of my MP I was successful in getting funding. I’m now in the process of finding a support worker, and Access to Work also paid towards the cost of the wheelchair and a small travel allowance.

My work

I’ve looked at how the company views and treats disabled passengers, and made some recommendations for improvements.

I’ve also run disability awareness training for bus drivers. We simulate various impairments – such as being blind or mobility impaired – and ask staff to try to move around inside the bus while it is in motion. It demonstrates how difficult travelling can be for disabled passengers.

I go to conferences and events, and we do a lot of work with mental health and learning disability charities.

One thing I’ve noticed is that disabled people will come and speak to me because they see me in a wheelchair. The fact that I have an understanding of what their situation might be seems to make a big difference.

My work is challenging, fun and rewarding, and it brings confidence and self-worth. I feel like I’m contributing something and making an improvement. Even though the majority of my income is still benefit-based, I am hoping that I can slowly build up my hours.

My employers saw something in me and built a new role around my abilities, and are investing quite heavily in me to ensure I have everything I need to fulfil my potential. I love it.

Read the rest of the stories in our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

What’s your experience of Access to Work?

Guest post from Julie Fernandez, star of ‘the Office’ ‘Eldorado’, producer and craft shop owner. Access to Work is a government scheme designed to give disabled people the support they need to find and keep a job, but after a reassessment Julie’s been told that the support she’s getting to run her craft business and to help with her media career is under review, and might be withdrawn.

Let us know your experience of Access to Work in the comments below.

We hear a lot from the government slating the minority of people who don’t want to work – who want to ‘sit around’ claiming benefits – alongside a lot of positive talk about how they want to help disabled people who are able to work, and certainly want to work, find a job.

In theory I’m somebody they should be using as a success story. I’m disabled, I work six days a week running my own craft business, and I employ 11 people. I also have a successful media career. I’m only able to do all of this because I get support under the Access to Work scheme – but I’m totally stressed out at the moment because it’s under review and I’ve been told that it might be taken away.

Awards from Access to Work have helped me for a few years now. I have brittle bones disease, I suffer with pain as a result, and I’m a wheelchair user. I use the money to employ a support worker at a cost of £18 an hour to assist me with things I’d find impossible to do otherwise – things like getting around, and carrying and lifting heavy objects.

Every three years you have an reassessment with Access to Work and after my last assessment a couple of months ago I got some really worrying news.

They told me it was unacceptable that my business has been running at a loss for the past two years, and that they don’t think they should give me the money to carry on working. They don’t take into account that with a new business you don’t expect to make much of an income initially.

They also don’t take into account that with my other work – my media career – you tend to have better times and leaner times – and media work doesn’t always pay as much as you might think.

The upshot is I’ve got until the end of August to write a full-time diary of every single job my support worker does for me, and provide three months of accounts, and then then they will decide if I am earning an ‘acceptable’ standard of living. Although they can’t tell me what this acceptable level would be, other than the minimum wage.

I hope I’ll be alright – but I’m really scared and nervous about it all and I’m angry.

I work six days a week – I employ 11 people – how much more do they want me to do? My business pays in the region of £800 per week in VAT. If they stop my Access to Work I’ll have to close my business, make my staff redundant, and claim a whole range of benefits instead.
If they reduce the award I get, I’ll have to make a choice between either the craft shop, or my 20 year media career.

I’m not the only person having problems with Access to Work at the moment.

An acquaintance of mine Jacqueline is the CEO of Universal Inclusion and Chair of Fluidity, the UK Forum for People with Hidden and Fluctuating Conditions.

She recently submitted information to the Select Committee Investigation into Access to Work, which detailed the difficulties Fluidity’s members have been experiencing with the service following its recent restructure. She is also facing challenges personally with the administration of her own award.

The submission highlights how prior to the restructure, people using the service had direct access to a personal advisor, but more recently they have to deal with advisors through call centres.

Fluidity’s members say that since this change they have had to speak to countless people about their awards, and many are asked to repeat their history each time because records haven’t been updated. It’s tough having to repeat personal information over and over again.
They think that call centre staff, while by on large doing their best, are being instructed to say specific things around response times, which Access to Work are then not sticking to. But some have described how they have found the manner of other call centre staff to be ‘upsetting and intimidating’.

Additionally, Fluidity’s members have reported long delays at the application stage, delays with payment for support, and delays when people request additional support due to a change in circumstances.
All of this is leading to – at best – frustration and delay – and at worst – disabled people becoming vulnerable and not supported.
Fluidity’s members are concerned that the focus on cutting costs demonstrated by the introduction of call centres means that there’s a move away from the more flexible and supportive approach that people are used to, to one that’s becoming increasingly cumbersome.

It’s really worrying stuff. Access to Work is a brilliant established scheme – and it makes good financial sense too. For every pound the treasury invests in the programme the treasury get £1.88 back.
It helps lots of disabled people like me find and stay in employment and I just hope that my experience, and the experiences of members of Fluidity UK aren’t warning signs that things are set to change.

What’s your experience of Access to Work? Have you had a negative experience like Julie, or do you have a positive experience to share? Let us know in the comments below.

My job was to advise employers on disability issues…then I became disabled myself

Guest blog from Jane. Jane was working as a trainer advising business on the benefits of a diverse workforce, including the need to employ more disabled people. Then in an unexpected twist of fate she became disabled herself, and had to look at her own employment situation.

Inclusive recruitment and employment has been an important issue to me all my working life. As an independent diversity trainer I travelled around the UK for 14 years, talking to employers about the benefits of a diverse workforce including, of course, disabled people. I would talk about the business benefits of employing disabled people, backed up by research which demonstrates that disabled people are, on average, easily as productive as their non-disabled colleagues, and have less time off sick, fewer workplace accidents and stay in their jobs longer.

They also bring additional skills they have had to develop to navigate around a world not designed for them – tenacity, creativity, problem-solving, determination and innovation. And, of course, they bring with them intelligence about how to access the “disabled market” (10 million disabled people in the UK spend up to £80 billion a year – that’s a big market!).

Twist of fate

Then, in an unexpected and somewhat ironic twist of fate, I became disabled myself. I knew that most disabled people acquired their disability as adults rather than being born with them, and I was now part of this statistic. Instead of talking about disabled people as “they”, it was now “we”.

After some soul searching, and having various treatments and surgery to try and “get better” I had to finally accept that my spinal condition was degenerative, and was not only incurable, but would get worse. Unable to sit, stand or walk very well, I could no longer drive around the country standing up all day to deliver training. I had to put my money where my mouth had been for the previous 14 years, and look at my own employment situation.

I adapted my workplace

I started a diversity training business (using my knowledge and experience) and employing others to deliver the training. The logistics were challenging, and Access to Work funding turned out to be a major source of support. Unable to sit at a desk I would lie on a platform to work with a laptop suspended above me, and they also provided a height adjustable desk where I could stand to work for short periods.

Jan standing at a desk

Jane lying using a laptop

A new start

This arrangement worked well for seven years, and then the economic climate and my health both rapidly deteriorated. The training business ceased trading, and I founded Evenbreak. This was a whole new venture – a social enterprise to help disabled job seekers find work with inclusive employers who would value their skills, through a specialist online job board.

Access to Work funding saved the day again. I now work lying on my bed with a laptop suspended above me. When I go to work-related appointments I am driven lying flat by a driver paid for by Access to Work. When at the destination I can stand for short periods of time with a back brace and neck collar, and if I need to be there a long time I have a reclining chair I can lie on.

Evenbreak grew, attracting employers such as Network Rail, John Lewis, E.ON, Greggs, BBC and many more, and soon I needed to employ people to help. In order to promote good practice, we only employ disabled people, and currently there are four of us, all disabled and all working remotely from home.

Opening minds

However, I was lucky. I was self-employed or running my own business. For disabled people who are unemployed, or working for employers, they have to rely on the employer being enlightened enough to see their talents beyond their disability, and be prepared to be flexible if necessary in order to access that talent.

Many of our candidates report that they have previously been discounted for jobs because of a completely unrelated disability (e.g. someone who uses a wheelchair considered unsuitable for a telesales role – why??). Or if they have acquired a disability whilst in employment the employer has not been flexible enough to accommodate new needs and the person has left.

My advice to candidates is to leave the discussion about disability and reasonable adjustments as late in the process as they can. Of course, this is difficult if reasonable adjustments are required to access the first stages of the recruitment process.

Emphasising the skills the candidate brings with them is important – making the employer see the benefits of the candidate’s skills before having to think about reasonable adjustments. Also, it’s good for the candidate to put the employer’s mind at rest regarding cost, explaining that Access to Work will pay all or some of the costs of any reasonable adjustments required.

One of Evenbreak’s aims is to promote the business benefits of employing disabled people so that in future disabled candidates won’t have quite so many barriers to overcome. We work with employers to help them adopt good practice around inclusion and accessibility, in the hope that one day all disabled people will have an even break.

Jane on a special chair, upsidedown on the phone

Scope have published a new report exploring disabled people’s working lives. The report – ‘A million futures’ – shows that last year alone, 220,000 more disabled people fell out of work than found a new job.