Tag Archives: Reasonable adjustments

“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.

‘I don’t want the money. I want to make a difference for other people’ – #DDA20

Many disabled people were worried that the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was too weak to make a real difference. Others worried that disabled people still faced barriers to challenging discrimination.

Lawyers Chris Benson and Catherine Casserley tell us how they worked to give the DDA more clout. 

This blog is shared as part of a series of stories to celebrate the campaigners who fought for civil rights. You can find out more on our website or on social media using #DDA20.

Catherine Casserley

Catherine is a barrister at Cloisters Chambers. After the DDA was passed she developed the Act in the courts and at the Disability Rights Commission.A picture of activists holding a banner saying Dump the Disability Discrimination Act

Many disabled people had campaigned for civil rights and created the circumstances for the DDA to come into being.

Yet the majority of blind people I supported at the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) had no idea that there was a law to support them when, for example, restaurants turned them away because they had a guide dog.

Often disabled people who knew that they had rights didn’t know lawyers such as myself who were willing to take their cases forward.

It was a very exciting time – working in a new area of law which had the potential to change lives. It wasn’t an ideal piece of legislation – there were faults with it and that was the focus of the campaign work that I was involved in, to secure changes to improve it. But it provided disabled people with a tool to achieve change.

“I don’t want the money”

I represented a young man called David Allen in his case against a bank in 2009. David’s branch was inaccessible to David and all of the bank’s suggestions were impractical or just embarrassed him. We took the case to court, funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the bank offered to settle for £5,000.

I talked over the offer with David because the amount was a lot of money for somebody aged sixteen. But David just asked, “if I take this, will it make a difference for other people?” and I had to tell him that no, it wouldn’t. David, who could really have benefited from that sum of money, simply replied: “in that case I don’t want the money, I want to make a difference for other people”. It was an incredibly selfless gesture from a young man and it was really inspiring.

We turned down the offer, pushed on with the case, and won – the court found that they had failed to make reasonable adjustments. The court required the branch to install a platform lift, at a cost of around £250,000. David was awarded damages of £6,500, increased to £9,000 when the bank unsuccessfully appealed. But the key thing for him was his ability to make a difference for other disabled people.

Chris Benson

FISS05Chris is a solicitor at the firm Leigh Day. In the run-up to the passage of the DDA he was a support worker for adults with learning difficulties. After the law passed he helped develop it in the courts and at the Disability Rights Commission.

I was lucky to get a job in the late 1990s advising disabled people and bringing cases on their behalf. I worked at Salford Law Centre as one of a small group of lawyers with few resources, all working hard to obtain equality for disabled people.

The DDA was really new and most of it had not been tested. I wanted to use the law that I had campaigned for. At the time it felt that the Law Centre was pushing cases, pushing the boundaries of the law, because it was so new.

I was strongly of the view that we could push the law by requesting reasonable adjustments that may have gone slightly beyond what the law would appear to allow. Yet often they would be accepted because the service provider wouldn’t want bad publicity. No business wanted to be the first in Greater Manchester to face a disability discrimination claim.

Pushing the boundaries

It was clear that the campaign angle could be used as well as the law. Both together were powerful. Case law has extended the scope of the DDA far beyond what most people would have dreamed of when they first saw its passing.

I remember the effort of Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability (HAFAD) – or the ‘envelope stuffers’ of the movement.
When you got letters in Salford, hundreds of miles away from the biggest, busiest protests, you got so much inspiration.

Years later, I had the privilege of taking a case on behalf of a former stuffer experiencing discrimination. The case was a strong reminder that the campaign worked because of people doing all sorts of things like envelope stuffing, mailing out letters, keeping together a movement spread across the country.

Find out more about the activists and campaigners who fought for civil rights and about the Disability Discrimination Act

Promoting disabled people’s employment at Conservative Party Conference

Emma Satyamurti, an employment lawyer who specialises in discrimination reports from Scope and the Centre For Social Justice’s panel at The Conservative Party conference. 

Last week I attended the Conservative Party Conference, to participate in a fringe event co-hosted by Scope and the Centre for Social Justice. I had never been to a Party conference before, so it was in a spirit of curiosity that I boarded the train for Manchester.

The event was to discuss the government’s welcome pledge to halve the substantial employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people. I was keen to hear what Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP, would have to say about his plans to achieve this.

The scene was comprehensively set by interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Scope, Mark Atkinson, drawing together the wide range of issues that impact on disabled people’s access to employment and ability to flourish in work, and Scope’s work to address these.

Reasonable adjustments are key

I was able to contribute some observations drawing on my experience both as a disabled person, and as an employment lawyer specialising in discrimination. I was particularly keen to raise the issue of reasonable adjustments and how employers approach this important area, as I feel that this is often the key to unblocking the obstacles disabled people face. I wanted to share my impression that employers generally want to do the right thing, but often lack confidence in exploring and dealing with the needs of their disabled employees.

The good news is that the adjustments disabled people need are often cheap, convenient, and will often benefit others too. I was able to share examples from my legal practise to illustrate this, and from my own experience. As Scope has also highlighted, flexibility is probably the most commonly needed adjustment, and this usually costs little or nothing.

The reasonable adjustments framework is a powerful engine for positive change, not just for disabled employees and job applicants, but for employers too. For individuals, it is an important tool for ensuring a working life free from avoidable disadvantage and from the blight of reduced career opportunities.

For employers, it provides a structured space for having a meaningful dialogue with their disabled employees to ensure that all the talents, commitment, and potential that disabled people bring to work are fully tapped. Everyone wins when this happens. This isn’t about employers kindly giving their disabled employees special treatment. It’s about doing what good employers do anyway – for all their employees; listen to them, nurture their talents, and above all trust them.

“We all have different talents and different needs”

I suggested that an (optional) formal process might help people to request adjustments to make their working life easier, and to begin to break down one of the deepest barriers of all; thinking of disabled people as somehow inherently different from everyone else. We’re not. We all have different talents and different needs; in that sense we really are all in it together.

It was great to hear from the Minister what he is doing, and plans to do, to promote disabled people’s employment. His acknowledgment that this must be meaningful, properly paid work was particularly welcome.

All in all it was a constructive and wide-ranging discussion, with excellent contributions from the packed audience too. I left feeling that it had been a great opportunity to talk about some really important issues and that everyone had made the most of it. Now for the important part – seeing how the words will be translated into action, and action into progress.

Find out about Scope’s event at the Labour Party Conference discussing how we can address the extra costs of disability 

Delivering the Conservative commitment to halve the disability employment gap

The Conservative Party gathered in Manchester this week for their first conference since winning a surprise majority in May’s General Election. We’re making sure they deliver on their promise to halve the disability employment gap. 

In his conference speech, the Prime Minister put social reform at the heart of the Conservative’s agenda for this Parliament. This included a focus on getting people into work, and a reference to equal opportunities for disabled people.

This narrative was also very much reflected in the conference fringe, all of which provided fertile ground for Scope to put forward it’s priority to enable more disabled people to find, stay and progress in work.

Scope was delighted to see the Conservatives commit to halving the disability employment gap, as a result of our pre-election influencing work. As well as holding meetings with a number of newly elected MPs to brief them on disability employment, and our other priorities on the extra costs of disability and social care, we held a fringe meeting with the influential think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, on how the employment gap could halved. As with our Labour conference fringe event on extra costs, the discussion was held in front of a reassuringly packed audience.

Scope’s Chief Executive, Mark Atkinson, set out the scale of the challenge in reducing the 30% gap between the employment rate of disabled people and the wider population, which has remained static for over a decade. He called on Disability Minister, Justin Tomlinson, to tie in disability employment to the Government’s wider economic reform and devolution agendas, and to take responsibility for championing disability employment across Whitehall.

In response, the Minister said that the Prime Minister’s commitment to halve the gap has opened doors for him to drive this agenda across Government. The Government’s Disability Confident campaign was aimed at employers to challenge myths about disabled employees and spread best practice on employing them. Tomlinson said he was now particularly focused on supporting small companies which account for 45% of jobs, and are struggling to recruit staff.

The Minister also said there were not enough interview opportunities at the end of the process for disabled people. In order to address this Tomlinson, and other MPs such as Chloe Smith who was in the audience, were holding local Disability Confident jobs fairs with employers.

The meeting also heard from Emma Satyamurti, an Employment Lawyer who featured in Scope’s ‘100 days, 100 stories’ campaign before the election. Emma said disability employment was one of her favourite areas of practice because there is nothing better than brokering practical solutions that work for everybody, and never hearing from them again!

She said that one of the biggest barriers to increasing the disability employment rate was clients not asking for reasonable adjustments because of a lack of awareness or because of non-disclosure of disability. Emma said that the research found that nearly 50% of disabled job applicants do not feel comfortable disclosing their disability, and that this showed that stigma is still a big problem. She said this was a political and social challenge so that people get the rights and support they are entitled to. Drawing on her personal experience, Emma said that small, one-off workplace adjustments could often make a big difference.

What next to halve the employment gap?

Emma concluded her presentation by welcoming the Government’s commitment to halve the gap, and saying she looked forward to seeing how it unfolds. Scope is very focused on shaping this process going forward.

Our recommendations on how to halve the disability employment gap are central to our submission to government ahead of its spending decisions for the next five years, which will be announced at the end of November (the Government has committed to spending £100 million on improved employment support by 2021), and our proposals to amend the Welfare Reform and Work Bill currently making its way through Parliament.

Scope has put forward amendments on reporting on progress to halve the disability employment gap in the context of full employment, reverse the Government’s proposed cuts to Employment and Support Allowance for the Work Related Activity Group and include a commitment to specialist disability employment support in the Bill.

Find out more how Scope aim to improve the employment of disabled people.

Why decision makers should listen to people with a learning disability about jobs

This week is Learning Disability Week and we have a blog from Mencap’s Campaigns Assistants who have a learning disability, interviewing each other about employment and learning disabilities.

For Learning Disability Week 2015, we want more people to know what a learning disability is – and that includes employers. Members of Mencap’s campaigns team give their thoughts on what the barriers are to finding work, and what needs to change so employers wise-up.

What are your jobs?

Ciara – I’m a full time Campaigns Assistant in Mencap’s Campaigns and activism team. I go out and talk to groups of people with a learning disability about our campaigns and encourage them to sign up. I also go and talk to MPs about the issues people with a learning disability face.

Leroy – I am a Campaigns Assistant also. I do a lot of work on the Changing Places campaign.

Ismail – I am the Parliamentary Affairs Assistant. I work with MP’s and Lords in parliament.

Josie – I am a Campaigns Assistant and I also work on the switchboard at Mencap.

Youssef – I am a Campaigns Assistant / Engager. I like to talk!

What are the barriers to employment that people with a learning disability face?

Leroy – Discrimination at the interview stage. Employers won’t give us a chance because we have a disability.

Josie – Who knows! They should give us a try!

Leroy – We’re not given the opportunity.

Ismail – The interview process isn’t accessible. Work trials are more accessible for people with a learning disability.

Leroy – Some employers are not prepared to make reasonable adjustments to help people at work.

Youssef – Not having accessible documents is a barrier. Like application forms being very long and complicated.

Ismail – Employers not knowing about Access to Work is a barrier. Access to Work can help employers to pay for the extra costs of employing a person with a disability.

Youssef – I think another barrier is people with a learning disability not knowing their rights.

Ismail – Especially around minimum wage and people not getting paid properly.

Ciara – It is important that decision makers listen to people with a learning disability about jobs because we have a right to work and we want to work. Only 7% of people with a learning disability have a job, but at Mencap we know people with a learning disability want to work.

What are some ways people with a learning disability can be supported at work?

Josie – Employers should talk to the person and be patient. Listen to what we need.

Youssef – Shadowing more experienced staff so people can learn the job and see what they do. Work experience and work trials before you get a job to be better prepared.

Leroy – Some jobs can be ring fenced for people with a learning disability. This means that only people with a learning disability can apply for them.

Ismail – Job Carving is cutting up a role into different parts that can become separate jobs.

Ciara – Employers need to make reasonable adjustments for the person when they get the job so they can have the right support to do a job to a good standard and be able to keep the job.

Leroy – Access to Work can pay for job coaches and supporters that can support people with a learning disability to learn the job and in work.

Youssef – If you have trouble travelling it can also help you to get to work.

What would you say about people with a learning disability getting into work to Priti Patel, the Employment Minister?

Leroy – I would say that employers need to think of the person not the disability first and give people a fair chance.

Ciara – I would say to Priti Patel the Employment Minister that it is really important that people with a learning disability are able to get a job with the right support.

Ismail – People don’t want to be felt sorry for. We want the chance to show we can do a job of our choice like any one else. Employment for people with a learning disability is only 7% but many more want to work. I don’t think this is good enough.

Youssef – I want the government to realise that people need help to find a job. They need something to fall back on and get extra help to find jobs – like a pathway.

Ismail – People should have a choice of jobs and get the right support. Access to Work should be known by all employers. This would make sure that people with a learning disability can get the best job for them and get the right support for that individual to do well.

Ciara – People with a learning disability make really good employees and that employers need to hire more employees with a learning disability.

Visit Mencap’s website to find out more about Learning Disability Week and how to get involved or learn about how to become an Inclusive Employer