Despite disability discrimination being illegal under the Equality Act 2010, many people with disabilities find getting work difficult – either through direct discrimination during the application process, or because health issues affect their working pattern.
In a recent case, a DWP worker was awarded £26,000 in compensation after his employer was found to have discriminated against him, after he took time off for medical reasons. Barrie Caulcutt had suffered an athmas attack at work and his employer had called him "a whinger". He was given a written warning for taking two and a half days off sick more than he was allowed.
Here Lasiân, of the Online Community Interns at disability charity Scope, tells us about her experience of trying to find work. When her dreams of being a nurse were dashed due to her health conditions, Lasiân found another avenue thanks to Scope’s Kickstart employment service – which provides personalised support for disabled people to find, apply for and keep a job.
She says, "Like most of my family, I had been set on becoming a nurse. I was excited when I got into my preferred University (despite fainting in the middle of an exam and struggling to stay awake for coursework) until I realised I didn’t feel able to complete the training or have a career in nursing with my health conditions – Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS) and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS).
"While trying to make new plans after improving from a bad year of barely being able to function out of bed, I found I couldn’t think of anything that I would be both content and physically able to do. I started applying for any job that seemed suitable but still didn’t have much luck.
"When I disclosed my health conditions on applications, I encountered mostly silence back from employers. If I hadn’t disclosed them and then had an interview where I had to discuss adjustments, I was told at the end that it went “really well” yet I wouldn’t hear anything back regarding the role. I had once been in a job for a couple of weeks when they told me to go home early to rest and that they would call me when they needed me – they never contacted me again. Lasiân,
"Frustratingly, when I had a job it impacted my conditions so much that I felt horrible at work and didn’t feel well enough to do anything outside of it. It felt like my life had gotten stuck.
"I was almost convinced I wasn’t suited to work when I finally found Kickstart on the internet. One of my first tasks after starting the service was to create an action plan with my advisor Mel for what I wanted to achieve and how I could get there – I had proof with each completed task that I was moving forward."
Lasian researched exactly what various careers involved and routes into them, made a list of her skills and focused on the fact that her experience as a disabled person has developed some skills that she otherwise might not have.
Lasiân added, "Before starting with Kickstart I hardly had any knowledge of what help I could access, so thought that employers would find any adjustments I required unjustifiable or that I was just incompatible. My advisor talked me through my entitlements and helped me to think of reasonable adjustments that would make jobs suitable for me. I became more comfortable stating what I needed and being assertive if they weren’t met. However, my role at Scope and how readily adjustments have been made might put me out of practice in this department!
"I was never guilted or asked for justification if I needed a cab reimbursed to help me get to our meeting place, I was offered Skype or telephone calls when I couldn’t travel at all, and there was no frustration when I had to cancel because I felt too unwell. Because of this, I’ve made it to meetings that I would have otherwise missed. My advisor is so understanding, and our meetings are always enjoyable while also being constructive (even when we’re laughing too much!).
"I still struggle with feeling that I should be superhuman in all other ways to “compensate” for my health, and then dealing with the disappointment when I fail to develop the ability to fly or do everything without help, but Kickstart has helped to build my confidence and develop my skills for the future. Even more, the service and Scope itself have made it clear that I don’t need to make up for just being me."
If an employer is discriminating against you because of your disability, you should contact your union or solicitor for advice. Some helpful contacts are:
• Visit Scope's Online Community, where disabled people, parents and carers can get advice, information and, can talk to people about their experiences.
• See Mind for legal rights information regarding mental health discrimination.