Why it’s challenging to get a job as a disabled person

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I don’t know a single person that enjoys the task of job hunting. With the work climate being what it is, job openings seem few and far between. When a position does open up, dozens of candidates apply. It seems an impossible task for anyone. Now, think about what would happen if you couldn’t fill in the application form because it overwhelms you. Or if the place that’s interviewing isn’t that accessible. Or, recruiters tell you they’ve found a more suitable candidate even though you know you can do the job.  

This is the reality for most disabled and neurodiverse job seekers, and it plays a significant factor in why disability employment in the UK is so low. It’s not that the entire community doesn’t want to work; it’s that companies are unwilling to take the risk of hiring someone with a disability. Though, they like to pretend otherwise.

So, what’s the issue?

The disability employment gap refers to the gap in employment rates between disabled and non-disabled people. According to official numbers published by the Department of Work and Pensions, only 52% of disabled people are currently employed, versus 81% of non-disabled people.

It’s worth noting the 52% mentioned in the report are people that the government recognise as having a disability. That is to mean anyone that has been able to get medically diagnosed with their disability. The government aims to increase the percentage of disabled people working every quarter, but progress is slow.

Disabled and neurodiverse people are protected against discrimination by the Equality Act (2010), which succeeded the Disability Discrimination Act (2005). This protection allows the disabled community access to work and education and public services without fear of prejudice.

That doesn’t stop it from happening.

Many disabled people who job hunt can’t even get past the recruitment process. That can be for several reasons, such as inaccessible job applications, gatekeeping the position through needed experience, and the location being inaccessible. And this is before a person even makes it to interview.

Now, there is an option on most job applications that give you a choice to declare your disability. With some companies going as far as to say by ticking the box, you’re guaranteed an interview. You’re left with the internal battle of deciding whether declaring your disability will help or hinder you here.

Whilst deciding to declare your disability may make you feel uncomfortable, it may make you feel better to know many companies go as far as to guarantee minority applicants an interview. This is known as positive action and it’s when employers take steps to compensate for a disadvantage faced by people in a group protected by the Equality Act.

But, against all odds, what happens if we get hired? Well, in my experience, I’ve noticed a trend. Disabled people are far less likely to job hop when they are employed because it can take so long to get hired in the first place. I’ve also noticed that those with disabilities tend to gravitate towards desk jobs because it can cut out some barriers, or they stick in jobs that are perhaps not ideal for their disability but offer them security. For example, the SAP Autism at Work programme has a reported 90% retention rate.

Given the undercurrent of discrimination and ableism still prevalent in the hiring process, it’s a wonder how the disability employment gap will ever shrink, which is a shame because disabled and neurodiverse candidates are some of the most driven, creative people.

@byakko8 tweeted on Mar 21, 2021: "The reality of job hunting & being disabled. I've spent nearly 1/3 of my 20s unemployed searching for work. By this time next year I'll have finished my third degree. If you want employees with a strong work ethic, resilience & qualifications - don't ignore disabled candidates."
Quoted tweet by @AngieBeatDown on Mar 19, 2021: "1564 jobs applied for. 156 job interviews. 155 job rejections. And I finally have a job!! I start 6th of April"
Click here to see the original tweet

What’s the solution?

The problem boils down to preconceptions, stereotypes and good old-fashioned lack of communication. So, here are some solutions.

  • The best way forward is raising awareness and communicating with one another. Listen to disabled candidates. They’ll tell you exactly what they want and need.
  • Most companies need to have their, hiring, retention and inclusion processes overhauled. When this happens, they need to make sure people the changes will affect i.e. minorities are part of the discussion.
  • Companies should look at their entire infrastructure whilst asking how they can improve. This can include things like making sure their website is accessible and that office spaces are designed with mobility in mind.
  • Make it clear that as a company you’re happy to hire a person with a disability or neurodivergence. Then prove it by signing up for courses or show how you’re willing to adapt for someone.
  • If you interview someone with a disability, don’t shy away from the topic of disability. Ask active questions. See if their disability will impact the way they do the job. If it will, work on a plan that lessens the impact.

All of these points are about gaining and retaining disabled workers and all of them can be achieved by open communication and a willingness to adapt.

Where to start

Change can be tricky, so here’s a list of organisations dedicated to breaking down barriers for those who want to hire more disabled people and those who want to get hired.

For companies that want to hire disabled people

  • The ‘Disability Confident’ scheme: Nearly twenty thousand companies across the UK have already joined. The aim is to encourage employers to think differently about disability. The course disabled people developed focuses on improving the recruitment, retention, and development of disabled employees.
  • The ‘Access to Work’ scheme is a grant that can be applied for if you’re looking to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace on behalf of a disabled employee.  
  • Bua Consultancy aims to increase levels of disabled and neurodiverse employment. They do this by providing talks, training and tips for employers.

For disabled or neurodiverse job seekers

  • Scope offers a ‘Support to Work’ scheme, a free online program aimed at helping those with disabilities get paid work. They offer help with CV writing mock interviews and tell you where’s best to look for jobs and much more.  
  • The jobcentre is currently undergoing accessibility training to improve the service’s experience for those with autism and other disabilities. Twenty-six thousand employees are presently being coached through this new program.

Companies that help disabled job seekers and employers

  • Evenbreak is dedicated to bridging the gap between disabled candidates and employers by using their accessible job board. Where companies can post jobs, already knowing the candidates are disabled. Evenbreak also offers events through their career hive to help companies improve their accessibility.
  • Bua also offers individual training for disabled candidates who want to break into the creative industry.

About the author

Lauren is a freelance writer from Falmouth. After graduating from university, she took a keen interest in writing about disability, so her story and others like it could be told with passion and conviction.

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