Thursday, 22 July 2010

Would you hire a disabled person? Honestly?

So how many people have filled in job application forms and come across questions about your health such as: "How many days have you been sick? How does this reflect your usual level of sickness?" and then the sentence "An offer of appointment will be subject to completion of a health questionnaire."

Under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) it's illegal to discrimate against candidates on the basis of a disability. But why would any company ask such questions if it doesn't have the intention of weeding out the physically weaker amongst it's candidates?

The DDA act has a major loophole that massively works against a disabled person. You're meant to disclose a disability BEFORE you are given a job offer, in theory so that the company knows it can make reasonable adjustments to your condition. If you don't do so then you risk adjustments not being made to suit your disability, or worse, being accussed of misleading your employer about your abilities. But how would you ever know that the employer balked at the thought of hiring someone disabled and turned you down for the position purely because of your illness? Disabled people have to make the decision whether to declare or not to declare. Personally if your illness isn't obvious I recommend keeping quiet. If it is obvious, directly raise the issue in your job interview, even if your employer does not, and make your case for why it won't affect your work.

Recent government proposals have focused on getting people off incapacity benefits and back into work. Ian Duncan Smith talks passionately about not letting people "languish" on incapacity benefit, and wants to work with them to help improve their job prospects.

But let's just acknowledge the white elephant in the room surrounding these proposals. Improving a disabled person's attitude to work is just half of it. Employers also need to change their attitude to disabled people.

A survey carried out in June 2009 for the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) found that 73% of employers would not hire people on Incapacity Benefit (now Employment and Support Allowance) or older people.

Every business needs to make a profit and I suppose an uneducated employer believes that someone with a disability will take more time off sick, complete less work and be overall less productive.

Well as someone who worked very hard for years while living with CF the reality is different:
  • I took less time off work for run of the mill illnesses as I didn't want to seem like I was always being ill. 
  • Since I was little I've been subject to a very strict medical regime, which when translated to a work environment meant I was incredibly well organised and worked very efficiently.
  • I was good at problem solving as I've often had to find ingenious ways to manage my health while out and about (think sitting in a police riot van to use my electric nebuliser when I couldn't find a plug anywhere else) - lateral thinking that is easy transferable and beneficial to a working environment. 
  • And crises at work get solved because I've gone through worse things in life - a cool, level head can normally find a way to solve even the biggest cock-ups
Overall many disabled people have an attitude and life skills which bring diversity and strength to a work force. But unless perceptions radically change amongst employers disabled people will continue to face insurmountable barriers when trying to get back into work - work which is hard enough for anyone to find during these weak economic times.

If the government really wants to reduce what it spends on disabled people it must find a way to open the eyes of employers so they become willing to see past their fears and instead recognise the positive aspects an illness can bring.

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