Why do millions of people with disabilities struggle to find jobs? By Emma Pearson
Why do millions of people with disabilities struggle to find jobs?
How would you feel to be told that your job prospects are virtually zero? To be written off for a job before you even apply? This is the situation thousands of young people across the North East find themselves in, not because they are unintelligent, unreliable or have criminal records - because they are disabled. The Disability Discrimination Act aims to protect disabled people against discrimination and prejudice, both in terms of employment and when using a service or facility. It is unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably for a reason relating to his or her impairment. This applies to all employment matters including recruitment, training, promotion and dismissal. Why then, do millions of people with disabilities struggle to find jobs? Whether it be prejudice, ignorance or a lack of understanding, there are limited prospects for people with disabilities trying to get into the world of work. However one charity has taken a stand against employer prejudice and is actively working to break down barriers, giving young disabled people the skills and experience they need to find employment. The Percy Hedley Foundation is known for being a practical charity, providing much needed support and services for children and adults. In the past five years, something significant and unique has been developed at the Foundation, which furthers the charity’s aim of “promoting the needs, rights and aspirations of disabled people through the provision of high quality, specialist services”. The Employability Project aims to develop employment opportunities for disabled people where they were previously non-existent and develop the skills required for the world of work “How many schools, colleges and service providers actually ask their students what they want to do when they leave and what they aspire to be?” said Employability Project Manager, Ruth Woodfine. “The answer is very few. For these young people to believe in themselves, we have to believe in them. “They have so much to offer. Employers underestimate the potential of disabled staff without really considering what they can do.” Only one in ten people with learning disabilities are employed, despite many having employment aspirations. This number is much lower for people with more severe impairments, many of whom the Foundation works with. The Project works directly with employers, encouraging them to provide opportunities for learners and service users across the Percy Hedley Foundation, in the form of visits, work experience, placements or actual employment. It works at breaking down barriers that employers envisage to employing disabled people and encourages regional organisations to be socially responsible and proactive by acting as a link between employers, supported employment organisations and disabled people. Joe Ayton, Employability Coordinator at the Employability Project, understands how impossible it can seem to get into the world of work. He said: “As a disabled person myself, graduating university and looking for work I had
first-hand knowledge of how difficult and daunting this can be. The project gave me a unique opportunity to work with employers, breaking down some of the barriers perceived by employers in working with disabled people. It also meant I was able to play a part in helping to provide opportunities for young disabled people.” The Project is based at Northern Counties College in Jesmond and is funded by the Department of Health through North East Strategic Health Authority. Helen Binnes, 21, is fulfilling her dream of working in a hospital after studying at the college for three years. She said: “I got a placement at Sunderland Hospital doing business admin, it is my favourite subject. It’s for a year after I finish college. I’ve always wanted to work in healthcare. “I have done some other work experience in Marks and Spencer’s and I am doing a placement at the Metro Centre every Friday on reception. I enjoy it, the people are nice and there are lots of opportunities. “My dream job would be a swimmer. I love to swim. We have got a pool at the college and I am a good swimmer”. Thanks to the support of the staff and the experience gained at the college, Helen is ready to plunge into working life: “I am more independent now because of the life skills and the staff. They have helped me to prepare for the future.” Abbey, 20, is one of the fortunate students who was offered employment after completing her work experience at Eversheds. She said: “I started work at Eversheds in March. I was working in the office doing job cards. I learnt communication skills, time management and ICT skills.” Suzanne Butcher, from Eversheds, said: “We have been working with the Employability Project now for three years. The staff find it absolutely fantastic. A couple of years ago we got involved in work experience to provide business admin experience to the learners. “It has been a pleasure to work with Abbey and her enthusiasm for the role has been fantastic. She has even taught us some sign language. It has been a motivational experience for everyone involved. The Project is now in its fifth year and continues to break down barriers and raise disability awareness with employers and staff at a multitude of organisations. More importantly, it encourages young disabled people to realise their potential and aspirations, which is often the biggest step of all.