Disability Discrimination in the Workplace
A few weeks ago, I asked my Facebook followers whether they felt that individuals are still being discriminated against for their disability in the workplace. Out of the 166 respondents, a shocking 89% answered 'Yes.' So with 19% of the adult working age people being labelled as disabled in the UK, why is the community still facing such adversity?!
According to the charity Scope, disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than their able-bodied peers. Just the concept of disability discrimination can put employers off giving disabled people the opportunity to excel in a career but with the laws and help available, it's worrying to hear that people are still experiencing problems in the workplace.
What is discrimination?
Discrimination can come in two forms - direct and indirect.
Direct disability discrimination is when you are treated differently because of a disability, such as being denied access to a building or your employer not making reasonable adjustments to your environment.
Indirect discrimination is often more difficult to identify and it is when a policy or procedure, which applies to everyone, puts disabled people at an unfair disadvantage. An example or this would be if you were a wheelchair user and your employer took an active decision to move offices to an inaccessible location. Although this would apply to everyone, it would put the wheelchair user at an unfair disadvantage.
My personal experience
Naively, I didn't appreciate the impact of disability discrimination on employees. I have previously been rejected from positions because of my disability and I accepted that as a part of searching for a position however I never would have imagined that I would be the victim of direct discrimination.
Without going into too much detail and disclosing the organisation, one of my positions is in a very open-minded and accepting environment. I fully appreciate how fortunate I am to be a very able-bodied disabled person and my ability to finish my degree to allow myself more career opportunities for my future.
I started this position with my current level of ability and had warned them that I might very occasionally need to use a wheelchair. Three months into the position and I had unfortunately acquired an injury in my right knee and left ankle. With the possibility of an 8 hour standing shift, I decided to let the team know that I would be using my chair and they were very supportive at the time, checking to see if they needed to adapt anything for me.
The following morning when I visited my place of work, I had an extremely difficult day through a few incidents, including the suggestion of me needed to go home because I would not be allowed to work in a wheelchair. I was also told that I was not able to perform certain tasks and was left feeling extremely upset and confused, eventually resulting in a call to HR.
I didn't feel able to confront the individual however I was shocked to hear the HR were not able to do anything except simply speak to the individual. After a meeting with the individual, I felt a lot better and I tried to educate them on disability and how it feels to be a victim of direct discrimination.
As a disabled person, you become accustom to being told what you are able and not able to do by strangers, teachers, parents and carers. You learn your own abilities and adaptations while the world continues to shut (or try to shut) you down. When you have an opportunity to showcase your abilities and shut down the individuals who are trying to limit you, you have to stand up - this is what I felt needed to happen in my organisation.
Disability discrimination is difficult, especially for the victims concerned, but it's also important to report and talk to your employers about. I certainly felt a lot better once the situation had settled down and sometimes through ignorance comes discrimination.
I'm always here for anyone who is a victim of discrimination and would like to talk - just get in contact!