Well, you could join in and ask your employer if they’d consider a change in their building’s appearance for a day, or you could use the IDPD to think of ways that you and those around you could be more inclusive, both professionally and personally.
Jennie Williams, founder and CEO of Enhance the UK, a charity which aims to challenge perceptions of disability through its campaigning work and its disability awareness training has been named in the prestigious Shaw Trust Power 100 List. Now in its fifth year the Power 100 List celebrates the achievements of individuals who strive to break down barriers around disability to create a more inclusive world.
By Gary Mazin
There has been a lot of press coverage recently about how the Government is falling behind its own targets to have more than 60% of disabled people in work by the end of the decade.
The number of people with disabilities in work is low. Less than half of working age people with disabilities in the UK are in employment, compared to 76% of non-disabled adults. This gap equates to two million disabled people, currently excluded from employment. Why does this gap exist, and how can it be closed?
This is no surprise to me unfortunately, as from my own personal experience I have found that many people and organisations have no intention or wish to employ disabled people. Obviously they will never openly admit this, but from someone who has had their ear to many senior managers in organisations large and small the truth is often more brutal.
Why am I not surprised you might ask? Well I spent more than 10 years working in the recruitment industry, supplying people into the media and creative sector from all ages and levels of experience.
And I have a disability.
So with the combination of the two, I’ve seen how when you look at the recruitment process, disabled people are still being excluded from the system in many ways.
My disability is degenerative and I spent most of my 20s and early 30s hiding my disability from as many people as possible. I did tell my managers and close colleagues, and kept it hidden as much as possible. My reasons were quite simple. As soon as I told someone that I was partially sighted with hearing loss, I could see the immediate reaction and it was rarely positive.
Most of the time people just looked like a rabbit in the headlights and didn’t know what to say apart from “I’m sorry”. You can see their inner monologue shouting at them to ‘act naturally’ or ‘don’t say anything stupid’. By this point I’ve realised that our work relationship has changed, and unfortunately I was never confident or experienced enough to know how to handle these situations myself at the time. There is no training manual given to people with a disability on how to deal with embarrassing or awkward conversations.
I was one of the fortunate people that have a disability and have been mostly in employment for the past 20 years of my life. But the reality is that less than 50% of people who have a disability in the UK are employed. So what can we do? The government seem to think they have a solution, but at the moment it’s not working quickly or effectively enough, as the recent statistics show.
In my opinion a lot of the failings start with poor communication and a lack of understanding. Sure there are more and more organisations that are fulfilling the two tick kite marking system (where they guarantee that an applicant with a disability will get an interview, as long as they meet the standard criteria). This system works for larger organisations usually within the public sector, but there are many many private companies who do not employ this strategy or have any reason to.
When I was working in recruitment I spent a lot of my time helping candidates improve their chances of getting the job they wanted. This was through guidance with their CV, giving them interview tips and techniques as well as general information and help. Having a disability myself I noticed that I was always more astute and aware if someone had a disability or impairment. I found that in most cases people with a disability didn’t know how to broach the subject when applying for a job.
Do they put something on their CV? This is generally seen as the human shop window and people find it very hard to write about themselves, let alone know how they would broach the subject of a disability.
Then there’s the question of whether they tell the company before they have an interview so that the organisation can make reasonable adjustments if needed. The whole area is a minefield and often makes the person with a disability feel more isolated and highlighting their difference even more. I’m sure there were a lot of candidates who had some impairment but was keeping it secret, like I did for so long.
Unfortunately many organisations do not do themselves credit when it comes to the point of encouraging people with a disability to apply for a job. It’s normal for an employer not to have met someone in a wheelchair or a guide dog owner within their work day to day life. They see plenty of information if they’ve watched the Paralympics or seen a cute guide dog programme on the TV. Although one in five people do have a disability, the reality is that you just don’t see enough disabled people in the workplace.
One particular example springs to mind where I was helping a media organisation hire a typesetter to help design their newsletters. I had a very strong candidate apply who met all the criteria of the job and had all the experience required, it helped that she had a warm and friendly personality. She had a visual impairment and needed a screen magnifier.
After speaking to the client they made the reasonable adjustments and she had the interview and took the test on the magnified screen. I was hopeful that she was a strong candidate as in my mind she did everything required. The feedback I received about her really shook me to the core:
“Lovely girl, but I really can’t be doing with all the hassle of employing someone like that. They’re just too much trouble.”
This came from a manager of an organisation with over 1.000 employees in one office alone. How could I respond to that? I was completely flabbergasted and somewhat aghast, especially as they were my client and I had built up an excellent relationship with them. I just didn’t know how to reply. I received an official email half an hour later which explained that the reason they didn’t want to take her application any further was because they didn’t feel she was “a good team fit” and that she didn’t have quite enough experience of working on one piece of software (she did).
When it came to passing my feedback onto the candidate, I decided to try and be honest without intentionally upsetting her. Once I explained about how they just didn’t think she’d be a fit within the team she sighed and said “It’s because of my eyesight isn’t it?” I was crestfallen for her, having had my own knockbacks and rejections due to having a disability I totally understood her resignation of it being about her disability and not her ability to do the job.
The fact remains that the company officially didn’t hire her because of fair reasons, but I know the truth which was quite simply discrimination. During my tenure as a recruitment consultant it became clear to me that discrimination in many forms was still very apparent, and often not subtly hidden. Particularly with regards to disability. I don’t want to generalise but Scope conducted a survey where they discovered that 67% of people actively avoid approaching someone with a disability as they’re afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. It’s not difficult to transfer that to the workplace and discover that many people quite simply are scared of disability, or the unknown.
Since I’ve started as a Disability Awareness Trainer it’s made me even more aware how far we have to go with regards to breaking down these barriers of communication. Until disabled people are fully welcomed socially and with open and honest communication there will still be a real problem bridging this disability employment gap. I’d like to hope that organisations will start to look at their internal teams and think about whether they’re doing enough to be inclusive. A good start is making sure that all Managers and HR staff know the best way to communicate with someone with a disability. Making the organisations self-aware and looking at how they can improve accessibility, whether it be socially, or physically. Once these barriers start to come down, then we can look at how companies can encourage more disabled people to apply. Until we start being more honest and open about our inexperience and lack of communication skills, this gap will never disappear.
Enhance the UK run disability awareness training workshops that can help your organisation become more accessible and equip your staff with knowledge and skills that will help them communicate better with deaf and disabled people. For more information visit www.enhancetheuk.org
There has been an interesting meme circulating from disability web site The Mighty this week. It compares Donald Trump’s now notorious mocking of a reporter with C.P with the Ben Stiller Hollywood spoof Tropic Thunder. If you haven’t seen the film I will do my best to explain it in a moment but my best advice before reading this blog is to shut down this window, go to Netflix or Amazon, rent or buy it, sit down with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy. It really is one of the most amusing films I’ve seen in the last couple of years. If you can’t be bothered to do that here’s a basic rundown of the plot and why it’s got certain people hot under the collar. It tells the tale of three Hollywood A listers attempting to make a ‘true’ Vietnam blockbuster. The stars of this ill-fated venture include Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr) an intense ‘method’ actor who has changed the colour of his skin to play an African American soldier and Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) a fading action star trying to move into serious acting. A running joke throughout the film is Speedman’s previous attempt at drama, an almighty flop called ‘Simple Jack’ in which he plays a mentally challenged man in the same vein of Forrest Gump.
Many American disabled rights campaigners ask how is the portrayal of people with learning difficulties in this film any different to Trump’s ill-taste joke at the expense of a person with a physical disability and claim there is a double standard. But what these people seem to fail to realise is that the difference between these two incidences are not that they target people with different disabilities but they actually are mocking two groups, one of whom is not disabled at all. Tropic Thunder is not attempting to look at people with learning difficulties in a sneering and amusing way but is satirising the way such people are often used as fodder by studios to tug at heartstrings and grab at awards. There isn’t a character with a learning disability in the film, just a portrayal of a very poorly acted character that is meant to have some kind of mental problem. It is showing how such characters are very often highly inaccurate and just constructed for the purpose of story. The cynicism is crystalized in this exchange between Lazarus and Speedman where the more savvy thespian explains why ‘Simple Jack’ failed to be the hit to launch Speedman as an legitimate star
Kirk Lazarus: Everybody knows you never go full retard.
Tugg Speedman: What do you mean?
Kirk Lazarus: Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, ‘Rain Man,’ look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho’. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, ‘Forrest Gump.’ Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain’t retarded. Peter Sellers, “Being There.” Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don’t buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, “I Am Sam.” Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed…
This exchange demonstrates the way Hollywood looks at people with learning difficulties. Forrest Gump or Raymond Babbitt are no more real or heartfelt imaginings of people with mental problems than the character of Kirk Lazarus, a blonde haired, blue eyed Aussie actor is of the real black soldier he is meant to be playing. The fact that Stiller has the words coming out the mouth of a character who ends the film having a mental breakdown because he has gone so ‘deep’ into his role that he literally can’t remember who he is himself shows how shallow and unrealistic such films are.
Of course, one could argue that the very use of the word ‘retard’ is deeply insulting to those with learning or mental disabilities and indeed it is. But as I wrote in a previous blog, words do not exist out of context. It is the same reason that the 60s sitcom ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ cannot be considered racist. What Alf Garnet says about black people is appalling but we’re never left in any doubt that he is an ill-educated idiot. Likewise Stiller and Downey’s characters are the punchline of the movie, spoilt, self-obsessed stars so removed from the real world that they know nothing about those with learning difficulties, or indeed, reality in general. Some people claim that if Stiller had a child with mental problems he would never have made such a joke but if he did maybe the joke would have been even more fitting as it would prove that he knew that such roles are laughably unrealistic.
Which brings us back to Donald Trump. Trump’s actions in response to the disabled reporter’s questions had no such awareness to them. What he intended was to make the man with C.P look the fool but in doing so he simply displayed his own ignorance. The difference is that Trump is a real person, not a satiric character and a particularly bigoted one at that. And the real danger is that he is aiming for a position of power. Even after all I’ve said, you still disapprove of Tropic Thunder, at least you can just dismiss it as not very good entertainment which you cannot do with Trump.
When Jennie (the CEO for Enhance the UK) asked me if I would like to write a blog, I was a tad hesitant to say the least. What I currently know about the blogosphere (Google is my friend) can be written on a postage stamp. What can I write about, I thought and then it dawned on me. I could blog about my experiences working with Enhance the UK.
I am in a lucky position to work on a freelance basis as the Head of Training for Enhance the UK, a charity I am passionate about. Not many people are able to say that they look forward to going to work and that no two days are the same. Furthermore, without wishing to sound gushy, I genuinely believe that as a collective everyone who is involved with Enhance makes a difference. That’s not to say that it’s all sweetness and light; some days can be frustrating and you feel like you are taking one step forward and two steps back.
So what do I do for Enhance? Good question … a bit of all sorts really. I am one of the Disability and Communication Awareness trainers. I mostly provide the communication element as I am profoundly deaf and wear a cochlear implant. I love delivering the training as it’s always good fun. PowerPoint is a swear word at Enhance and is banished. The training is always really interactive and tailored to meet the needs of the delegates so no two days are ever the same. This keeps me on my toes. It is really rewarding to see the change throughout the day to the group of people who enter the training room at the beginning. They often start looking anxious and unsure of exactly what to say as they trudge through the minefield of what disability related language to use so that they don’t offend. By the end of the day they always look more relaxed and that fearful look on their faces has disappeared. That to me is a job well done. I wholeheartedly believe that removing the fear factor around disability is essential.
I also attend schools and deliver disability workshops to children in primary and secondary schools. Although it’s hard work dealing with children aged 4 and upwards all day this is one of my favourite elements of working with Enhance. Children are naturally inquisitive about disability and their curiosity is crushed at a young age by adults who tell them not to ask questions or stare. I have lost count of the number of times that a child has poked my implant asking what it is or asked why I am waving my hands around funnily in the air. The response of the parent is always along the lines of turning red with embarrassment, looking like they want the ground to swallow them up and shushing their child whilst apologising to me. I think this is a crying shame. Children should be able to learn about disability in an open and safe environment and this is what we achieve with Enhance. Talking about disability, playing games related to disability and answering questions allows children to learn positive messages about disability which we hope they will take with them into adulthood.
It’s not all fun training days though. I do a lot of putting pen to paper. I can often be found writing letters to companies, writing policies and strategies and filling in grant application forms to name a few. Anyway that’s a little about me and the work that I do. Look out for my next update as to what’s been happening behind the scenes at Enhance the UK.
Now I know that I just think differently.
The main reason is that I first learned language in a different way.
I heard things in English but said them in another language—sign language.
I did this because even though I can hear, I have speech challenges and am deaf in one ear. I live in two worlds, hearing and ASL, and neither world exactly understands what’s its like to be me.
I don’t think in a straight line.
I think in all directions at once. For example, when I buy a gift, I know that person in 3D and know what is perfect for them.
I think now and ahead at the same time.
I plan my week on the weekend and get up very early in the morning so I am prepared.
I organize what I learn in folders in my mind, like school folder, family folder, birthday folder, shopping folder, where you put your keys folder. This lets me remember everything I see and hear.
ASL feels different than English. You see it, not hear it. For example, when you want to say good job, you hold up your thumb. That’s what ASL words feel like.
I think of words 3 ways at the same time; the thing, the word and the sign.
Sign language skips a lot of words so its easy to leave English words out and put them in the wrong order.
I want to walk is I want walk.
I will ask her to pick her up is I will ask her to picking up her.
Two different words in English, can be one word in sign.
You put your hand on your chest to say both My or mine. So writing ASL to English might be Mine clothes are on the table.
One sign can mean 3 English words.
Moving your hand in front of your face means pretty, handsome, beautiful.
Some words I have never said. I might know the sign but I have never heard the word or the answer.
For example, my driver’s test asked about an intersection. I have been in an intersection before but had never had a word for it. So when I read it, I didn’t know what the word meant.
Reading helps me with language, but I still need to translate words.
Math has more language to deal with than people think and they assume I know what things mean. A lot of words mean different things in math than in English like times.
For algebra, I need to write every step. I like to check it right after so I can clear my head. On tests, if there are a lot of steps to remember, I get blank and nervous. Geometry is easier for me than algebra because its not a lot of steps.
To me, sign communicates feelings, not just words. Just like music.
I can communicate important things or deep feelings by writing them. But I am grateful to have someone who understands sign.
I have to be determined and creative to get help because teachers don’t understand me.
When people are not patient and try to do things for me, I have to either fight back or give in.
In big groups, its hard to get people’s attention so I have to listen carefully and wait a lot.
I work really hard and have to hold a lot of things in my head.
So what does this all mean. It means:
I am creative, resourceful and determined
I am super sensitive to seeing and listening
I really want to communicate
I want the world to see who I am
Sometimes I’m exhausted.
Check out Brittany in her American Sign Language Music Video just below!
I have a speech disability and hearing loss in in one ear. Because I can’t talk, I have been using sign language to communicate with my family since the age of two.
Throughout elementary and middle school I struggled with the limitations of my disabilities, but I have also found different ways to communicate and overcome many obstacles. For example, a difficulty was when kids would tease me or bully me in school. As painful as that was, I refused to be silent. I always told the teachers or my parents what was happening and managed to have good friends at school.
I have been mainstreamed in school my whole life, and my peers did not know sign language. Since I started high school, my old friends began to change and became distant from me. High school has been a very painful experience in many ways because of isolation and depression. I often asked my mom if I could be home-schooled because it was so hard. But the pain of high school has led me to in the past four years to get involved in the world of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people where sign language communication has been easier for me. I took American Sign Language classes at College of Marin where I became a teacher’s aide. Later I went to a camp at Gallaudet University, and I was also a counselor at a Lyons Club camp for Deaf kids one summer. What I realized from these experiences is that I feel the most comfortable with hearing or hard-of-hearing people who know sign language like me. I don’t identify as well with the Deaf community who have their own culture and cultural norms. In many ways I feel I am living between two worlds, the non-signing and hearing world, and the signing Deaf worlds. This is not an easy place to be.
An example living between two worlds is that sometimes it’s embarrassing when I use sign language if I am out at a restaurant or when I meet new people. They assume I am Deaf, and I feel misunderstood. On the other hand, I am not fully comfortable communicating with Deaf people because the way I like to communicate is with my voice and sign language at the same time, and most Deaf people just use sign language. Because I can hear, I also rely on listening to people speaking. If a deaf person signs really fast and they don’t use their voice, it’s hard for me to understand them.
But on a positive note, I have some advantages because I can communicate in two languages and be part of both the Deaf and hearing world. In many ways I am able to relate to people from two worlds. I have had some amazing opportunities like making a music video with a Deaf performer, and meeting Deaf celebrities like Marlee Maltin, Sean Berdy and Sean Forbes. I think when I could not communicate with hearing people at school I became a very good observer and listener. I have learned to listen to other peoples’ ideas and opinions. I notice that because I am such a good observer I remember things very well. I am also a visual person and use my eyes all the time. When I remember things, I see pictures more than remembering the words.
I am continuing to search for better ways to communicate and make friends who are like me. I would like to find a community of people who can sign and talk. In choosing a college or university I am hoping to find a signing community. My goals in college are to study fashion and marketing and continue to play soccer, but I also hope to find a place in the college community where I feel like I fit in.
Life was good for Andy Trollope, running his own business Brunel Motors and enjoying a successful career as as professional moto x racer.
Although it was hard juggling a full time job and competing at the highest level he thrived on the satisfaction sustained from leading a very busy and active life. On the 27th of July 2008 that all changed while competing at a British championship race meeting Andy had a very slow speed crash which changed his life for ever.
He broke his back and damaged his spinal cord leaving Andy a T5 paraplegic, which basically means that he was left paralysed from the chest down with no feeling or movement below the chest.
Andy says that very early in his rehab he was told by his case manager that there were two options to deal with his injury: give up and sit around doing nothing or grasp life and live it to the full. This may sound harsh but Andy says this was the best advice ever given to him.
He worked hard during his rehab at Stoke Mandeville Spinal Unit and was discharged four months later. A month after discharge Andy was easing his way back into work and exploring the many sporting options available to a full time wheel chair user. After trying virtually every sport out there he was struggling to find anything that gave him the exhilaration he found from moto x. That was until a year after his accident he went on a skiing trip and learnt how to mono ski.
He now takes yearly trips to the USA to compete, teach and enjoy the freedom being able to free ski unaided. It was through skiing that Andy found out about adapted water skiing. Between these two sports Andy at last had now found two sports that gave him the adrenalin rush that he so desperately craved.
Andy is now a fully qualified water ski instructor. He regularly teaches people with many different disabilities from spinal cord injuries, visual impairment and learning difficulties which Andy says he finds just as rewarding if not more so than skiing for himself.
Andy is now back at work full time working as both a mechanic and continuing with the day to day running of Brunel Motors. He became involved with Enhance the UK after a chance meeting with the founder of Enhance Jennie Williams at the mobility road show in 2011 when she asked him to fill out a questionnaire about the difficulties of forming relationships and dating from a wheelchair users perspective.
This was the first time Andy had heard of anyone trying to approach and help people with the sometimes daunting prospect of dating and forming relationships for people with disabilities and was immediately impressed with the concept. After keeping in touch with Jennie and finding out about all the other ways Enhance was trying to break down the barriers educate people about many different disabilities, not just in dating but in everyday life, he was very keen to get involved in anyway that he could help.
In 2012 Andy was made a Trustee of Enhance and is very passionate about the need to spread the word about the great work that Enhance are doing. In his own words Andy said, “I believe that the need for education and advice that Enhance The UK can offer people with or with out a disability is invaluable and as a fultime wheel chair user i think that i can offer another perspective to help get this message out there.”
Enhance Managing Director Jennie Williams appeared on Conscious TV recently, talking about the challenge of disability. Watch the video on Conscious TV, or read the transcript here.