Sunday 28 June 2015

Is Disability Confident Too Embarrassed To Talk About Disability Discrimination?

We see it time and again, some DWP apparatchik or businessman tweeting that the only cause of the disability employment gap - the 2 million or so disabled people who should be in work if we were employed at the same rate as non-disabled people - is that business is embarrassed by disability.

Now that would be bad enough, it would be like employers being embarrassed that a job applicant is black, or a woman, or gay, or Muslim, and denying them a job because of that. But when we talk about people being denied jobs over their ethnicity, their gender, their sexual orientation or their religion, we don't call it 'embarrassment', we call it discrimination. Why is disability different?

In part this may be a historical problem common across the whole non-disabled population. I've had non-disabled people tell me I'm lying when I describe on-street harassment, up to and including physical assault, that has happened to me personally and where disability was clearly identified by the perpetrators as the reason for the attack. For some endearingly naive people this is part of a refusal to believe that anyone could attack disabled people, though sadly this is usually often coupled with a perception of us as less than adult. For others the reasoning seems murkier, perhaps because harassing disabled people as 'scroungers' and 'frauds' is something they feel encouraged towards by right-wing media and the scrounger rhetoric it has rammed down our throat for five years now, and to admit that that is discrimination would be to condemn themselves.

It may be that the designers of Disability Confident at the Department of Work and Pensions shared that problem, and sought frantically for some reason that would explain 2 million disabled people denied work without needing them to use the discrimination-word. But shyness and sensitivity are not qualities typically associated with DWP, so why 'embarrassed'? Why not 'bias'? Why not 'widespread contempt for Equality Act 2010'? Why not 'bigotry'? There are plenty of options that could have condemned the failure of employers to employ disabled people at the same rate as non-disabled, yet DWP chose to go with 'embarrassed'.

So when an employer bins a CV because it mentions disability, he's embarrassed?
So when an employer discounts a disabled applicant because they turn out to be disabled at interview, it's because he's embarrassed?
So when an employer forces a disabled worker out for daring to ask for a reasonable adjustment under EA2010, he's embarrassed?
So when an employer bullies a disabled person until finally they can't take any more, it's just a little light-hearted embarrassment between friends?

Let's remember that the latest Workfare figures show that employers would rather employ an ex-con (14% with a 'Job Outcome') than a disabled person (10.2% with a 'Job-Outcome', 5% if they are ex-Incapacity Benefit recipients), against 24.7% for the scheme as a whole.

Let's remember that a recent survey by the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI)  showed 37% of disabled people felt they had been discriminated against in the recruitment process, and the real figure is undoubtedly higher given the impossibility of knowing if your CV was binned for mentioning disability.

Let's remember that a survey of employers just before the recession announced it a triumph for equality that around 26% of employers would consider employing a disabled person who had been in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, never mind that that meant 74% of employers had declared they would rather break the law than employ a disabled person (it being illegal to consider disability in an employment decision).

Is it just possible that 'embarrassment' isn't an appropriate description? Did anyone at Disability Confident think to ask actual disabled people what we think? It's not as if 'Nothing For Us, Without Us' is the fundamental tenet of disability rights or anything. Oh, hang on, yes it is. So imagine how disabled people feel when Disability Confident dismisses 2m disabled people who should be in work but are denied that right as just the result of a little embarrassment?

I've been there on the front line of disability discrimination, having the manager responsible for my career development tell me (when he was sure there were no witnesses), that my disability made me an unacceptable risk to his schedule and that under no circumstances would he put me into a job at my own grade. And when I was finally forced out of the company after a four year fight I had the very senior recruiter handling my 'outsourcing' take me aside and say "You need to understand that with your level of disability there is no chance of your getting a job in the private sector, and next to none in the public sector", a statement other recruiters later confirmed.

None of these people seemed 'embarrassed' about my disability, thought to give the recruiters their due they did seem embarrassed at acknowledging the discrimination I faced as a disabled job hunter. And I've talked to far too many other disabled people, who had faced identical contempt for our rights in the workplace, to believe that I am some kind of anomaly (the only anomaly was my ex-employer 's claim to be a national leader on workplace equality).

So here's a novel idea for Disability Confident, let's show the confidence to call it what it is: Unembarrassed, unpunished, institutionalised Disability Discrimination.

And until we challenge it, whether through Disability Confident or a scheme that actually addresses the needs of disabled workers and job seekers, rather than one that tries to drape a veil of embarrassment across the whole, horrible, discriminatory truth, we won't actually do anything to change the reality and allow disabled people to compete on an equal footing in the jobs market.

If 2 million people in any other minority were denied work through discrimination then it would be a scandal in every newspaper and news report in the land, but because it's disabled people being victimised people just try to write it off with an excuse: 'they'd be more trouble', 'they cost more', 'they can't be relied on'. Take those words, now imagine applying them to a worker who is black, or gay, or Muslim. Unpleasant taste in your mouth? That's the taste of discrimination, now imagine the stench of it from our side of the divide.

So long as industry, and Disability Confident, pander to the perception of disability as a problem, it will remain a problem, and the truth we face will remain not 'embarrassment', but open and winked and connived at Disablist Discrimination.


  1. On the contrary, I always try to call a spade a spade and say it like it is. As a mentally disabled person I encounter disability discrimination on a regular basis. Previously, I would either just shy away and say nothing, feeling absolutely terrible, or I would explode in a fit of anger and usually get ignored, or dismissed.

    Now, I try to make a point of educating people that what they are doing is contrary to discrimination legislation. It is very profound how many people are not aware of both disability discrimination legislation and what it means to discriminate against someone on the grounds of a disability. It has just been assumed that people and organisations know about their obligations around disability discrimination and it is never talked about because of the stigma and negative press around disability ad in particular mental health disability.

    I am involved in a project to address the wider problem of the distinct lack of democracy in British society and empowering people to come together to create a more democratic and fairer society, which would include anti discrimination laws that are properly enforced, but also an education program about what discrimination is and it's consequences on society as a whole.

  2. Disability discrimination is torturous experience for the victims. It harms mental health and lowers the moral of disabled people. Therefore, it is necessary to safeguard their rights with the help of trusted lawyers at San Diego. You may click here to know about them without losing time.