Tuesday 9 June 2015

The Problem With Disability Confident

The Minister for Disabled People, blowing his trumpet for Disability Confident, tells us (those of us on Linked-In anyway) that the number of disabled people in work is up 238,000 year on year, that's good. Not mentioning that the number of disabled people who are economically inactive also rose, up 49,000, or that the number of disabled people who are unemployed only fell by 73,000, that doesn't inspire confidence, disability or otherwise. In fact if we assume those extra economically inactive disabled people were previously unemployed, then the overall change in non-working disabled people is barely 24,000. The disability employment gap, between number of employed disabled people and what it would be if disabled people were employed at the same rate as non-disabled is about 2 million, Even if we accept the minister's 238,000 figure, that means we need 8 years of similar progress to eliminate the deficit. If it's the fall in unemployed and economically inactive we should really be looking at, because of disabled people being squeezed out of the benefit system (I'm one) then we're actually looking at more like 80 years before equality. I don't know about other people, but I'm really not prepared to wait that long.

The problem with Disability Confident is that it isn't actually confident about disability. If we want equality in the workplace then we need employers to perceive disability as normal, but Disability Confident, and indeed all DWP disability initiatives, are heavily based around inspiration porn (the portrayal of disabled people as somehow 'inspiring', which is uniformly loathed by disabled people), this isn't normalising perceptions of disability, it's actively denormalising perceptions, and trotting out Paralympians at Disability Confident events (or war veterans like Simon Weston) simply serves to further denormalise expectations of us. Beyond that it's clear that Disability Confident perceives disability as a 'problem' that needs to be explained away to employers. If you pander to the perception of disability as a problem, then it will remain a problem.

What has been clear from the outset is that Disability Confidence lacks the confidence to challenge established views of disability, that it does not want to confront employers over workplace disablism, the reality so many of us face in our careers, the reality that ends careers (mine is one), or prevents them from ever starting. When Disability Confident says 'look at how much longer disabled people remain in post' and tries to sell that as a positive attribute, then how many of us stop to think, to realise that disabled people like me stay in post longer because our careers are held back, because we fear being unable to find another post, because we can't find employers willing to take us on. Staying in post longer isn't a virtue to sell us by, it's a symptom of the discrimination we face.

Ultimately Disability Confident lacks ambition, or is that aspiration? It has targeted the low-hanging fruit, employers who are already willing to employ disabled people, but just aren't very good at it. I had an employer tell me the other day that disabled people campaigning for equal employment rights were 'a cancer', that he would only employ disabled people if he could pay them a lower rate, and that he would rather relocate abroad than obey the Equality Act. You may label him an exception, but it was a manager saying much the same who brought my career to a halt, and I've met an awful lot of disabled people with similar experiences. If Disability Confident truly wants to make a difference, then it is going to have to challenge this sort of ground-in, embittered disability discrimination in employment, because, until it does, disabled people's CVs will keep on ending up in the bin.

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