I remember the whole process of coming to terms with my new normal - something I’m still coming to terms with as there are constant changes for me and within society - and feeling a huge personal guilt tempered with shame and embarrassment at a lack of independence. I had worked as a teacher due to my school making some reasonable adjustments to the physical environment, which supported me until my disability became such that I was unable to physically manage full time. Pain, exhaustion, brain fog, balance issues and so on made it an impossibility. I was deemed unfit to work in regular, consistent employment when I was registered as disabled in 2007. My reasonable adjustments were seen to be about making slight changes to my working environment back then and I felt as if I was forcing change rather than that the work environment and working style were just not meeting my needs. One reasonable adjustment that the Equality Act cites from 2010 regards:
allowing employees who become disabled to make a phased return to work, including flexible hours or part-time working.
There is a huge spectrum of physical disability and yes, the variety of health challenges and physical challenges faced are vast. But there are ways to make life easier for disabled people who are able to work and also for disabled students of any age wishing to access learning in a more flexible way. This involves government funding, an overhaul of current access which we all thought the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1995 would bring about yet the DDA's recommendations and new laws were not rolled out efficiently everywhere. The DDA 1995 was an Act of Parliament which has now been repealed and replaced by the Equality Act 2010, except in Northern Ireland where the Act still applies. Businesses cited high costs and building regulations as reasons they couldn't improve accessibility. Legal tape has tied up many of these issues which remain unresolved. But there are other ways. Technology is most definitely one of the ways forward.
In the space of 24 hours, one friend told me, the company she works for had enabled all staff to be working from home sending out laptops to those who needed them and the age of the Zoom meeting was born.
I was able to virtually attend a celebration of the NHS in Hull performing a piece I’d written, something I would not have been able to physically get to and manage.
People with disabilities want to be defined by their talents and society should be ensuring there is equality of access for all to all areas of life. It should not be an issue in this day and age.
As Lockdown lifts, it would be heartening to see business owners continue to employ these more flexible working arrangements, allowing disabled people to work from home when they need to, access a personal assistant as required and attend their accessible work place from time to time.
A system that provides an ease of renewal and access to funds and forms which just level out the playing field ensuring access for all is paramount. Public pressure and visibility of people with disabilities is making this issue of access more prevalent and with pressure groups, (Disability Rights UK being one of the UK's main ones) contacting MPs about disability issues, the discussion will continue. By contacting our MPs with our own experiences, we can be seen and heard and effect change.
Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work is currently Vicky Foxcroft (Lab)