Monday, July 13, 2020

Disability and Work: Ways Towards A Social Model

Almost half of all disabled adults are out of work either due to their health condition preventing them from working or that many work places or services are not suitably accessible. We have 14 million disabled in the UK. Now, that’s a huge number of individuals who are being denied their financial independence because workplaces, transport, tech and attitude prevent easy access. Part time and flexible working are becoming more common place but for disabled working people there is so much more to consider.

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.
Businesses granting flexible hours and part-time working can be hit and miss but the law is on our side these days. Unfortunately, legal wranglings cause disharmony and sometimes people will leave rather than stick out the uncomfortable process. A huge issue for disabled people is transport although progress has been made in recent years. From January 2020 all buses, coaches and trains had to be accessible to disabled people and accessible taxis and trams are improving although in some more rural areas this is still not the case.

However, many of our health issues make it difficult for us to manage public transport and an event/shift at work due to pain and/or exhaustion. I use accessible cabs (as public transport is out of bounds due to my ME) which are not always so easy to get hold of in the suburbs. People with disabilities’ experiences of travel impact on their wider daily lives and can be the reason someone can or can't work, attend events or socialise.

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.

The Equality Act 2010 moved us closer to a social model of disability, that is that disabled people are seen as being disabled not by their disability (such as blindness or autism) but by society’s failure to take their needs into account.

Over the last four months, working 'norms' have been changing to meet the needs of abrupt societal changes. Lockdown proves that people can work from home and work flexibly around other challenges such as home-schooling, caring for relatives and just managing the 'Lockdown Everyday’ we’ve had thrust upon us.

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.

Schools were able within a week to create a working system for their pupils to access learning from home. Over the following six weeks there were tweaks here and there but in many schools, this was achieved. There was a whisper of a government rolling out of iPads to children without computers at home but the proof of that remains to be seen in many areas.

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.

However, during this period of coronavirus, disabled people have been raising concerns about the way the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is running its Access to Work Disability Employment Scheme. This funds support such as personal assistants, travel costs and aids and equipment and helps tens of thousands of disabled people find and retain employment. Of course the need for PPE was an issue which seems to be in the throes of being better organised. It has owever flagged up the dire need for a more straightforward approach to renewing PA contracts, applying for direct payments,accessing renewal forms, applying for repeat of support each year.

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.

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work is currently Justin Tomlinson (Con)

Twitter:     @JustinTomlinson
Facebook: justintomlinsonofficial

Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work is currently Vicky Foxcroft (Lab)

Twitter:     @vickyfoxcroftlabour
Facebook: vickyfoxcroftlabour

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Disability and Work: Ways Towards A Social Model

Almost half of all disabled adults are out of work either due to their health condition preventing them from working or that many work ...