Disability discrimination: Is stigma to blame for employment drop?

Charity coalition aims to support nearly one million disabled people in Scotland of working age.

Disability discrimination: Matthew Clark, left, speaks out. <strong>STV/PA</strong>
Disability discrimination: Matthew Clark, left, speaks out. STV/PA

Having a disability can be a barrier for many people who want to get a job or continue in education.

Nearly a fifth (19%) of people of working age in Scotland are disabled according to a new report, which also revealed employment rates are dropping among those with a disability.

The report, issued by a new coalition of six Scottish charities under the Disability Agenda Scotland (DAS) banner, highlighted a 20% spike in disability hate crimes from 2013/14 to 2014/15.

While many disabled people in Scotland feel that prevents them from feeling accepted in a work environment Matthew Clark has not allowed his visual impairment to hamper the first few years of his history and business management course at Glasgow University.

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After being registered blind and overcoming numerous obstacles, the 23-year-old finds himself in the final year of his studies.

Even then he admits he is still challenged by how other people perceive his lack of sight.

Matthew told STV News: “At the worst, day to day, it can for me be people who are ignorant of disability and who aren’t open minded to the sorts of solutions that can alleviate that disability.

“At university that has sometimes stopped me from being able to get a textbook in an alternative format because they’ve been afraid that I would share the digital accessible copy with my course mates and start profiteering.

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“That’s happened to me in other situations where publishers and authors haven’t made something accessible to me.”

He added: “The biggest challenge for me is the understanding of disability at the moment and the willingness to be positive about it and engage in a conversation with me as to how I work and how I can get things done in any situation.

“You have the challenge of whenever you’re moving to a new place of putting those skills into practice.

“Anyone with a disability may be very capable of that if they and those around them have the right attitude to it.

“They can get the help to acquire these skills but then putting these skills into practice and maintaining them over time is very possible once you’ve got to that stage, but it still requires a great deal of hard work that often isn’t realised or accounted for whether by ourselves or those around us.”

Matthew was born with only 5% sight but with the help of his parents he managed to grow accustomed to the condition from an early age.

This was enhanced at the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh where he attended before moving to Glasgow University in 2011.

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In the summer of 2014, he dropped out of his course after losing his confidence when he was unable to get a job.

He said: “One of the barriers I face is with the extra time just to maintain my independence and to stay up to date with university work I have not got the time to get a student job and that is when so many student jobs wouldn’t even be accessible to me with sight loss and particularly night blindness.

“What makes me worry is my experience with internships. A few years ago I applied for lots of internships, spent lots of times with application forms and I was so proud I reached this point that I could apply to prestigious positions.

“But in that programme and in all others I barely ever got to interview.”

He continued: “The one time I did, and I evidenced all my skills that were asked for in the advert, I was came back to and they said ‘because you’ve not done anything directly like this job before we can’t give it to you’.

“In every other instance I was never even shortlisted.

“I withdrew from university and nearly lost all of my confidence. It took over a year to build that back up again but now I am coming to graduation and do wonder again that I have to face this job market again.

“Can and will I find better experience that does value all of this work I’ve tried to do to make myself a positive, rounded, enthusiastic person that wants to make a difference?

“If the one thing people could take away from this report and apply to life day-to-day it would be not to ask what can we not do but ask what can we do and how can we help that to happen.

“That approach will help society be more inclusive. That will apply not to disabilities but to life and being more positive about ourselves.”

DAS will reveal the report, Equal? Still Not, Why Not? at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday. The following charities are all on board:

The report says many perceptions have been challenged due to the rise of high profile events such as the Paralympics but more still needs to be done on a day-to-day level.

As well as the increase in disability hate crime, there is another personal impact on those who face extra costs of living, which can be on average in the region of £550 a month.

Even with the extra living costs there is still the lack of employment opportunities taken up by those who can work through their disability. Only 43.8% of those with disabilities are currently employed.

A multitude of reasons are given for this by the 80 respondents of the report.

With the report coming before politicians at Holyrood, the charity body is calling for a comprehensive review of services including some financial aid.

Delia Henry, chairwoman of DAS, said: “The only way to know what life is like for disabled people is to ask them – so that’s what we’ve done. This report reveals their real life experiences and feelings.

“A recurring theme is that while matters have improved for some, disabled people still do not feel equal and while there are many nice words and documents that aim to further improve matters, they are not being felt on the ground.

“Budgets for social care, education, welfare benefits, further education, and community-based support services which disabled people rely on are rapidly diminishing. And with them, so is the equality agenda.”

She added: “We are calling for the Scottish Government to fund a national campaign to raise awareness of disability and reduce stigma and discrimination.

“Issues like access to employment, a more dignified and empowering system of social security, combating isolation and loneliness, and access to advocacy support to overcome barriers to achieving the life you want to live.

“All of these issues are within the gift of Government at all levels to take positive action on.”


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