Monthly Archives: June 2015

Disability, Unemployment and Token Gestures

Regardless of the fact that employment levels are up, there will be many people reading this article who understand the struggles faced when seeking employment. There will also be many reading this article who are currently unemployed and there will be those who have bravely stepped into the world of self- employment, in a desperate yet hope filled attempt at self-preservation.

It will not surprise you to discover, as if you needed to, that the Southwest has one of the largest ranks of self-employed people in the country. Indeed the Isles of Scilly and West Somerset were two of the top three local authorities with the most self-employed residents, according to a census gathered in 2011. If a census were produced per town, I imagine Bude and other rural locations would be near the top.  It would appear however, that the rest of the county are joining and staying in the ranks of the self-employed. 15% of the UK’s population are now self- employed, with just 886,000 people opting to change that status in the period between 2009 and 2014, compared with 1.3million in the period between 2004 and 2009.

The Maverick Masses

In October 2014 I joined the maverick masses of the self-employed, striving for a stability, so surely generated by taking control of my own destiny. No longer would I face the threat of redundancy or battle its debilitating impact. No longer would I threat about the longevity of my job prospects, given my constant battle against discrimination and the fear that my physical capabilities may diminish.  Despite currently working more hours for less money, than my previous job, the only person who can define whether I am a success or not is me.

However, if I look at the reasons for starting my business, self- preservation ranks highly.  After being made redundant from my lecturing role, I battled once again with the obstacles and barriers faced when searching for employment.  One of these obstacles is that, on average 30-50 people apply for every job vacancy.  Another obstacle is the location in which we live, exacerbated by a lack of incentive for bigger companies to form a presence locally, something which is hopefully now beginning to change.

Thirdly and most alarmingly from the perspective of a disabled person, is the huge disparity between the number of disabled people in employment when compared to the able bodied counterparts. Imagine in you will, having the desire and ability to work but being denied the opportunity by blatant discrimination, which I will add is against the law.

The  Response

I have the facts and regrettably first-hand experiences to support my strong statements. Facts and experiences I put forward to former North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson. Here is an extract from my correspondence to Dan

“I simply wanted to state that people with disabilities have to submit 50% more job applications to receive an interview. There is a disparity of about 2 million people, between the number of able bodied voters in employment when compared to their disabled counterparts.”

“These figures still exist, despite studies showing that disabled people are more loyal to their employers and take fewer days off than their able bodied equals. Government schemes such as Access to Work even help to pay for any reasonable adjustments required for a disabled person to be successfully employed.”

I then went on to ask Dan if he seriously believed that the term equal opportunities employer meant exactly that, or whether he believed, as I do, that it is simply a banner behind which companies can hide.

I have sat interviews and got jobs only when I have excluded my disability from the application form. Why, because, employers can judge me on my abilities alone when they have no preconceived ideas about my disability. Time and again I have been adequately and at times over qualified for job roles, only to be overlooked because of my perceived limitations. Now, whilst I accept that everyone gets overlooked and at times ignored when applying for jobs, I will again reiterate that when I have omitted my disability from the application I have got the job. I have also had a manager bite and flick their nails whilst I was giving an interview because he believed that my disability inhibited my ability to fulfil the role. Yet this employer like many others is ‘seemingly’ a ‘self- proclaimed’ equal opportunities employer.

As a result of this correspondence, Dan Rogerson forwarded my concerns onto former minister for the disabled, Mark Harper. His response was disappointingly inept, merely a token gesture which received swift rebuke from Dan and left me with a distinct sense of frustration.

You see Mark felt the need to reassure me that my disability did indeed fall under the equality act of 2010, which he informs me guards against such discrimination. He went on to say that reasonable adjustments must be made to recruitment procedures, such that anyone who is “otherwise capable” can successfully apply for the position. Mark states that companies displaying the two ticks’ symbol offer guaranteed interviews to those with disabilities. I am sad to say that this is also a myth and simply another banner for companies can hide behind.

Now whilst it is true that those who feel discriminated against can complain to that rarest of creatures, a job centre disability advisor or to the Government Equalities office, proving discrimination is almost impossible.  It is also true that there was an increase of 141,000 disabled people in employment at the end of 2014. However, it is also true that it is hard to find work and harder still if you have a disability. As proven by the fact that over half of the current disabled working age population are unemployed as opposed to 20.6% of able bodied people. I hesitate to say that ploughing 15million into the Access to work scheme since 2012 is a token gesture, I would however, suggest that more needs to be done, irrespective of what this government plans for the future.

According to Dan the Lib Dems wanted to ‘encourage’ employers to shortlist suitable disabled candidates and provide advice on work place adaptions. Dan is right, in that not enough disabled people, let alone their potential employers know about the access to work scheme. It is pointless ploughing money into a scheme if people aren’t sure whether they can access it or indeed benefit from it. It would be like me throwing 15million at expanding Devilishly Disabled without marketing it. If anyone wishes to give me 15million with which to try though, I would gracefully accept.

As for the solution to the evident discrimination that exists within the current job market,  well disabled people are not silly so, let’s be honest, there are jobs roles I can’t fulfil, in which case I wouldn’t apply for them or be upset that I wasn’t considered for them, as such the solution is simple. Let’s remove the equal opportunities employer banner, remove the box that says ‘do you consider yourself disabled’ and give everyone a chance to shine based on their abilities, rather than diminish due to a perception of their disabilities.

Whilst I wait for my recommendations to once again be ignored, I will give the last word to Dan. “I find it worrying that the minister of state for disabled people can be this out of touch with the reality that those with disabilities face. It is often incredibly difficult to prove discrimination in all but the most blatant of cases”.

Entrepreneur or Mad Man?

My name is Matthew Emo, I have Cerebral Palsy and I am the founder of Devilishly Disabled Clothing.  When I was growing up the word entrepreneur was everywhere. The way in which the term was stylised led me to believe that all entrepreneurs are driving around in Bugatti Veyrons, have butlers and are surrounded by an endless entourage of beautiful people.

The reality for most however is very different. Here’s my business’ story so far.

I set my business up after being made redundant from my lecturing job. In honesty my redundancy provided a period of reflection along with a sharp injection of reality. I’d worked hard to get where I was, for me lecturing was my pinnacle. Yet, the only place I could now find work was Sainsbury’s, who are one of the few large companies who truly support those with disabilities.

Working however, provides me with such psychological strength and although it can be hard on my body, it also helps keep me active. My disability also limits my work choices significantly. So although setting up the business has been hard, I don’t regret it, because with an active mind I can control my disability.

Have a Driving Force

The bottom line is you won’t make much money for quite a while.  My advice is to have a driving force, something other than money that compels you to drive the business forward. Mine is that some of my friends have passed away at disrespectfully young ages, before they had the chance to make the impact that their characters would have undoubtedly enabled them too.  Secondly, as my condition deteriorates my ability to work within an organisation may diminish too.  I could quite legitimately stop working because of my condition but I won’t. That’s not to beat the rhetoric that disabled people are lazy but because working is a privilege that not everybody has. Self- employment and running my own business provides me with the best opportunity to work in the long term.

My Business

Devilishly Disabled Clothing aims to empower those with disabilities to show that their disability does not define them. Yes we use humour to depict those everyday situations faced by those with disabilities, but that’s because I have never met a disabled person without a sense of humour. It is that character and personality that I want everyone to see before the disability.  Hopefully this will help remove the uncertainties that surround disability, leading to increased social circles and equal opportunities.

The Mistakes

Ah the mistakes, I have made plenty and I will make plenty more.  You learn by doing though right? I won’t list all my mistakes as you won’t have time to read them.

My first and biggest mistake was starting the business after being made redundant.  Although I probably wouldn’t have had time to build the business whilst working, a new business will never replace a guaranteed income.

Do Your Research

I knew nothing about Kaleidoscope, Disabled Entrepreneurs or even the NEA scheme when I set up my business. I just dived right in there and set up the business with a bank loan and all of the enthusiasm you should have when setting up a business. The NEA Scheme offer loans with a 6% APR – which is better than mine! If however you write a good business plan and believe in your business venture, then there is help out there and you will succeed.

Watch Out

We have only been trading since the end of last year and in that time I have learnt a lot. The biggest of which is that you will get tonnes of people giving you advice and tonnes more telling you how their business can benefit yours. My advice- take all the advice you are given but drive the business in the direction that you choose. My business is developed from my vision and it is that which will help me succeed. Don’t get drawn into spending loads money on advertising, hoping that it will get you that big break. I’m learning that hard work gets you a foot hold and that things develop in time. Ineffective advertising provides peaks which will not sustain you in the long term.

The Dilemma

Do you start your own business or not? I’m sure it’s not just disabled people who fear what the DWP might do to existing benefits and assistance once a business is set up.  But if we are looking at this from a well-being perspective, then there is nothing that gets you motivated quite like your own business. The government are supposed to support working people and in my experience thus far they do that. They could do so much more for those with disabilities but I’m sure that’s the case for many.

The Future

I will continue to work hard, doing whatever I need to whilst Devilishly Disabled Clothing grows to support me. I want to expand the brand to be more inclusive. At the moment we are aiming at about 6% of the 12 million disabled people in the UK with our depictions of physical disability. I want my brand to depict those daily situations and frustrations faced by all disabilities and beyond that society at large. After all, disabled people aren’t the only people who face difficulties daily. Hopefully we will soon be empowering all to see the awesomeness of the individual.  Beyond that a Bugatti Veyron would be nice!

This piece was written in response to the BBC’s Ouch Blog entitled The ‘dragons’ who want to help disabled people start their own business which is available here.

Sex,Relationships and Disability

Yes

No

No

No

At Devilishly Disabled we have a, ‘sort of’, unofficial researcher who scours the internet looking for the more captivating stories involving disability for me to write about. To my surprise he found an article about the world’s first disabled orgy…  http://www.unilad.co.uk/articles/canada-to-host-worlds-first-orgy-for-disabled-people/. Apparently its organiser, Stella Palikarova became increasingly frustrated when people inquired as to whether she could have an active sex life and evidently able bodied orgies don’t cater for disabled people- who knew?

Stella is not the only disabled person to face this question and its overall perception.  However, doesn’t her method depict disabled people as sex deprived looney tunes? Still at least we’ll fit in with 90% of the world’s population.

Now I have no idea about the legitimacy of the event which apparently takes place in Toronto on August 14th, it does however, raise some interesting questions. Questions I feel obliged to answer in this article entitled Sex,Relationships and Disability.

Above are the answers to the four questions I am most commonly asked in relation to sex:

Can you have sex?

Yes, disabled people can have sex, I know a lot of them and from a disabled perspective we are often baffled that this question is asked.

Will it hurt you?

No, sex is a form of exercise and muscles relax during and after exercise, therefore, I will actually feel more comfortable than I am in my everyday life. I may not be the best company once the muscles tighten again but I’ve never claimed to be the best company anyway.

Have you/would you ever have sex in your wheelchair.

No and there are three reasons for this:

  1. As a disabled person I don’t particularly like my wheelchair and wouldn’t want to do something so intimate in it.
  2. As a friend of mine once said ‘my wheelchair is expensive, I don’t want to damage it
  3. Wheelchairs are actually incredibly unstable; I have to work ridiculously hard to keep it on the floor during day to day usage and there is nothing sexual about getting dropped on your head.

Can you only sleep with disabled people?

If you are able bodied you will not get arrested for sleeping with a disabled person, if it’s consensual is okay. Oh and unless there are stairs involved then most disabled people will manage just fine.

There is still such a taboo surrounding disability, even today, that this subject in particular rarely gets mentioned and it should because without sex none of us would exist. Enhance the UK have a brilliant article on this subject. http://enhancetheuk.org/enhance/sex-and-disability/

Relationships and Disability

This is an area that deserves a mention, because, this is an area where I’ll admit I struggle both from a friendship and romantic view point.

There are a number of reasons for this. The first is I have huge character flaws and a distinct lack of tolerance for other people. The second is that disabled people, like everybody else, have aspects of themselves that they don’t like and finally, perhaps most importantly there is a distinct lack of understanding regarding disability.

Now I don’t wake up every morning wishing I was different, richer yes, different no.  In fact perversely I quite like being disabled, for it is only part of who I am, it doesn’t define me but it is part of me. There are days however, when I’d prefer not to have 2.5k’s worth of metal attached to me. There are also days when I’m in discomfort and I simply want to shut the door to the outside world. That last statement means that any relationship is always on shaky ground. For you see, people that love you don’t care if you’re in pain, they simply want to be with you. However, it takes an awful lot of courage from a partner or family member’s perspective to see you in your worst days.  It also takes a lot of trust from our perspective too.  This is why disabled people are less likely to cheat, A, it’s a lot of effort and B, if we’re with you then we trust you.

But I have known people; myself included, destroy perfectly good relationships through the fear that their partner may see the good, the bad and at times the ugly and simply walk away.

A final thought is that if people’s perceptions on disabilities were changed at a younger age, then these friendships, relationships and the uncertainties within, would be a lot clearer for all. Scheme’s like Sainsbury’s  1million kids are perfect for creating a deeper appreciation and understanding.  As indeed do this truly brilliant video and this exceptional animation. We live in a multicultural society where we rightly have to learn about other people’s religion and culture; perhaps we should also spend time learning about everyone’s abilities.