Let’s Get Political: Inaccessible Workplaces and Why the Welfare System Needs to Do Better

The Government has recently put forward a Green Paper, which highlights the efforts that are now going to be made, aimed at helping disabled people to fully integrate within all areas of society. They are so proud of this, calling it “the most ambitious plan in a generation”, particularly focusing on bridging the employment gap, ensuring that the disabled community are theoretically able to find and keep work more easily. Not only that, but they also placed emphasis on tightening the laws around building accessible housing, too. So, here’s the thing: all of this sounds exciting, right? Some might even argue that it’s progressive. With that said, reaching this point has been so painfully difficult, both locally and globally. For example: just a few days ago, it was announced that the US Paralympic team will be paid the same amount as their Olympic counterparts for the first time ever. Yet, we are expected to be grateful for the bare minimum — the smallest signs of progress —, after consistently being told throughout the pandemic that our voices should remain unheard? Not today, thanks.

When I was in the early years of secondary school, we were once learning to sew as part of a textiles class. I find stuff like this embarrassingly difficult because my fine motor skills leave a lot to be desired, so I had been heavily relying upon help from my Support Worker. I mean, you would think that’s literally what they’re there for, huh? Still, the teacher waited for everyone to leave as the day ended before launching into a speech about how I would never amount to anything if I insisted upon moving forward with a bad attitude and expected other people to do everything for me. She then went on to imply that I was simply too lazy to try, as if she was suddenly the expert in all things Cerebral Palsy, which was an interesting take. I left the room without saying much and she called my mum to apologise before I even arrived home, but the damage had already been done. It’s funny, how quickly you can begin to doubt yourself once this message has been sent your way. Maybe I really wasn’t doing enough. Maybe everyone would get bored of me. Maybe my presence just makes people roll their eyes.

I have many examples like this one, but there’s a lot that this leads into, so I’ll just give one more: when I was later in a wood technology class, I was determined that I could do this independently. I wanted to be seen actively participating, almost as if to prove that I deserved to be there. I remember this distinctly because I was initially allowed to do it independently, after I had been given some gentle direction. I was so genuinely proud of myself, until it was decided that I was being too slow, so the teacher just wordlessly came to finish it for me. Worst of all, he made it took easy. Again, the message was clear: even my best efforts would always hold other people back.

With this, I have always found it hard to settle on a career — or even the idea of one. Do I have enough to offer? Is it actually possible to earn a decent wage on the amount of hours that I’d physically be able to put myself through? How flexible are employers likely to be, really? What would I even be good at, anyway? So many questions. Of course, it’s easy for people to assume that the welfare system is a dreamy alternative, although it’s the opposite. The money that you receive is alarmingly minimal and it’s almost impossible to build up any meaningful savings. I was once told by an assessor that they expect me to only be able to afford a holiday if my parents paid for me, as an example. Of course, that’s without even talking about how deeply invasive and distressing the process is in itself. I was asked to talk at length about all the things my disability prevents me from doing — the very things that I’m constantly pushing to the furthest edges of my mind —, to the point where it made my mum cry. There is no dignity in this.

A screenshot of a Tweet by Kitty Strand, which reads: “it just seems wild to have a minister for disabled people who isn't disabled”.

In summary: we live in a society that equates working with having value, yet are already beginning to scale back on the most accessible remote job opportunities, in light of restrictions being eased. Then, we use this to dehumanise disabled people altogether. Disabled people deserve to live the fullest of lives, no matter what, but employers also need to recognise that we are worth more. It’s really not that hard, okay? It would be nice to be given a chance.

Éowyn, you will forever be my favourite person in the whole world. I still don’t know what I did to deserve you, for the record. xxx