Disability Pride Month: What are the barriers to employment?

As we celebrate Disability Pride month in July, Merrifield Consultants want to raise awareness by shining a light on topical areas for the employer and the employee. In a series of articles, we will cover support in the workplace and practical steps to achieve inclusivity. We want to share relatable experiences on adversity and challenges, along with the huge positives that come with a resilient community.

This week, we focus on our own Merrifield Consultant Jaini. She talks openly about the barriers she has faced as a woman with cerebral palsy, and how employers can apply active steps and levels of support to unify and improve the performance of a team.


What are the biggest barriers to employment you have you experienced?

I’ve certainly experienced judgement in previous workplaces. My earliest memory is as a sale assistant. I would be holding clothes, folding clothes in certain ways, one handed, and then be asked a lot of questions. I feel sometimes questions can be judgemental, and this is true when it comes to delivering these questions. I left one role because I felt discriminated and completely disregarded.


What was your experience interviewing for positions? Did you receive appropriate support through the processes?

The support was inconsistent. With psychometric testing, people with cerebral palsy can’t perform their best because we see things differently. I would let the hiring managers know, and sometimes they would allocate a different one, or give me extra time to compensate. Most of the time, I’d receive an acknowledgement, which meant hiring managers have understood the process, and I would be put forward and progress to the second stage. Although support has been inconsistent, I’d still say the overall experiences I’ve had have been positive.


How have you dealt with the discriminations of the above and rectified the issue within the workplace?

Yes, I was tasked to do some shop layout at a well-known retail shop. Folding and hanging clothes was hard for me and my hand was physically drained. My team leader saw I was in pain, and I expressed this, but they told me to carry on. Through resilience, I tried my best. I was disappointed in this attitude, so I went to the store manager. After hearing this, I did receive an apology, but it has put me off a retail environment now.


Have you seen a change in the hiring process in recent years to accommodate people with disabilities?

Definitely. With certain policies in place for interviews and websites such as Applied, it has changed my outlook when I have applied for jobs (and receive them!). It was really encouraging and motivating, as I don’t always perform my best on tests. I have seen changes to the requirements across education, which has been a positive move for people with disabilities, but employment as a whole. It has changed my perspective. Its more inclusive over the last few years, and it continues to surprise me!


How can employers understand and consistently address the above barriers? 

Showing support is key. Asking us regularly and checking in to see if any help/support is required, rather than doing it once and ticking it off the list. Even if we may not need it, it does show I am welcome to come to my employer without hesitation, and when I’m ready. Educating the wider team is also key for a comfortable and understanding environment.


What can the individual employee do to cope with their disability in the workplace?

I am very open about the disability, so I do share the knowledge and let people know what it is and how it affects me. This would prevent further questions and allow people to accept me as myself rather than trying to hide it. I have tried hiding in the past, and I have gotten self-conscious because of the feeling that people talk behind your back which is another added stress. If I’m open, I also expect the same openness from my employer and my team.


How has Merrifield Consultants supported you within your role?

They have been lovely. Every so often the managers ask if I need any support and assistance. Before starting, my manager was adamant to make me feel comfortable and reiterated what support is offered. When and if I do require anything different, I wouldn’t be afraid to ask because they have built such a supportive and open environment.

As we continue to see a positive shift in the workplace for race, gender, and socioeconomic factors, employers are taking a quiet stance when focusing on diversity, equity and inclusive for the disabled community.

There are 16 million disabled people in the UK, with 5 million of these currently employed. With more young people with disabilities now, or, at least, more who are willing to accept the label, attitudes and opportunities need to shift with the rising number of a capable community. Although we are seeing a small change in mindset, without acceptance, support and openness, employers continue to miss out on diverse thinking and the next generation of skills.

For a further conversation on the topic, please contact Jaini Shah at Merrifield Consultants.


How will you be celebrating Disability Pride Month?

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