Finding employment can be tricky at the best of times but can be even more troublesome when trying to find work as a disabled person. You fire off resumes, left, right, and centre, in the hopes that at least one prospective employer will give you a shot at an interview. Then you spend the next few days and weeks worrying about preparation, about making a good first impression, about whether or not you have the right skills for the job and a whole host of other aspects which plague your subconscious as you seek out work.
So, to add the prospect of discrimination to the mix; well, it can be crushing.
The Disability Employment Gap
The disability employment gap is the statistical difference between the number of people with a disability in employment and the number of non-disabled people in employment. This difference (which in the UK was almost 30% in 2020) illustrates the disparity and subsequent difficulties faced by disabled individuals trying to gain (or retain) employment.
To paint these statistics in the stark reality they deserve, 2020 saw the percentage of non-disabled people in employment sitting at 81.1%, whereas the percentage of disabled individuals in employment in the same year was 52.3%. That’s just over half of all disabled people aged between 16-64. Conversely, almost half of all disabled adults of working age in the UK were registered as being unemployed in 2020.
The disability employment gap is fuelled mainly by disabled individuals routinely being faced with barriers to entry within the work setting. Whether it be through inaccessibility, engrained negative stereotypes, or poor training opportunities – there is undeniably a discriminatory element to the large-scale mass unemployment within the disabled community.
A matter of inclusion
The inability for disabled people to easily find employment is a matter of inclusion; or the lack thereof. In accordance with Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; everybody has the right to work and employment – regardless of their disability. Therefore, any failure to ensure more disabled people have access to employment is a failure of inclusivity.
Without employment, disabled people are often left dependent on welfare, which in turn can limit a person’s quality of life due to lower levels of disposable income. If you add this to an already expensive world for those living with a disability (paying for equipment, medications, personal assistants, etc), it’s easy to see why many disabled people fall below the poverty line throughout Europe.
Statistics provided by Eurostat showed that in 2019, the average percentage risk of poverty or social inclusion was 28.4% across the EU-27 – for those with ‘some or severe activity limitation’, compared with under 20% in the same EU-27 region, for those ‘without any activity limitation’. This represents a significant rise in the likelihood of living in poverty for those with a disability, compared to those who are not disabled.
It is a safe assumption to make that for those able to find employment, there is a far greater chance of them being able to lift themselves out of poverty. The high levels of unemployment throughout the disabled community acts as a lightning rod for greater levels of poverty.
Conversely, of the countries listed in the Eurostat graph titled ‘People with disability at higher risk of poverty or social exclusion, 2019’ (ec.europa.eu/eurostat), the country which had the highest level of poverty amongst those with some or severe activity limitation was Bulgaria, at 50.7% of those with some form of disability, falling below the poverty line, whereas Bulgaria’s average for those in poverty who are not disabled, lies below 30%.
Worrying Trends about Disability Employment
Many of the concerns faced by disabled people looking for work aren’t just hearsay, there’s researched evidence that support worrying trends. During one such research program, Timewise (a working consultancy firm) analysed over 6 million jobs during the year 2020 and found that over 80% of job listings did not advertise as having flexible work options. This omittance was extremely telling during the COVID-19 pandemic, given that the vast majority of disabled individuals needed to self-isolate and therefore relied heavily on flexible working arrangements (i.e., the ability to work from home).
Furthermore, in a comprehensive survey by The Leonard Cheshire Charity, it emerged that 40% of hiring managers felt their inability to offer support to disabled employees during the COVID-19 pandemic had ultimately resulted in this being a major barrier to hiring them. More concerning still, at least 20% of hiring managers boldly admitted that during the pandemic, they would be far less likely to hire a disabled person.
Time and time again, disabled employees are being made to feel like a burden, rather than a valuable asset.
The UK Government’s Disability Confident Scheme
The Disability Confident scheme, which replaced the Guaranteed Interview Scheme in 2016, is a governmental scheme designed to encourage businesses to give more consideration to the hiring of disabled employees.
The scheme goes above and beyond its predecessor, the Guaranteed Interview Scheme, which offered disabled applicants a certain interview for any position they were applying for, provided they met the minimum hiring requirements (e.g., qualifications and/or experience).
Alternative ways to help gain employment
There are several routes that a disabled person can go down in their search for employment. Short of applying directly for an advertised position, disabled individuals could also seek out ‘pathway to work’ programmes, which offer volunteer positions, as well as internships, for disabled people looking to gain work experience.
Not only is this a great way to gain that valuable experience, but it also acts as an opportunity to show employers what you’ve got to offer and could lead to a job offer at the end of your allotted time there.
In the UK, the Pathways to Work program also assists disabled and chronically ill people by providing extra finances when starting work, as well as providing training programmes that can help develop skills that will be needed in the workplace. The program also provides tailored help with matters such as coping with a health condition or a disability.
How to join the Pathways to Work?
Throughout the UK, a lot of local JobCentre Plus buildings will have opportunities for disabled people to join the Pathways to Work program. However, in some local areas, the Pathways to Work program is run by private and tertiary sector organisations. The JobCentre Plus is a great place to start, though; as even if they do not offer the Pathways to Work program there, they will be able to point you in the right direction.
Access to Work
Another way for disabled people to gain employment in the UK is through the governments ‘Access to Work’ scheme, which provides both practical support and advice to all disabled people who are in employment, self-employment, or are about to commence a job. The scheme also provides grants for disabled people to help pay for the extra employment costs of working with a disability. These costs can include:
- Travel to and from work; especially if public transport is inaccessible for the user.
- Support worker to offer personal assistance, for example, a sign language interpreter.
- Specialist equipment used within the workplace, for example, software and computer access equipment.
- Support during interviews, such as interpreters for those who have difficulty speaking.
- Any adaptations needed to the existing building where the disabled person will be working.
Aside from the UK’s Access to Work scheme, there are several organisations within the UK that offer workplace opportunities for disabled people looking for employment. Organisations such as Remploy, which help to empower disabled individuals by matching them with jobs. Remploy also works alongside employers, to help them to create a working environment that is inclusive and accessible for all types of disabilities.
Other similar organisations exist right across Europe and so you’re never as far as just a quick Google search away from discovering what’s available in your region.
If you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to read more from Invacare’s Passionate People blog, such as ‘Employment and Disability: Aid, Schemes and Contracts for the World of Work’ – then please feel free to click the link. In fact, on that blog post, you will find links to organisations right across Europe, and so it could be a perfect starting point to help you on your own personal quest to find employment (if indeed you’re looking)!