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Equal Opportunities at Work?

Author: Fran Macilvey

Despite giant strides in the right direction, we continue to read articles in the press reminding us that minorities still face real challenges when hoping for equal treatment in the workplace and elsewhere. 

It is probably very bad form to be too explicit about the more obvious mountains to be climbed – and some rather subtle ravines to be avoided – by adults with impairments who hope to find and keep meaningful employment. By which I mean any work which increases our sense of worth and which pays enough to get us out of bed every day. To find work that puts us on a true par with others in the workplace would be a dream come true; the significant extra financial costs encountered by adults with impairments remain a barrier to equal participation. Reforms such as PIP make a mockery of this. 

I worked as a Scottish solicitor, and the entire process of study, qualification, training and work took up twenty years of my life. Accepting that I was never going to catch up with this particular dream, I retired from the profession and now work full time as an author and speaker. Though I have similar qualifications to many of my erstwhile colleagues, I was not invited for interviews. Workplace discrimination can be very subtle with the result that without effective remedies, no amount of assistance with CV writing, interview techniques or DWP “carrot and stick” incentives will make the slightest difference. We might by some miracle find a job, but how to keep it is the six million dollar question, a question that most able-bodied enforcers politely ignore. 

People who are deemed “disabled” are labelled thus by medics, politicians and others, who, no matter how well meaning, think it is perfectly acceptable to ask “‘What is wrong with you?” and expect a polite answer. They like to put people in boxes, to “know what to expect” and so continue to indulge in all manner of conduct which, from the public at large would be deemed offensive, and rightly so. The “see me” campaign and many like it, make this point very clearly. 

If I saw a woman on the street who looked “ordinary”, I would be considered grossly offensive if I asked her, “Can you go to the toilet without assistance?” And yet, because I have a conspicuous impairment – which puts me at a disadvantage in all sorts of subtle and none too subtle ways – I am expected to identify with it, explain it, and ignore it. 

Identify with it, because that was the first label was given –- “I’m sorry, your daughter has cerebral palsy” - which became the only thing I identified about myself for decades and a heavy burden to carry, which completely ignored everything I can do, and all the other good things about me. 

Explain it, because most government departments I have dealings with expect me to elucidate for them – for the thousandth time – just how much I am actually disabled, before they will provide me with basic financial help and “concessionary” services. We don't want or seek concessions. We merely look for equal treatment. It seems that these days, unless we are almost totally incapacitated, we can expect no understanding from these information gatherers, so convinced are they of the rightness of their “inclusive social and workplace policies”. 

And ignore it? Because the Government, in its naivety, tells us it has all these wonderful new laws and workplace policies to discourage workplace bullying, harassment, discrimination, low pay, and so on. So while unsavoury conduct continues, we must pretend it does not, and run the gamut of a hundred conflicting expectations.

Fran has her own blog here and has written a book - Trapped - about her experiences of living with cerebral palsy.


The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Equal Opportunities at Work? © Fran Macilvey 2017.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.