Blogging Against Disablism Day.
I awoke on Saturday morning to the news that some employers are voicing concern about employing disabled people in their businesses. This is not really news as many disabled people will testify. I've heard all the excuses before, or at least I thought I had. The excuses are always lame. Expense is an old favourite. We have all heard the stories about it being too expensive to adapt places of employment to suit the needs of a disabled employee, or that the extra 'special' equipment that may be needed would be far too expensive. Thankfully Access To Work is in place to provide a great deal of the funding for this and once someone is in the workplace this, in theory, should no longer be a problem.
However, the news item that I heard early on Saturday morning on BBC Five Live not only woke me up from my slumbers, it also caused me concern that discrimination has a new tool to beat us with. A survey that has been carried out by Remploy, the largest employer of disabled people in the UK, that suggests some employers believe that 'politically correct' language is a barrier to the employment of disabled people!
Remploy said that the majority of the 400 employers who took part in the survey were committed to a diverse workforce but some complained that the failure to understand the correct terminology was putting them off. I smell an excuse, don't you?
One employer, who has remained anonymous, said that "The ballpark is always moving, as are the words that I can say." They went on "You don't say that someone is blind, you say visually impaired". It doesn't take a genius to work out that this particular person might like to use visually impaired when describing a visually impaired person then does it? There is obviously no barrier to being an idiot in the business world then?
I'm sure a visually impaired person would rather be given the opportunity of employment first and then worry about, if they did worry, the language used to describe them. Beth Carruthers, director of employment services at Remploy said that "The important thing is not the language used to describe disability but that disabled people received the same respect and opportunities"
Lisa Egan was interviewed by Five Live, said that if employers took this view how long would it be if before only white heterosexuals were the only people employed? The point is a very good one. It is a completely unjustifiable position. If concerns were raised by an employer about giving a black or Asian person, or a woman a job in case someone used the wrong language to describe them, they would, quite rightly, be in trouble for discrimination.
It seems that these attitudes can be wrapped up as concerns and therefore be seen as protecting us, by those determined to exclude us from the workplace. It is also spun as 'our' problem too. If only we weren't so damn touchy about being called 'handicapped' or 'crippled' and we sat about suffering like we should. Instead, disabled people now have a voice and this is a threat that a minority wish to suppress. I don't think I'm overreacting either. This is a very serious issue that needs addressing now.
The answer is an easy one and it's one I have been championing for many years. Employers, in my opinion, need to embrace Disability Awareness in the workplace. I have given quite a few Disability Awareness courses over the years with my good friend and mentor Alan Counsell, and we have found time and time again that a little education goes a long way. Disabled people should treated with respect that they are entitled to, rather than being seen as a problem and a hindrance to the business. Most large employers now have some kind of equality training for their staff. However the amount of time put aside within this for disability awareness seems, and I am speaking from experience here, inadequate. One large employer, and I won't say who it is, used to, have a three day course about equality that was delivered to its managerial staff. Of this only two hours in one afternoon was given over to disability awareness. Now I am not saying that discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, race and gender shouldn't be tackled but surely such an important subject as disability, which is the only one that has the potential to affect everyone, should be given a higher priority. Recent changes in this particular employers structure has done nothing to improve things. In fact they are a whole lot worse, with disabled people being made to feel like a problem that won't go away. Unfortunately it seems there is a long way to go before we obtain equality in some areas of society.
The use of language is something that disabled people fight every day. We are bombarded with negative images in the media all the time and the fight must continue. However, we must be aware that there are those out there who think that wanting to be described in a certain way is a problem for them!! The only answer is to continue to ensure that the media are using the correctly language. a long and sometimes disheartening task, but one we shouldn't shirk from.
Only yesterday, again on Five Live, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson was on the Richard Bacon show. Not for the usual 5 minute interview, but for the whole 2 hours. It was good to be able to hear, from someone who is so high profile, some of the negative attitudes she still faces and how she challenges them in a positive way. Of course there was a few text messages from non-disabled and frankly, paranoid people about whinging crips who moan about people 'helping' them , when really they should be thankful that they aren't all in homes, but on the whole the response was very positive. The presenter even reverted from saying 'people with disabilities' to disabled people by the end. Maybe this is a small thing but I can assure you it is an important one. What would be really fantastic is the media to embrace the Social Model and promote the idea that a disabled person is not disabled by their impairments but by a society that does not provide the environment to allow equality. Now that would be something.
Labels: Blogging Against Disablism Day