I have recently started working at Muscular Dystrophy UK as the Employability Officer. My entire job is focused on removing the barriers young disabled people face when trying to find work, which if you know me you’ll know this is a perfect job for me! The disabled employment gap is an issue I feel very strongly about as I know so many disabled people who want to be in work and find it difficult getting a foot (or wheel!) in the door because of their disability.
I applied for the government to fund Access to Work as I need support with my travel costs as a wheelchair user who struggles to use public transport. The application process was quite easy and straightforward. I told them exactly what support I needed and for the most part they were quick to respond (with a few gentle reminders) and I had everything in place by my start date. This is not always the case unfortunately so I was very happy it went so smoothly for me. My advice for anyone applying for Access to Work is to start the process as soon as you can and don’t be afraid to chase people up for replies.
When I received confirmation that Access to Work had received my signed declaration form I was also sent the claims forms. One of the forms was not completely clear to me so I rang the dedicated Access to Work phone number to ask how I should fill it out. The person who answered the phone was very dismissive of me from the beginning of the call and kept interrupting me when I tried to ask my question. At one point I considered hanging up and calling back later to speak to somebody else as it was clear she was not going to be able to help me as she would not listen to my question. When she let me say that I had a question about how to fill out the claim form she suggested that my support worker “help me” by filling it out for me and implied that I was not mentally capable of doing it myself; again if you know me you will know that nothing upsets me more than when people assume that because I am physically disabled I also have learning difficulties and speak to me either like a child or don’t speak to me at all and speak to my PA instead. This is an annoyance shared by so many disabled people I have talked to. I almost couldn’t believe it that an employee of a government fund for disabled people clearly had so little awareness of disability. I hated to think how her comment would be received by somebody who did have a learning difficulty as I can only imagine it would make them feel embarrassed and insecure in their ability and their independence. I was able to tell the adviser that I actually was capable of filling out forms as I am a lawyer but I still felt insulted at her assumption. I have now filed a complaint against this advisor and suggested she receive more training on how to speak to disabled people.
Unfortunately there are going to be people that speak to a disabled person in a disrespectful or unfair way like this advisor. It is so important that young disabled people feel empowered to speak up about his experiences and to tell those people that they deserve to be spoken to like everyone else. The intention of this blog is not to put people off but to share the good and the bad experiences I have had with Access to Work. Access to Work is about supporting disabled people in work and I will continue to promote it and I encourage anyone reading this to apply. I am also encouraging you to never accept disrespect and never let it get in the way of you achieving what you want.