Job Hunting for Disabled People: Combatting Barriers with Unique Skills, From InvincibleWomanOnWheels & Dotted Pages

I’m back! Something a little different today. Firstly, today’s blog is a collaboration with the lovely Helen from Dotted Pages Blog. Secondly, a slightly different topic today. On the heels of my earlier post regarding my own experience job hunting as a disabled person, this post will delve more into the statistics and legislation surrounding disability and employment, as well as Helen discussing transferable skills. 

A little bit of background on why I’ve decided to discuss this and why this is a collab post. I recently happened up Helen’s blog post series on job hunting, and specifically her blog post on knowing your worth in employment and as an employee. She split this into 2 parts; one discussing knowing your worth in terms of the salary you should be earning and another part discussing transferable skills.

This got me thinking about how these different aspects are relevant or different when considering employment for disabled people, this is obviously something that is currently very relevant to me personally as I am a disabled person job hunting as we speak. I was also interested to discover whether the situation was different on opposite sides of the world. As I am UK based and Helen is based in Australia, it was a no brainer to ask Helen to join me in writing this post.

Statistics

Right, onto the stats! According to a 2019 report by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the disability employment gap in the UK is 30%. However, a Scope report using data from 2020 suggests that disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed compared to their non-disabled counterparts. This sharp increase suggests that COVID is disproportionately affecting the employment chances of disabled people.

This disparity does not stop once you’re employed, the same TUC report suggests that the UK disability pay gap is 15.5%, which means that disabled people are paid around £1.65 an hour less than a non-disabled counterpart in the same role at the same level of the same company. That is approximately  £3,003 a year.

Obviously, this likely varies depending on the specific disability but that’s still a pretty large ‘standard’ wage gap. That of course doesn’t consider the fact that disability isn’t the only thing that could affect salary, there are multiple facets and areas of identity to consider. One specific stat that stood out to me is the fact that disabled women face a  bigger pay gap than both disabled men and non-disabled women, this is obviously particularly concerning as I am a disabled woman myself. Sooooooooooo all in all, I have to honestly say the landscape doesn’t look too rosy as a disabled person job hunting in the UK.

Unfortunately, the prospects for disabled job seekers is no rosier on the other side of the world. As of 2019 statistics, there were just over two million disabled Australians of working age. Of these, only 47.8% were employed. This is compared to 80.3% of employment amongst the same group of people without disabilities.

While these are some disheartening statistics, it does look like (pre-COVID anyway) things are improving. In 2018 in Australia, 11.4% of people with a severe or profound disability had full-time employment. While not a high number, this is up from 7.9% in 2015. Hopefully, then, COVID doesn’t stop this upwards trend!

In terms of the disability pay gap in Australia, the starkest data I could find states that for every $1.00 a person without a disability earns, a disabled worker only makes $0.66. That’s a huge disparity, and one that is further compounded by the way workplace laws are geared to those without disabilities. For example, complications such as chronic pain are not easily dealt with by the standard sick-leave structure. 

Legislation

So what is the legislation that’s supposed to stop these kinds of gaps from happening? and what information can you clue yourself upon to know what you’re entitled to as a disabled person job hunting or already employed?

Well, firstly it’s best to understand how disability is defined, as that’s the basis for all definitions of disability within employment law. In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 defines disability as:

“a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.”

In this, ‘substantial’ means something that is more than minor or trivial, something which means it takes much longer to complete a daily task such as getting dressed. ‘long term’ refers to a condition which lasts for 12 months or longer.

The next thing would be to understand where discrimination can occur, these are the areas where the Equality Act 2010 is in place to protect against discrimination. Scope suggests that there are 3 main areas where discrimination can occur:

Application

Not being selected for an interview due to your condition would be discrimination. However, it is difficult to prove discrimination on these grounds (probably because writing “we didn’t select you because you are (for example) in a wheelchair” is a little too obviously ableist for companies to get away with writing, and they know that).

Interviews

If you are refused disability adjustments that you request at an interview, that is discrimination. Whoever is interviewing you is also not allowed to ask you about your specific condition or its effect on you, except for specific limited reasons. Those limited reasons include when it relates to your ability to do the core aspects of the job, or when discussing what adjustments may be necessary for you to perform as well as others in the recruitment process.

At work

Once you’re employed, if your employer does not make reasonable adjustments (such as allowing you to undertake flexible working or different duties to colleagues) which allow you to consider your disability and still do your job, that is discrimination.

You also need to be aware of salaries as a disabled person to make sure you’re being paid what you should be. In the UK, the minimum wage varies by age and what kind of role you are in (such as whether you are an apprentice). I won’t go through every specific difference (but I will leave a link to the April 2020 figures). Overall the figures range from £4.15/hour (apprentice) to £8.72/hour (National Living Wage) so keep those figures in mind when looking at salaries whilst job hunting. However specifically as a disabled person, also keep in mind an average salary for an employee at the level and the role you’re applying for and compare that to the salary you’re being offered, to ensure you’re not being underpaid as a disabled person (which the earlier figures from the TUC would suggest is likely).  

However, it’s not all entirely doom and gloom, there ARE schemes set up to help disabled people get into work in the UK. One of these is Access to Work which is available for those aged 16+ who live in England, Scotland or Wales and have a physical or mental disability or health condition which makes it difficult to get to work or do specific parts of their job. You must be in a paid job (or about to start/return to one). Access to Work can provide support such as helping to assess whether reasonable adjustments could be made to your workplace to make it easier for you to do your job. It could also provide a monetary grant to pay for things such as:

  • adaptations to equipment
  • special equipment/software
  • British Sign Language interpreters and video relay service support, lip speakers or note-takers
  • vehicle adaptations
  • taxi fares to work or a support worker if you cannot use public transport
  • a support worker or job coach
  • personal protective equipment for your support worker, if you employ them yourself
  • disability awareness training for colleagues
  • cost of moving your equipment if you change location or job

That’s all for the legislation and schemes in the UK, I’ll leave it to Helen to tell you about things from the Australian side.

Australia has anti-discrimination laws at both a federal and state level. On a national level, we have the specific Disability Discrimination Act 1992 which covers a huge range of disabilities from physical or intellectual to those that can be caused by a long-term illness. This act covers not just employment, but any other area where discrimination may occur, such as the refusal of entry at a venue or education.

The state-based anti-discrimination tends to be broader brush than this, covering all groups who may face discrimination, regardless of the cause. It is interesting to note these laws often also cover carers, who can face discrimination when job-seeking due to their commitments to dependents.

As Emma mentioned earlier, however, there is a large gap between discrimination being illegal, and that making a material difference in people’s lives. Potential employers aren’t going to come out and say that a disability is a reason they won’t hire you, even if it’s their deciding factor.

While I don’t know enough about it to go into as much detail as Emma has, I am sure there are programs and funding in Australia to assist disabled people in the workforce. I am, however, aware that our National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been criticised hugely since its inception, so I don’t think there is currently much political appetite for this sort of assistance.

Bureaucracy and muddy legalities don’t seem them to be much practical help when finding work. It’s therefore important to focus on the things you can positively impact, your skills and suitability for the job.

Transferable/Unique Skills

Now, away from all the stats and documentation. Let’s discuss skills! Specifically transferable and unique skills you can bring to the table as a potential employee. I think this is something that really important for disabled people to focus on, particularly given the unique way we HAVE to approach the world (to work through everyday inaccessibility.)

With stats, I have already discussed how disabled people are disadvantaged getting into employment. Whilst transferrable skills are something I discussed a little in my job-hunting post, I’ll hand over to Helen for the fuller discussion.

When searching for work, something a bit different or interesting on your CV or application can be a great way to get recruiters interested in meeting you to get more detail. The trick is to frame your point of difference in a way that highlights it as a relevant strength.

For example, if your condition limits your stamina, so you have to plan frequent breaks into any activities or travel, you could talk about your ability to work to strict schedules and timeframes. If you have to take extra time to plan a trip due to accessibility issues, you are a forward-thinking problem solver.

Take the strengths you’ve developed in your everyday life and apply corporate-speak to them. It’s no different from an able person talking about teamwork from their years of playing sport. In fact, it’s a lot less generic and predictable- which as I mentioned above, can be a great way to stand out!

Employers want to know the people they’re taking on are up for a challenge and have the ability to push through when things get tough. Well, you’ve been doing that your whole life! You’re detail-oriented, dedicated and determined, which are all great qualities to emphasise in a resume.

Don’t sell yourself short, and while it can be really hard, especially if you’re struggling financially, remember that if an employer doesn’t want you because of who you are, you probably wouldn’t be happy there. I know this isn’t always the most helpful piece of advice, but it is still important. You spend a lot of time at work; finding somewhere you’re comfortable and happy is important.

Everybody has something to offer, whether it’s your positive outlook or the fact you’re a programming whiz from necessity. The trick is highlighting those skills effectively and showing that the positives outweigh any perceived negatives.

Searching for work is hard enough without a disability. What I’ve learnt during this collab has shocked me about the realities of being a disabled job-seeker. I’m also very humbled to have been approached to work on this post. For me, job hunting shouldn’t be made harder by who you are, what you look like or how you get around. It’s about what skills and knowledge you have to offer.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this (lengthy) look into disability, employment and the differences between the UK and Australia.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels) & Helen (Dotted Pages)

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