Turning the Tables – Employing Disabled People

This post on the Same Difference blog prompted some thoughts on the subject of employing disabled people.  It can be nerve wracking for anyone going through the whole job hunting process – updating your CV, applying for a job, writing the perfect cover letter and then, if you’re lucky, going to an interview.

For a person with a disability this can be even more worrying.  Not only are you in competition with the other applicants, you must also get past any prejudices and worries and pre-conceived ideas that the potential employer may have.  The employer may believe for example that a disabled person is likely to take lots of time off because of illness or for medical appointments.  If the role applied for is customer facing the employer may worry about what customers will think.

There are many other ideas that may, in the employers mind, put up barriers to employing the disabled person.  It may seem to be the easier option to employ an able-bodied person instead, even if their skills or experience are less than the disabled person.

Preparing for the interview is key to dealing with this.  Of course, it is always important to prepare for an interview.  Research the company or organisation, find out all you can about them, be prepared to answer questions about them – the employer will be looking for someone who has taken an interest.  In addition have some questions ready to fire back.  Has the company recently won a large contract or opened new premises?  Are they doing something new or interesting?  Mention it and probe into the details.  Not only does this show you have done some research and are interested but it also turns the interview into a 2-way conversation rather than a question and answer session.

That is standard interview preparation advice.  For the disabled person you could also prepare some information about your disability.  You don’t need to give your entire medical history but letting the employer know what effects your disability has on your day-to-day life and what adjustments might be needed in order for you to be effective in the role can be useful and gives you the chance to present your disability in a positive way and counter any doubts that the employer might have.

Let’s take a look at one of the most common worries employers have about taking on disabled staff, and some of the positive arguments:

“Disabled people need lots of time off, this costs money”

Sure, disabled people may need time off from time to time.  Sometimes we have  appointments for assessments, treatments and regular check ups.  But this also applies to able-bodied people.
Some people see disabled people as being ill simply because they have a disability.  This is quite common but untrue.  We do get ill, but we are not ill constantly.
Disabled people are more likely to come to work even if they are ill.  There can be a feeling that we have to work harder and better than our able-bodied colleagues in order to prove ourselves.
Following on from the above, disabled people are less likely to take time off for common problems that see able-bodied people staying at home.  Because we’re often used to pain, side effects of medications and struggling with every day tasks we are able to cope with back pain, headaches, feelings of nausea etc.

See how the negative can be turned around?  If nothing else, see the interview as a chance to educate and maybe, just maybe, change someone’s view.

Right On Track – A Day With ST Accessible Motorsport


On a dark, cold and thoroughly miserable looking November morning I drag myself from my bed to the shower at 4am.  Having freshened up and gotten dressed I have a coffee and some porridge.  Then a coffee.  Then I fill my travel mug with coffee for the road.  Coffee is good.

Loaded up, I hit the road.  One good thing about travelling at this time of morning – the roads are practically empty.  Soon I’m on the M1 southbound with the music up loud, the car smelling of coffee and me feeling a lot less bleary.

At 7:15 I arrive at Rockingham Raceway and, following directions from the security guard, wind my way around the roads within the complex to the paddock where I find the ST Motorsport van and trailer.  The Volvo S60 T5 is being unloaded and taken into the garage.  I park up and make my way into the garage where Steve Collett welcomes me.  Then it hits me that today I am actually going to drive the beast I’ve just seen being unloaded.  I have seen this car several times at shows and events such as Get Going and Motability One Big Days and have wanted to get behind the wheel for several months.  This car is race prepared and adapted with hand controls and the controls can be adapted very quickly to suit drivers with various disabilities.

There’s another chap in the garage named Steve – Steve Tarrant.  He has a motorhome and has stayed overnight at the complex.  He shakes my hand and introduces himself and we have a chat.  Steve is an experienced motorsport marshall, talking to him it is clear that racing is in his blood and his passion for it is such that after losing a leg when an F1 car tore it off at 180mph he fought the authorities to be allowed to continue marshalling and was the first marshall who uses a wheelchair.

Did I mention that I’ve wanted for a while to get behind the wheel of this Volvo?  Before I can take the controls myself I have to be driven round as a passenger for sighting laps and this is the part that has worried me – I am a very nervous passenger having been driving more than half my lifetime and the thought of getting into the passenger seat of a race car while being driven around “Europe’s fastest track” by a racing driver has filled me with dread.  I even ask if it’s necessary and am told it is.

So I transfer into the passenger seat, over the carbon covered spar of the roll cage, and am strapped in nice and tight.  This should be reassuring as it is obvious I’m not going anywhere but it feels claustrophobic.  Our driver for today is Paul Rivett, a driver in the Clio Cup who is currently close to the top of the leaderboard.  This is a little reassuring but I am still nervous.  As he gets in and straps himself in I explain to him how I feel and ask, pathetically, if he can “take it steady” once out on the track.  I am surprised when he agrees and explains that today is a track day, that we’re not going to be racing and can go as fast as I feel comfortable with.  This is a great comfort to me and I relax a fair bit.

Guided out by Steve Collett we leave the garage and enter the pit lane, checking it’s clear before moving out towards the traffic lights and the track.  Approaching the lights the marshall there holds his arm up and points to his wrist.  We raise our arms and show our wristbands, signifying that we are registered as drivers and have attended the drivers briefing.  Satisfied, the marshall waves us past and we accelerate as the pit lane ends and we join the track proper.  The sun has made an appearance and most of the track is bright and dry, with just a couple of damp patches.


The pit lane joins the track right after turn one, one of the fastest points on the track, and straight away there are cars whizzing past on our right.  This is the only part of the track where overtaking is permitted on the right.  At all other times the rules say to pass on the left and there is no overtaking on bends, only on straights.

Paul’s voice comes in over the intercom as he asks how I am.  I say something in reply, I can’t remember what, and Paul then starts giving a commentary and telling me what to look out for, where to brake, where to turn and where and when to pull the throttle wide open.  Taking a hairpin and finding a patch of water halfway round the car slides a bit and Paul corrects and holds it then tells me to look out for that.  I make a mental note and continue listening.

In what seems like no time my 3 sighting laps are done and my head is spinning trying to remember turns, braking points, turning and acceleration points.  My most dreaded part of the day has been a huge amount of fun and I am disappointed to arrive back at the garage and have to get out.  This is where I had a surprise as I had thought that Paul would take each of the 5 drivers out on their sighting laps and then we would get our turns.  This turns out not to be the case as I am bundled straight round to the driver’s side and strapped in again.  This time I will be in control and again I am slightly nervous, but an excited kind of nervous.


Once in and helmeted up again and Paul is ready we are again guided out of the garage and I listen intently as Paul give me guidance over the intercom, I check the pit lane carefully.  I am very aware that I am in control of a machine I have never driven before and which someone else has put a lot of time, effort and money into and am entering an area filled with more of the same, including some very exotic machines.  I don’t want to be the one responsible for damaging any of it.

Approaching the marshall near the end of the pit lane we again raise our arms and get the wave.  Paul tells me to go for it and I accelerate out of the pit lane, a check in the mirror and over my shoulder for traffic and I am on the track.  On.  The.  Track.  For the first time.  First impressions – I am impressed by how light the throttle is and how the car responds.  I am also very aware of the other traffic around me.

Lap 1 and Paul is reminding me of the braking and turning points.  I had noticed on the sighting laps how he used the whole width of the track when taking the bends and I start to do the same.  Coming to the hairpin where we slid previously I take it perhaps a touch too fast and the car starts sliding a fair bit.  I steer into it and ease off the gas and once the car has settled down I pull the throttle again and receive a congratulations from Paul for the way I’d held and corrected the slide.  While I hear that I am thinking it was my fault we slid in the first place but there’s no time to dwell on that for we are fast approaching a turn which sits at the crest of a short hill and appears to me to be a left hander but is in fact a right.  I’ve approached ready to turn left and the surprise throws me somewhat.  I make it round and we then enter a series of left handers which Paul wants me to take in one long, smooth movement.  I fail miserably and the car lurches from one to the next.  Straight after this I enter the chicane a little too fast but Paul doesn’t seem to mind.  This then takes me back to the longest and fastest straight.  Paul tells me to open the throttle fully and I pull it a bit more and aim out towards the wall on the far right of the track, then hold position around six feet away for the length of the straight before easing off and moving left slightly for the banked left hand curve which is still mostly in shade and so may be slippery.  At the far side of the banked curve is that hairpin again.  I brake harder than I had on the last lap and make it round without sliding and to a comment of good from Paul.

Several laps in and I’m starting to get a feel for the track.  I now know what I can safely take the hairpins at and that the turn that appears to be a left hander is actually a right hander.  But those left turns, that everyone else seems to be able to take fluidly, still elude me.  I lurch from one to the next, missing the apex of each and getting in the way of everyone else as I repeatedly brake and then accelerate again.  Paul takes matters into his own hands, quite literally.  He tells me that on the next lap he will control the steering and show me how it’s done, and that’s exactly what he does.  Suddenly it all seems much easier and on the next lap I manage to make them all flow into one, long, smooth left hand turn.  I feel like a driving God.  This feeling is short lived as we again approach the long, fast straight and, again, Paul tells me to open the throttle.  Being quite a few laps in by now I am feeling much more confident and have a feel for the car so I open the throttle all the way, the first time I have done this.  I squeal like a little girl as the car snarls, crouches and then launches itself down the straight which suddenly doesn’t seem as long as it had before.  Driving God indeed, Paul is laughing and I can’t stop giggling at the acceleration.

A few more laps and my time is up.  I enter the pit lane on my last lap and slowly pull down past the other garages before pulling into ours.  I switch off the engine and remove my helmet.  Let out a breath and realise I’m still grinning like a Cheshire cat.  Steve is by the door with my chair and as I transfer back out the other guys ask how it was.  Only word that I can think of to do it justice – awesome.

I’ll definitely be booking a slot on another of these days and may be taking along my partner too as I think she would enjoy this experience.

I would like to thank Steve Collett, Paul Rivett and Steve Tarrant for making this possible and for their work and dedication to making motorsport accessible to disabled people.  I wish them every success in the future.

UNISON Disabled Members Conference 2009

UNISON Disabled Members Conference 2009

Daniel Anderson-McIntyre

I attended the national Disabled Members Conference of
UNISON in Blackpool over the long weekend of October 31st to
November 2nd.

As a 1st time Delegate to Conference things were
a little bewildering at first.
Thankfully I soon met a lady by the name of Fiona Heneghan, a Disability
Officer from Surrey County Council.
Fiona guided me through Conference procedures and helped make sure I was
in the right place at the right time.

Whilst at Conference I also met Dan Anderson and his wife Wendy
who both use BSL, so I had a chance to practise ready for my upcoming exam and
had some interesting conversations with them both.

One of the most bewildering things about Conference was the
hotel lobby during breaks and social times.
I have never seen so many people using wheelchairs, scooters,
powerchairs, crutches, walking sticks, BSL, hearing aids and PAs in one place
before.  It was nice to go from the
office or street environment. where I might be the only wheelchair user in
sight, to being just one of the crowd.
Everyone was friendly and helpful and the hotel staff were absolute

Conference was also attended by Dave Prentis (General
Secretary, UNISON) and Jonathan Shaw (Minister for Disabled People).

Dave gave an address detailing UNISON’s vision of a future
in which disabled workers were afforded the same levels of respect as their
non-disabled colleagues and also spoke about UNISON’s current “One Million
Voices” campaign.

Jonathan spoke about the Government’s current position on
disability working rights, including Disability Leave.  There then followed a lengthy Q and A session
during which he took questions from Conference and attempted to answer them.

On the last day of Conference one of the agenda items was a
motion on Disability Leave, which was something I had spoken to Fiona, Wendy
and Dan about several times during the weekend.
Fiona encouraged me to address Conference, which I did.

I spoke about how people working in organisations that did
not recognise Disability Leave as separate from Sickness Leave were being
disadvantaged in comparison to their non-disabled colleagues.  Many people working in these organisations
are being taken down Capability process routes by their HR departments simply
because they have racked up more sick days than their non-disabled colleagues.

This address was met with rapturous applause and afterwards,
during a break, I was approached by several people, all eager to tell me of
their experiences.  One of these people
was Jean Sowley (Regional Chair Disabled Members and National Co-Chair Disabled
Members) who told me that what I had spoken about was by no means uncommon and
asked me to become more active within the union.

On the last evening there was a social event which lasted
well into the next morning!  I have never
before seen a group of BSL interpreters signing karaoke.  That’s not a typo!  Signing.
In perfect synchronicity.  Dancing
wheelchairs (NOT ballroom!), lots of beer and a great atmosphere as well as
good company and a lot of laughs all made for a great night.

The weekend was certainly an experience and I have made
several new friends.  I look forward to
returning next year!

Employer Attitudes Towards Disabled Employees

Attitudes Towards Physical and Mental Impairment in the Modern Office Environment

In 2006, at the age of 29, I became disabled. This wasn’t just an overnight thing but was gradual over several months and I believe, looking back, had been
going on for a number of years beforehand.

My disability consists of a mental illness, known as Conversion Disorder, which causes me several physical and mental disabilities. I have difficulty for example with walking, often using my wheelchair or crutches to get around. Among the more “invisible” problems are my poor memory and lack of ability to concentrate for long periods of time.

I have been working in 1st line IT Support now for around 11 years and in 2006 was employed in the private sector by a large multinational food company. I went from walking normally one week in the office, albeit with some stumbling and falling, to walking with a stick and then, after trying to avoid it for some weeks, using my wheelchair to get around full time.

The first time I entered the office in my ‘chair I was extremely nervous and wondered what my colleague’s reactions might be. I needn’t have
worried – the ‘chair was simply accepted and didn’t seem to phase anyone or provoke any unwanted attention.

For their part my employer contacted my GP for info on how best they could accommodate me and any changes they may need
to implement in my work or working environment. They also arranged an independent Occupational Therapy Assessment, again so that they could find out
how best to help me continue in my work.

My GP advised that I should avoid stressful situations which meant that my workload was reduced and at one point it was suggested that I could work in the company mail room which I found quite upsetting and which never came to pass. Other items that came out of these assessments were that a different keyboard/mouse might be useful as I often have problems gripping a mouse, so I use a touchpad instead.

Every suggestion that came back was run past me and if I agreed it was implemented – the company even decided to give me every Tuesday off to visit a support group but kept me on full pay and paid for taxis to and from work when I couldn’t drive. Nothing, it seemed, was too much trouble. Being new to disability I was completely unaware of the DDA and would never have dreamed of asking for any of the adjustments they made, even though they did help enormously. My view was that my problems were my problems and I had to deal with them.

That employment ended with redundancy when the company decided to outsource IT to a third party. We were transferred under TUPE rules to become employees of that third party who announced that they wanted us to relocate to Milton Keynes and admitted that the two office buildings they had there were both inaccessible to wheelchair users. So the only option for me was redundancy.

So now, faced with unemployment and still coming to terms with my newly acquired disability, I was forced to start searching for work. Cue much sending of CVs to various agencies and jobsearch websites. Most of the jobs I were applying for I was more than qualified for but it seemed that no-one was even interested in inviting me for interview. The only interviews I was getting were from the “two ticks” organisations – public bodies who had the “Positive About Disabled People” symbol on their forms and the guaranteed interview organisations.

A lot of these very blatantly were simply going through the motions and doing what they were required to do. Then there was an interview
in Leeds. Again I turned up, dressed as smart as I could (shirt and tie – jackets don’t go well with wheelchairs) and ready for yet another
disappointment. The interview itself I felt went badly and I left thinking I would never hear from them again.

Two days later I got a call from that organisations HR department asking why I hadn’t mentioned the fact that I was
disabled on the application form. I had completely missed the entire Equality section of the long form and had therefore gotten through to the interview on my
own merits! It transpired that they were offering me the job but needed me to complete the form first. I hastily completed the form and emailed it back to
them. I was offered the job and accepted straight away.

Being a public sector organisation there are a lot of things that need to be done it seems when a disabled person is employed. I was invited to visit the office for a day to assess whether I could get around and what adaptations might need to be put in place. It was decided that a powered door opener on the main entrance and my own parking space in the garage under the building were needed. Again I couldn’t have asked for this and the parking space, in Leeds centre, is worth its weight in gold!

So, adaptations in place and I was working again. Then my line manager took maternity leave and problems started. Another manager was appointed
to my team and his attitude and knowledge seemed to be based around 50 years in the past. I was made to feel unreliable, useless and a burden to the rest of the team everytime I had a hospital or doctor appointment, or one of the kids or my partner were ill. He would pick apart the work I had done each day looking for mistakes and making it known when he felt he had found the slightest thing wrong. It seemed nothing I could do was good enough, even when I was working longer hours and doing more work than the rest of the team.

The final straw came when I was excluded from a briefing session being held in London. I asked why I had been excluded and was told by this manager that it was felt that my mobility problems and family commitments would make it difficult for me to attend. I pointed out that I could deal with my mobility problems myself and was used to life being difficult. I wasn’t excluded again.

I think that becoming disabled has given me a unique viewpoint on life and on working life in particular. It has been a real eye opener to a whole world of which I knew nothing previously and has shown that in some people old fashioned attitudes towards disabled people are still rife, but also that there are good employers and people out there who will bend over backwards to accommodate disabled people.

The trick is to find them…..