Disability Allyship #8
Why you should employ disabled people...
Hi my lovely friends, welcome to Disability Allyship.
This newsletter is about all things disability AND allyship, to give you a fresh perspective and advice that you can implement immediately to make your world more inclusive of disabled people. As a disabled woman myself, I am on my own allyship journey and I am excited to have you along on the journey.
#Thought - Why is it so hard for disabled people to get on the career ladder?
[ID: A woman wearing a black sweater, with gold rings on some of her fingers, is standing in front of a white wall holding a “like a boss” mug.]
Being disabled and trying to get a job is hard. Extremely hard. And the latest statistics from the UK Government prove this:
52.3% of disabled people are employed, compared to 81.1% of non-disabled people.
The unemployment rate of disabled people is 8.4% compared to non-disabled people at 4.6%.
And 42.9% of disabled people are economically inactive, compared to 14.9% of non-disabled people.
These figures, whilst a slight improvement over the years, are still dire and still reflective of a society that does not value disabled talent and skills (and are likely reflective of statistics across many countries around the globe). It also doesn’t reflect the kind of work that disabled people might be doing, for many disabled people the work that they do is likely to be minimal wage work, part time work, or they are self employed because of the difficulty to get work that includes reasonable adjustments. And in being limited in the work that disabled people can get, many feel the limitations of not being able to pursue careers and career progression that brings them purpose, joy and meaning.
In a society where disability is posited into two particular tropes - pity/tragedy and inspirational - disabled people are rarely afforded the belief that they want a career, that they want to achieve something significant in life that isn’t linked to their disability. Think on this, how many disabled lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, ballet dancers, architects, actors, etc do you know? You may know one or two, but representation is so lacking that many disabled children and young people struggle to believe that they can achieve anything in their chosen career, let alone even get on the career ladder.
To give disabled people the opportunities and means to gain meaningful employment, we need to change how we understand and perceive disability. This is where you, as an ally, can really support the disability community and work on the positive change that is needed to increase opportunity. Whether you are a teacher, a recruiter, a manager, a CEO, really examine your beliefs about disabled students/employees… is your organisation the reason disabled people are being held back in life? Please be honest with yourself, with your team. And then consider, how can we, as an organisation, become a true ally for disabled people, not by token representation/celebration/employment, but by making sustainable changes that are welcoming and culture changing.
Would you like more tips on how to make these sustainable changes? Should I do a series specifically for teachers and a series specifically for employers? Would you like a video series? Let me know your thoughts and what would be most helpful to you in the comments thread…
#Action - Make your recruitment process disability friendly.
[ID: A red sign that says For Hire sticks up into the air, attached to a metre reader.]
A quick and simple to tip today about how to make your recruitment process at work disability friendly… heck, this tip will just make your recruitment process human friendly -
Make it standard in your job application and interview invitation to ask what a person’s access needs are.
Literally every person on this planet will have access needs, it is just we have systems and physical spaces in place that cater to very select groups in society, and not enough flexibility to see that we are harming most people by not making changes. Will you consider implementing this small and easy change from today?
#Mood - A Disabled Mermaid and the Arts.
[ID: An illustration portrait of Frida Kahlo, a Mexican woman wearing a red top, gold necklace and hoop earrings, her brown hair up and red roses on the top of her head. She is smiling. A pale pink circle surrounds her as well as smaller dots of red, gold, and white. Below the illustration is a quote, sitting on a blue paint smear, "I don't paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality."]
Not many people know this, but in my 20’s I went to uni and got myself a 1st Class degree in Fine Art and a Masters in Philosophy (Fine Art Degree), exhibited as a solo artist and also took part in many group shows, and set myself on the path of academia. What a different life I was living compared to now… but a life that has really influenced my work, both as a speaker and as an activist. How so? During my art degree I discovered disability art, I discovered disabled artists who were using conceptual and contemporary art to challenge perceptions around disability, I was discovering disability studies and politics and understanding that my place in society meant that I and many others were being oppressed on a daily basis. Without this learning I think I would still be living under the belief that I am not worth it, that my life should be limited on the basis of my limb difference, as opposed to my life being full of opportunity and potential on account of a non-ableist society.
What art taught me was to tell my own story - as Frida above states, “I don’t paint dreams or nightmares, I paint my own reality.” My reality, my story, my vulnerabilities, barriers, opportunities and successes. I often speak about in my workshops the fact that disabled people just want to be believed about our experiences, our truths are our truths and art really supports this being seen and heard as we wish to be seen and heard.
This week I was reminded of these learnings as I read this article about Australian performance artist Hanna Cormick - Climate change and why the way we make art needs to change. Hanna has a trifecta of conditions, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, all three affect her joints and organs, as well as her ability to stand. As her conditions have deteriorated, alongside her several allergies that can be life threatening, she has had to adapt her art, from being a performer on the stage in Paris, to working on her art from a positive pressure air-sealed safe room and calculating the risk on her life to leave her room and perform in public in Australia. Hanna’s art practice looks at the issues, thinking and beliefs around illness, capitalism and art, where she explores ideas around the social model of disability and ‘crip time.’ (‘Crip time’ is definitely something that many, if not all disabled people experience, me included, will discuss further in next newsletter.)
Hanna’s latest work is The Mermaid, where she discusses how “illness and fragility is made in our society and the way that invisibility aids and abets oppression and injustice." Like a literal fish out of water, Hanna is dressed as a mermaid, with her wheelchair to get around, an oxygen mask on to ensure she can breath, and an IV line with saline into her arm. She is making a bold and necessary statement about how it is society, the physical spaces and places and people that create the barriers in life for disabled people, not the actual impairment or condition.
The link to climate change and capitalism is also strong, just as we destroy the planet for the finite resources that our home has, so we destroy ourselves with a work ethic that exhausts and burns out. We are fragile creatures living on a fragile planet, and if there is anything that disabled people and our experiences can teach the world, it is that we are not infinite beings, our energy, our lives, our output can never be at the expense of our health and wellbeing. We are more than a resource, the earth is more than a resource, and Hanna’s work succinctly expresses this truth.
Go check out Hanna’s work here - Hanna Cormick - and let us know in the comments thread what you think… is her work powerful? Has it made you think about the links between disability, capitalism and climate change? How do you think it will impact your ideas around disability allyship?
#News - Get Your Disability History On!
[ID: an aged brown box sits open on a table. Inside the box are a pile of old black and white photos, one if of a man with a high collar and glasses, another is of a man in a suit, and another is of a baby in a onesie.]
It is Disability History Month (18th November - 18th December) here in the UK. Disability History Month was created with the aims to celebrate disabled people, past and present, challenge disableism by exploring oppression of disabled people, past and present, and to achieve equality.
The two themes this year are - Disability and Hidden Impairments and Disability, Sex and Relationships. Two themes that are extremely important to discuss and raise awareness of.
As someone with a very visible disability, I can recognise the certain privilege that that can afford me when it comes to being believed about my disability and accessing the support that I need. For my friends with hidden impairments, I have seen when they have be disbelieved and abused by medical staff/experts/specialists, government representatives, and general society, to the point where it has contributed to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Hidden, or invisible disabilities account for a large section of the disability community and have for a very long time. They are just as valid and worthy of support and recognition as visibly disabled people.
As a disabled person I have been on the dating seen, I have had relationships, a broken heart, experiences unrequited crushes (both ways… yes, I had a friend at uni who liked me that way, unfortunately for him I didn’t feel the same). Yet, the amount of times that people have asked me (or close friends) if I have ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend, if I have ever had sex, or can I have children, it is intrusive, hurtful, harmful, and embarrassing on my part. Disability, sex and relationships all co-exist and have for centuries. Whether from a positive perspective (where disabled people have been openly loved, cared for, wanted and created their own families and relationships) through to the darker side of sex and relationships, where abuse, objectification and manipulation of disabled people happens, disabled people can be and are sexual beings.
How can you explore Disability History Month in your school/business/organisation/community? Or how can you explore it for yourself? History is important, and disability history is extremely important to know if we are going to unpick ableism and make the world a safer and more inclusive place for disabled people.
Please feel free to comment, let’s keep the conversation going. And please feel free to share on your socials, through email, etc. Also, do let me know if there is anything in particular you would like me to discuss or look at, am always happy for suggestions.
Why not follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin (I’m not on Tik Tok yet, frankly that platform scares the pants off me). Also, if you would like to book a speaker or consultant on all things disability, ableism, inclusion, accessibility, etc, pop me a line here - email@example.com