The Disability Unemployability Conspiracy (Part 2)

So, we’re now in the 2nd week of disability employment awareness month and this week I’m focusing on Peter who, as I said at the end of last week’s entry, has struggled to find employment since his injury and thinks it is far harder for people with disabilities to find employment than those without.

This is his story…

Peter

Year of injury & cause: 2004, RTA (motorbike crash)
Age at time of injury: 45
Current age: 59
Injury level: T11 complete

Although unemployed at the time of his injury due to workforce cutbacks, Peter had spent the previous 15 years working for Great Lakes Chemicals as a plant labourer/machine operator and before that had worked on production lines at various factories. During this time he had acquired a multitude of skills relating to his specific roles in these jobs.

“There really wasn’t much out there for a spinally injured person in his position.”

He was initially keen to re-enter the workplace after leaving hospital and settling back into everyday life, so visited the local Jobcentre to see what his options were. However, after listing his previous employment roles and skills he was stunned to be told that there really wasn’t much out there for a spinally injured person in his position, as he could no longer do the manual labour, machine operating or forklift driving he had done in his past jobs. He was instead told that if he wanted a job, he would need to look at a completely different career which would mean retraining in an entirely new field and acquiring a whole new skill set. Being told that everything he had learnt and all the skills he had acquired over the past few decades were now worthless and he would need to start from the beginning again at age 46 was, as you can imagine, crushingly disheartening to hear. So much so in fact that it killed off Peter’s hope and desire to return to work dead in its tracks.

When I asked Peter what could have been done differently at that time to help him find work, he stated that there needed to be more feesable options available for people post-injury, especially those who come from a manual labour background, whose skill set is most severely affected by spinal injury. There should be more options available for people who have worked for decades in a certain career or industry other than having to retrain in an entirely new one. Personally speaking as an English Lit graduate, if someone told me that in order to continue working I would need to retrain in mathematics, the term panic attack would not do justice to the abject terror that would wash over me!

“There remains a negative stigma surrounding disability in the workplace.”

Peter also strongly believes that, when applying or being interviewed for a job, certain parameters need to be maintained in order to ensure disabled people are given an equal chance and that a person’s disability is not held against them or seen as any sort of reason why they shoudn’t be employed. It is his current belief that still to this day, if presented with an able-bodied person and a disabled person, the majority of employers would sooner hire the able-bodied candidate, even if the other person’s disability had no effect on the requirements of the job. He stated to me that even though positive steps are being taken, there remains a negative stigma surrounding disability in the workplace, with employers seeing a person in a wheelchair as something of a liability, with a higher chance of accidents or illnesses leading to more paperwork, more absences and more hassle than it’s worth.

Despite all this, Peter has managed to keep himself busy over the years, building and repairing computers in his spare time, a skill he taught himself without having to enrol in courses and acquire certificates. He also remains passionate about motorbiking and has taken part in several charity bike rides on his adapted motorcycle.

Next week I’ll be talking to Jamie, a teacher who has been injured for 4 years and who is not afraid to speak his mind about the appalling way he feels he has been treated since going back to work post injury.

Hope to see you then!

G