Just the other day, I was asked about the sort of reaction people get when their disability gets to the stage that they have to give up a work and then try to get employment that they could manage.
The question I was asked was: “Am I correct in thinking that many people who have to stop working due to their disability end up being defined by their illness rather than the value they can create elsewhere?”
Sadly, in my experience, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
Thinking back to November 2006, my condition made it impossible for me to continue doing the job I had at the time. So I decided to seek alternative employment but came against a brick wall – all because I had already been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Not that I was turned down because of my disability. Perish the thought! That would have been illegal in the UK as it is in many countries. You see it would have broken the laws designed to protect those of us with disabilities; protect us from discrimination.
But that, of course, was never the stated reason.
In cases where I was not asked medical questions, I did not mention it. In one case I reached the final shortlist of three before the potential employer gave out medical questionnaires. Answering them all honestly resulted in me being told that one of the other candidates had been given the job.
Then there were those companies where the personnel department sent out an ‘equal opportunities’ form to be completed and returned with the application form. Ostensibly this is because, they say, they want to ensure that they employ a cross-section of society – including people with disabilities. Strangely, or maybe not, those companies didn’t even offer me an interview.
I recounted this to the jobs adviser I was assigned at the local jobcentre, a part of what is now the Department of Work and Pensions. Her response was to tell me to apply for disability benefit, meaning that I no longer needed to look for work. And, of course, it meant the number of unemployed was reduced by one.
That’s my story and yet similar tales could be told many thousands of times as potential employers only pay lip service to anti-discrimination legislation. And by just being careful not to incriminate themselves they just waltz around the laws.
Well, it’s not quite the end of my story. I have always fought against being defined by my disability and now, thanks to Multiple Sclerosis News Today publishing my articles, I have reclaimed my value.