Opinion: I am a wheelchair user. That shouldn't mean I am shut out of job opportunities

Tuesday, 11 August 2020 10:11 GMT

Female wheelchair user tests ramp in Hanau, Germany. Picture taken February 17, 2020.REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When companies fail to make their offices wheelchair accessible, many like me are prevented from going after coveted opportunities

Holly Girven is a graduate of law from Warwick University

It’s hard to break the glass ceiling when you can’t even physically get in the door.

Looking for a job during a global pandemic is difficult.

Like other graduates, I'm trying to start my career but finding the job market very competitive.    

Imagine my excitement then when I am invited to interview via Skype for a job in the legal team of a major British company. The role is office-based so to be upfront I ask if the space is wheelchair accessible.  

Five hours later an email lands telling me that unfortunately the interview can no longer take place because the office is not wheelchair accessible.

My suggestion to work remotely is declined due to "productivity concerns."

Lets not think that remote working is some kind of societal leveller.

These are hard times for so many with economies falling and masses of people chasing fewer jobs. But for some there are extra hurdles.   

The freedom to do interviews on Zoom or Microsoft teams and to work from home doesn't always erase prejudice or allow disabled people like me a better shot at landing coveted jobs.

The experience has knocked me back. I don't know how to feel. I'm upset but also angry at the system. I know it will not just be me that this has happened to.

The latest figures show that in the UK only 53.2% of disabled people are in employment, compared to 81.8% of non-disabled people.

Sadly, these figures are not surprising.

There are numerous reasons for the disability employment gap, including some disabled people not being well enough to work. But companies being unwilling to make reasonable adjustments is certainly a contributory factor.

I am aware that some buildings are extremely hard to make wheelchair accessible, and especially for smaller companies with fewer resources I can be more understanding.

But when it involves a large company with more resources, there is no excuse.

So, what is the solution? In my opinion, job adverts should be required to include access information such as wheelchair access and whether remote and flexible working is possible.

Even basic information would allow people to make a more informed decision of whether to apply for the job.

Companies should ensure all their staff, especially those responsible for recruiting, have received disability awareness training.

Further, if someone discloses that they are a wheelchair user or have any form of disability, employers should engage in a conversation to consider whether adaptations could be made.

It is important to note that every disability is different, and that it is wrong to make sweeping assumptions about disabled people.

Companies need to be willing to engage in conversation with disabled applicants about their needs.

I don’t want to tar all companies with the same brush. I have had some really positive experiences, but it is unacceptable that there are still companies that are willing to cancel job interviews because of lack of wheelchair access at their office.

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