Geraldine Lavelle from Sligo talks about how she returned to work after she sustained a C6 spinal cord injury in 2013
Recently I’ve been thinking about my experience with employment since my injury and I’ve come to realise how much of a sense of fulfillment work gives me. It’s now recognised that working has health benefits adding to self-worth, self-esteem and a feeling of self-reliance.
After my accident I prioritized retuning to work, and almost one year after incurring my disability I re-entered the workforce. My employer at the time of my accident, a multi-national healthcare company called Abbott, was excellent in aiding me to get back to employment and making me feel like a valuable member of the workforce once again. They did this in a number of ways. They transferred me to a different branch (closer to where I now reside), they reallocated me with a new post more in line with my subsequent abilities, they made some essential changes to my place of work, and they allowed me to be accompanied by a personal assistant until I became familiar with my new surroundings.
I was one of the lucky ones. A significant employment gap between disabled and nondisabled people exists in Ireland at the moment, along with the poverty that generally accompanies disability. A big player in independence is your ‘financial resources’ with poverty and independence being closely related. This is an invisible community, who for the most part are suffering in silence as they try to cope with the day-to-day struggles.
Even though for the most part I have been lucky with regards to securing employment, I have also had a few negative experiences. One such was being told by a person specially trained to help disabled people find suitable jobs that “it would not be worth an employer’s time to employ you”. Despite his ‘invaluable advice’ I have obtained several paid roles in the past three years where I was just as capable as my non-disabled counterparts. His attitude towards disability was most definitely not leading the way but lagging behind. This staggering negative perception and attitude around disability is what prevents employers from hiring disabled people and this needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are still seen as incapable, with stigma surrounding mental aptitudes and ability still existing. In 2018, disability discrimination should have no place in our society, including our work environments. It’s crucial that we point out examples of good workplace practice and it’s important to highlight where businesses in general are going wrong with accessible employment.
In my opinion, there is too little guidance, support and training to help those with long-term conditions return to employment, and once again the myriad initiatives designed to lift people out of isolation and segregation fall short. The system prevents so many disabled people from joining or re-entering the workforce and becoming independent. This can create a mentality that there’s little disabled people can add to the state: instead, they remain a stigmatic liability due to their disability. Work opportunities need to be given and barriers need to be overcome. Facilitation for all with regards career options should be central with a focus on skills instead of the disability. Employers need to take a positive approach to disability and offer interviews to all disabled applicants who meet the minimum job criteria with a view to a diverse workforce.
I leave you with this last thought; Do you think enough is being done to promote diversity in the workplace, when thinking about disability in particular?
Geraldine Lavelle is a writer and blogger at Spinal Cord Injury Blog where she writes about living with her acquired disability. Geraldine sustained a C6 spinal cord injury in 2013 following a cycling accident. She lives in Sligo and is a strong advocate for people with disabilities in Ireland.