Latest Government figures show that there are one million disabled people in the UK who want to and are able to work but are currently not employed. Disability charity, Scope and Virgin Media have responded with a ground-breaking new campaign – ‘Work With Me’ – to support more disabled people to get into and stay in work.

Work With Me is a three-year initiative to understand and tackle the barriers disabled people face getting into and staying in work. ‘Work With Me’ is inviting members of the public, employers, and Government to work together to address these issues.

Virgin Media is funding Scope’s new digital employment support service for disabled people. The partnership’s ambition is to reach one million disabled people with employment information and support by the end of 2020, so they can get into work, stay in work and realise their career ambitions.

Work With Me aims to support disabled people like Scope supporters, Carys and Matt. Their stories outline some of the challenges – as well as a few of the solutions that the initiative aims to highlight.

CarysCarys Llewellyn, 22, from Swansea has found a job in retail with Lush where the support she receives, she tells Able, makes all the difference…

“Alongside studying for a masters’ degree in Abnormal and Clinical Psychology at Swansea University, I work part-time on the shop floor at Lush. I’m also almost completely blind – something which surprises many of our customers.

“Lush is my first job and it was the first one I applied for, so I was delighted when I was offered it, but I did have some problems during the interview process. They knew that I was visually impaired but when it came to the group interview some of the activities weren’t accessible so I couldn’t participate

“Sometimes I think that companies just forget to consider things like this. Some really simple changes could make a big difference. The way that Lush has responded has been absolutely amazing. I explained my concerns to head office and as a result, they’ve completely changed the interview process to make it more inclusive.

“Lush have also arranged all the support I need in-house, so I didn’t have to go through Access to Work. It’s something they didn’t have to do at all.

“Every shift, I’m ‘buddied-up’ with another person, so when I do a consultation with a customer, I have someone to find the products. So far, it’s been going really well. I still have to deal with some customers’ negative attitudes and comments, which can be really difficult. It’s something I’m used to, but now I’m working, I’m getting it a lot more.

“Customers have made comments like “It’s really shocking that they let you work here” as if I can’t be trusted on the shop floor because I’m blind. Lots of people ask me if I’m wearing contact lenses, so I constantly have to explain that I have a visual impairment. It doesn’t need to be brought up all the time. Learning how to deal with negative attitudes is a skill in itself. I’m trying to manage it in a more constructive way, rather than just letting it upset me.

“There’s a lot of ignorance and misconceptions about blindness. I was in the supermarket the other day and accidentally bumped into an old man with my trolley. He told me to “Open my eyes”, and when I told him I had a visual impairment he said “It can’t be that bad if you don’t have a stick or a dog”.

“Mindsets and attitudes are at the core of a lot of the barriers for disabled people in Society. I’m lucky to have an employer who understands that simple changes can make such a huge difference, but it should be the same at every company.

MattMatt Carson, 28, from Manchester talks about the frustration of searching for a job and how being bold  and courageous was the secret of his success.

“After four and a half years at a debt management company, I was made redundant and had to start from scratch to find a new job. Even though I had a CV, it needed updating, which took a couple of weeks. I looked for all different types of job, on the internet and in the newspaper. I found that I’d either get some sort of an interview or I wouldn’t hear anything back.

The months went by, but I kept getting told I wasn’t the person that they were looking for. I felt like I was being discriminated against because of my impairment. On my CV I put down that I’d had a stroke at birth. I thought if I just turned up to an interview and didn’t say that I was disabled, then they’d start questioning why I didn’t put that in.

I know it’s not easy for anyone to find a new job but working in IT infrastructure, it was even harder because there was only so much I could do. I couldn’t do any lifting of computers or anything like that.

I discussed it with my family and they felt that it was important to say that I am who I am – I do have an impairment, I don’t have the use of my right hand. Anything that needed changing to the role they’d have to be committed to doing, otherwise it would be a form of discrimination.

Some people told me to take it off, and some people said it might be worth keeping it on because at the end of the day you’re telling the truth rather than giving false information. It’s so difficult. I just wanted to make sure that if I went for an interview they couldn’t say ‘Why didn’t you put down that you have an impairment?’

But I was still getting knocked back from any interview I was getting, and in the end I decided to go in another direction. I went through Remploy, who were helpful but I felt they were too slow to send my CV off. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I then decided to try the Shaw Trust, but I wanted something office-based and I didn’t feel I was being offered the right roles.

I always knew it was going to be difficult to get a job, but I didn’t realise just how extremely tough it would be. I’d hate to be in that position again because I just think it would bring me down massively.

Taking matters into my own hands, I posted on LinkedIn, saying I’d had a stroke, I had cerebral palsy on my right-hand side, I was looking for a job and I was employable. I didn’t want to sit back and do nothing. I had a brilliant response from people sharing and liking the post – and it led to me being offered a job at a start-up. Hiring me was a win-win situation for me and my boss, because I introduced her to the Shaw Trust who also help new businesses.

I’m now self-employed and have a self-employment adviser supporting me. It’s a great shame that not all companies give people like me the opportunity to show what we can do.

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