Throughout my working life, I’ve been very lucky that my disability has never particularly hampered my ability to get a job – if anything, it is the opposite. I get people (mainly Twitter trolls) saying that there is no way I’d be on television if I wasn’t disabled. They are absolutely correct. It was part of the criteria when I applied!
While working as a sports journalist at the Press Association in 2010, I saw an advert for Channel 4’s talent search for the 2012 Paralympics, looking for someone with: 1. a disability (check), 2. a knowledge of Paralympic sport (I’d just been in a GB Paralympic programme for rifle shooting – check) and 3. ideally a background in journalism.
Despite never having thought about a career in television, I applied. (I thought there must only be about four of us, so I’d have a 25 per cent chance of getting the job; of course I was wrong, and hundreds of people applied.) My job, particularly on The Last Leg, has enabled me to embrace my disability. However, I realise this isn’t the case for some disabled people, who feel scared that employers will see their disability and immediately discount them for the job.
I regularly do talks at banks and large companies in London about disability, as part of the disability networks they have set up for their employees. However, for smaller companies with limited resources, this is not always possible.
There is no need to shy away from disability, and I believe we do so because of awkwardness. I say ‘we’ because I’ve been guilty of doing it myself. At the 2016 Paralympics opening ceremony in Rio, an athlete with only one finger on their hand went to shake my hand and I panicked – which is what I realise people must feel like with me!
People are awkward whenever we encounter something new, but this is normally down to wanting to be polite and avoid saying or doing the wrong thing. It’s human nature, and not necessarily a negative. The problem comes when someone allows that awkwardness to take over to such an extent that they avoid communication with a disabled person, or even shy away from giving them a job.
We all make assumptions. To look at me, you’d assume I can’t type on a computer – and that isn’t the case. I can type, slowly. (It’s taken me eight hours to do this, so you’d better be enjoying it!) Companies shouldn’t avoid employing disabled people because of an assumption.
Of course, some disabled people have certain needs or accessibility issues, but this is no different to any other employee. When I was at the Press Association, my manager was good at making sure I felt comfortable, and did so in a discreet way.
The fact that someone is disabled does not mean they cannot be an asset to your company, and there is a workforce of disabled people out there looking for opportunities. The rewards can be huge. You’ve gained a skilled worker – but because you’ve given someone a chance, you’ve also gained a loyal employee.