Discomfort in Disabilities: Employability, Access and Privilege

Georgie is sat in a coffee shop holding a mug near her face. In the background is the counter with some cakes sat on top.

Georgie Fuhri is a final year Museum & Art Gallery Studies student at the University of Leeds. She has a declared disability. What barriers does she face in society and the job market due to her condition, and does it affect her employability?

In this piece she explores identity, intersectionality and discrimination from her perspective as a soon-to-be-graduate, ultimately making a plea to powerful employers: listen and change.

If you are affected by any of the issues in the article, see the bottom of the page for useful resources and support signposting.

I would like to preface this article by saying that the disabled experience cannot be, nor should be summarised by just one person and their understanding of it. The life of a disabled person is as multifaceted and diverse as any able bodied persons, and is in so many ways, inexplicable.

My experiences of disability have been both visible in my younger years, and invisible in the present. However, my experiences of disability both professionally and personally have also been paired with my whiteness, making my narrative of disability starkly different to the experiences of Black and POC disabled community to which their voices cannot be ignored, as they are both disproportionately affected by racism and ableism in any given scenario. My whiteness makes my experience of disabilities a privileged understanding of what it means to be disabled and thus, is not the only story.

When looking at the word disabled, upon first glance or to hear it in a conversation is uncomfortable, even to me, a disabled person. It implies, otherness, a fault in the system and something that should only be uttered in hushed tones.

To closely read the word disabled is something both similar and yet starkly alternate. Dis-abled. What does it mean? When applied to the context of employability, the word disabled is one that both ticks boxes of diversity and yet, is still a problem, as if being disabled implies a lack of capability rather than ability. As if my proficiency and aptitude in any given role should be by default non-existent because I am medicated and in pain.

The disabled experience does not mean a lack of experience or talent, it means having the same skills and expertise in any chosen area, but sometimes needing a little more support or patience or just compassion in which to have the target met. Being disabled is not an identity, it is a part of it undeniably, but being disabled is not the only thing I have to offer as a person.

For instance, I applied to university at the age of 21, I was invited to an interview to which I gladly (albeit nervously) attended. The interview was 40 minutes long, no rigour, a friendly meeting of the minds. I was offered a place, but not until after the interviewer had asked me, why in my personal statement I had not mentioned my disabilities; this above all else is was what baffled me most.  I explained to him, I am disabled, but that is not all I am, I am a keen reader, I am also a brunette and a fan of David Bowie, should I have mentioned these also?

In my experience, able-bodied people struggle in finding a balance between acknowledging and accepting people with disabilities, and not pandering to them. This often by default incurs some awkward conversations when asking for support in one area or another. My plea as someone with a disability, to the able bodied community, is to not forget about us, do not pander to us, analyse your privilege and experiences and think, how can I make the experiences of my disabled friends/family/colleagues easier?

In palatable terms, imagine you were arranging an event with someone who is very prone to sunburn and could potentially use sun cream, what do you do? You bring some with you, a precautionary ingrained measure. This is what accessibility should be, an imbedded part of discourse in any situation, but one that in reference to employability is imperative.

We are not asking for deadline extensions, rest breaks and priority parking because we want to be better, we ask for these things because we need them to attain the same level of performance as you. Employers, you want us (hopefully) for our skill sets and knowledge, you have us for your quotas, we need you to support us, bring the sun cream, pack an umbrella; disabilities have no one shape or size, and so I beg of you, be ready to listen to your disabled cohort and put measures in place to make our lives easier, whatever form that may take.

Here are some resources intended to support disabled students and graduates:

If you are a University of Leeds student or graduate facing discrimination or have any other issues, please don’t hesitate to contact EPA.Careers@leeds.ac.uk.

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