This post is about the attitudes of non-disabled people towards people with disabilities. As someone who is registered blind I have a personal interest in this subject and feel that it needs to be addressed by society as a whole.
Recently I was walking to my local railway station in order to take the train into work when a lady passing me said words to the effect of “spirit make the blindness go”. Being used to comments of this nature I smiled wryly and continued on my way to the station.
Unfortunately the perception that disability is somehow a punishment by god or fate (call it what you will), visited on disabled people is fairly widespread. In February 1999 the then England Manager, Glenn Hoddle resigned after being reported as stating, during an interview with The Times that “You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains,” he was quoted as saying.
“Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime.
“I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap”, (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sport/football/270194.stm).
One could argue that the comments attributed to Mr Hoddle are not representative of the religious community as a whole nor of society as such. Certainly many religious people do take issue with the views sighted above. However although most people would not express their perceptions of people with disabilities in the terms sighted above, the statistics as regards the employment of visually impaired people demonstrate that people with sight loss, of working age are far less likely to be in employment than non-disabled individuals. An extract from Action for Blind people’s website will serve to make the point
“66 per cent of registered blind and partially sighted people of working age are not in employment” (Douglas et al, 2006).
Factors affecting employment
“Age, additional disability or health problems, severity of sight loss, educational level and ethnicity are all factors that influence the employment status of blind and partially sighted people” (Douglas et al, 2009)
“27 per cent of the registered blind and partially sighted people report that the main reason for leaving their last job was the onset of sight loss or deterioration of their sight” (Douglas et al, 2009)
“9 out of 10 employers rate blind and partially sighted people as either ‘difficult’ or ‘impossible’ to employ” (DWP, 2004)”, (see http://www.actionforblindpeople.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/facts-and-figures-about-issues-around-sight-loss/).
The data above shows that life for a sizeable proportion of visually impaired people is far from being a bed of roses. The lack of employment leads to an inability to participate fully in society by paying taxes and being able to aford items which many people in work take for granted such as holidays.
I work for an enlightened employer who employs a sizeable proportion of disabled people. My employer has provided computer software which allows me to have the information being displayed on the computer’s screen read aloud to me and a scanner which converts printed text into speech. Sadly the above figures show that many employers do not share the attitude of my employer towards employing people who are disabled.
Where do these attitudes stem from?
In 1995 the then Conservative government brought in the Disability Discrimination Act which outlawed discrimination on the basis of disability. Among other things the Act stipulated that employers should make “reasonable adjustments” when considering the employment of people with disabilities by, for example providing software enabling blind people to have their PC’s screen read aloud. This legislation has been built on by the replacement of the Disability Discrimination Act with the Equalities Act and governments of differing political complexions have worked to eliminate discrimination. Despite the legislation disabled people are still far more likely to be unemployed than their non-disabled family and friends.
Is cost at the route of the problem?
Under Access to Work the government provides funding for adaptations necessary to enable people with disabilities to obtain and/or keep a job, consequently, on the face of it the lack of financial support is not a factor in detering employers from employing people who are disabled.
So what is at the route of the underemployment of disabled people?
I suspect that part of the answer lies in the lack of understanding regarding what disabled people can achieve. There is a perception amongst some that those who are disabled are “charity cases” who deserve compassion but are, in effect passive recipients of charity rather than active citizens.
A combination of legislative action and education is gradually improving the position of disabled people, however there is still a long way to go in this field.
Finally what of my views on Mr Hoddle?
I, personally felt that the comments attributed to him where crass in the extreme, however I felt (and still feel) uncomfortable that he felt compelled to leave his job merely for voicing an opinion.