New Research Reveals the Discrimination Faced by Disabled Women in Work

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“If people could understand how much it can destroy your life in terms of your confidence and your ability to feel that you’re actually a valuable functioning human being” – research participant.

Chwarae Teg has published research into the experiences of disabled women in work and within the Welsh economy.

The report reveals the extent of discrimination that still exists towards disabled people, in terms of accessing employment, and treatment and support within work.

Nearly half of disabled women surveyed (47%) said that job applications and interview processes are inaccessible. However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to make recruitment more accessible and inclusive for all candidates.

“Even when you go for a job interview and you say you’re in a wheelchair, and [they say] ‘yes, we’re accessible’. You can get in the door, but then you’re given like a table that you can’t get up to” – research participant

Assumptions about the ability and needs of disabled people can be damaging and unhelpful. Flexibility, openness and understanding are essential for disabled women to progress in work. The most positive experiences of work raised in the research were those with suitable adjustments, good communication with managers, and employers who are open and willing to adapt to the needs of disabled employees. This cannot be achieved without listening to the voices and experiences of disabled women.

The report collected the experiences of disabled women and men in work, and found clear areas of divergence and difference between women and men.

For example, significantly fewer disabled men than women had faced prejudice or inappropriate attitudes from their employer and/or colleagues on their impairment or health condition (42% compared to 58%).

Chief Executive of Chwarae Teg, Cerys Furlong said:

“Chwarae Teg’s latest research has revealed that discrimination towards disabled women and men in Wales is endemic. There needs to be significant cultural shift and education to break down the barriers.

“It is crucial that we all change the way we see disability. We must stop placing the burden and responsibility on individuals, and instead look at the way our society puts up barriers for groups with diverse needs. Our systems have been built to an outdated model that suits a select few and alienates so many. We need to rebuild in a way that caters to and complements diversity and allows everyone to thrive.

“There is an opportunity now for employers and decision makers to work with disabled women, and to start conversations how we can do things better. There is no quick fix, or one size fits all solution. It needs to be a process of communication, collaboration and co-production.

“Only with more diversity at all levels – in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality, disability and more – will we see real progress and decision making that works for all of us.”

While the research was conducted before the Coronavirus pandemic, many of its findings and recommendations are particularly pertinent within this context.

Commenting on this, Cerys Furlong said:

“This pandemic has proved that so many of the adjustments disabled people have been campaigning for – like working from home, using tech more effectively, working more flexible hours – are possible, despite them being denied for so long.

“We have well and truly proved that work is not a place you go, but something you do. This is a major opportunity for a substantial shift in the numbers of disabled people able to work. Coronavirus has exacerbated and exposed the inequalities that already existed, but now is an opportunity to build back better, and as we recover it is essential that the needs and priorities of disabled people in work are protected and prioritised to create a Wales that works for us all.”