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I have had such an amazing few weeks!
After twelve years of being an unemployed person and pottering around making busy in a wheelchair I have finally met a real-life employer with the imagination to see beyond the chair and appreciate the person who sits in it without trying to find politically correct reasons why I am not the person for the job.
Because it obviously couldn't be a disability issue.
I have got to be eligible for some kind of award for the number of interviews and applications I have submitted over the years. Not that I don't realise that there are people who have done more, tried harder, persevered for longer but I DID IT!
I am living proof that it is possible. There are enlightened individuals and companies out there with a need that could be filled if you can just find a way for them to see that it is not such a big deal to accommodate your particular difficulty.
When Employment Support Allowance was first rolled out around 2008 I was still in my first year of disability. I had really high hopes of being able to access proper back to work support. It seemed to take an age before I got the missive from the Job Centre consigning me to the Support pile. In other words, they were not going to offer me any support to find work. I was gutted!
I was 44 and obsolete. Whist many of the disabled community appeared to be heaving a sigh of relief that they were not going to be forced out into the workplace, I was devastated. I was expected to lie down and roll over. Go home and sit in the corner. Be 'disabled'. Do nothing for the foreseeable future.
After a period in mourning for the loss of the person that I thought I still was despite my wheelchair, I got on with being busy. I threw myself into full time parenting, kept house, did the garden, visited friends. Basically, I retired from active duty. I was 44.
At one point, to get me out of the house, I even contemplated joining the local Day Centre <shudder> that's how desperate things became.
A chance email that was sent through a disability forum was my turning point. A market research company was looking to employ disabled people specifically for an extended period with accessible travel in mind prior to the Paralympics and I would be paid pro rata for my time. I applied with my heart in my mouth and was accepted as a Mystery Shopper which involved riding around the capital being as awkward as possible and needing help from staff to travel. I had been out of the workplace for 7 years and it was absolutely terrifying. Not only did I need to travel into and across London on my own, but I was expected to make discrete notes and accurate timings of the journey and often during rush hour with a LARGE electric wheelchair. I was such a pain. It was great!
Unfortunately, being out in all weathers and pushing myself to do as many days as possible made me ill. It did make me see though that even though the Job Centre could not see my potential, that didn't mean that I had to take it lying down and it also had the added bonus of exposing me to the world again after years of hiding away cloistered at home.
So that was when I decided that they were wrong. I had skills. I was an asset that was not being maximised. I had value. And I was going to damn well prove them wrong.
I made it my mission to be 'able' in an employable way. I went to evening school. I learned transferable IT skills, I rewrote my CV over and over to eliminate all references to disability, or gende, or age, or any of the other prejudices that could possibly stand in my way. And I showed it to as many people as I could to check that what I wrote meant what I’d intended it to. I made myself desirable to an employer. I solicited my employability. Then I sent it off to the world and waited for the job offers to flood my way.
And I waited ...
And I waited ...
Seems that the world, at that point, was not quite ready for me ...
Over the next five years, I continued to send off flurries of applications, every time I was laid up in hospital or ill at home, every time I was housebound with inclement weather, every time I heard of a possible break. I registered with NHS jobs - hospitals have access, right? I wrote to large companies, I basically sold my soul for a job.
Sometimes, I would get a thank you, but no. Once, during those years, the Job Centre themselves offered me an actual job, however, none of the existing staff were prepared to be trained to use the Evac Chair in case of emergency. So, they quickly offered me an alternative position in a larger Job Centre two hours away on public transport. I would have taken it, but I had to start at seven and the first bus doesn’t run until nearly 8am.
I treated the search for employment as an end in itself. I could apply for a flurry of jobs when I was inactive for whatever reason and then nothing for ages, but I always came back to it eventually. Some people like to watch TV, or surf the net, or read a book, or knit etc. Me? I convinced myself that I enjoyed the game of applying for jobs. Seeking out the unusual was a treat. Getting the art of manipulating the English language into knots of misdirection verging on just the right side of truth to be honest, whilst still engaging the brief is a skill in itself. The application was the point.
I have applied for positions that I am in no way qualified to do, just for the hell of it. I applied to work on an oil rig, to be the business manager of a large company, to shampoo dogs, to be caretaker of a small Shetland island.... In fact, you name it and I probably considered it at some point. Many of the jobs involved me leaving home (which was never going to happen), a few were on the high seas, some of them were highly skilled – I, however, am not! It was what kept me going. I thought of each application as an end in itself. I never lied, but always thought about how I could meet the needs of the employer via my particular skill set. The art of the application was mine. I could apply my skills to the requirements of the job in a way that would make grown men cry at the beauty of it.
And blow me down. I got a job offer!
A real life, paid-to-be-there, earning real money, doing stuff to help people offer of part-time actual employment.
I have to say that I still spend the occasional evening seeing what jobs are out there. And speculating about how I could twist my very employable skills to fit the remit.
But it has to be said, I don’t really need it any more now do I.
And I love it!
Blog by Heather Farley
Ability Today Volunteer