Thursday, 17 July 2014

#DisabilityConfident - a Wasted Year

It's coming up on a year since DWP launched Disability Confident, their campaign to try and get more disabled people into work by not challenging workplace disablism (yes, you read that right), and DWP are trying to drum up attention for the anniversary by organising a Twitter Thunderclap, which shows every sign of being more a drizzle in a teacup than a thunderclap as a day before it executes it only has 245 supporters, about half of whom are individual DWP Job Centres or government ministries. Which if you think about it means they can't even get a significant fraction of the people who have been through Disability Confident events in this last year to voice their support for it.

I've talked about my problems with Disability Confident in earlier blogs, about its deeply offensive focus on inspiration-porn and how the 'It's about Ability, not Disability' tagline sends entirely the wrong message in 'So What's Wrong With Disability Confident?' and about its failure to address workplace disablism, the root of the problem, in 'Disability Confident and the Elephant in the Corner', so with a year gone, how has Disability Confident performed?

The answer isn't a good one. Make no mistake, I agree with the stated aims of Disability Confident, because the difference in the rates of non-disabled and disabled employment is a national disgrace, but I think they've picked a godawful way of approaching the problem, and that that is a deliberate decision, as demonstrated by then Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey's statement at the launch that she wasn't comfortable with telling people what to do - unfortunately when she said 'telling people what to do' she actually meant enforcing our employment rights under the Equality Act, 2010. Rather than take on the actual problem of workplace disablism, Disability Confident tries to pretend that the problem is just that employers might be a bit 'embarrassed and uncomfortable' with disabled people, and tries to challenge that by painting us as 'inspiring'. The 'embarrassed and uncomfortable' message was handled far better by Scope's #EndTheAwkward campaign, which achieved greater penetration in a week with its three ads than Disability Confident has achieved in an entire year of events; meanwhile people, including keynote speakers, are still coming out of Disability Confident events and tweeting about how inspiring we all are - so that's another generation of managers and recruiters taught to objectify disabled people rather than treat us as normal, which actually pushes the workplace equality cause backwards rather than forwards.

Nor have the online Disability Confident materials been much better, not only do they try to avoid emphasising our legal rights as job applicants and employees under the Equality Act, 2010, but one so-called 'resource' for employers trumpeted by the #DisabilityConfident tweet stream of @DWPGovUK managed to classify Autism, which is a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (i.e. a developmental disability with general effects), in with the Specific Learning Difficulties such as Dyspraxia and Dyslexia (i.e. developmental disabilities with localised effects), this is about as correct as classifying a potato as a flower.... That entire 'Hidden Disabilities Toolkit' website has currently been taken down for rework, and the notice for that claims that the SpLDs are part of the Autism Spectrum, completely reversing their prior statement, and still getting it utterly wrong!

I'm trying to think of something Disability Confident actually gets right, I really am, but I'm coming up blank. We are faced with a chronically discriminatory jobs market, which has been resisting legislation to fix it since at least the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 (which created the old Registered Disabled system and employment quotas), together with rampant workplace disablism, and DWP are trying to fix it by saying the problem is that people are a little embarrassed by disability. I've been through the workplace disablism wringer, and my manager's problem wasn't that he was 'embarrassed' by me, it was that he openly stated all disabled people should be forcibly retired, and set out to make sure precisely that happened to me.

The first year of Disability Confident hasn't been the success DWP are trying to paint it, if anything the inspiration-porn focus of the campaign has worked to entrench the problem of disabled workers being perceived as the other, and until we are seen as no different to any other worker we will not make progress on disability employment. Of course the fact that every other mention of disability by DWP is aimed at portraying us as lazy, frauds and scroungers doesn't exactly enshrine us as ideal workers in the eyes of recruiters and managers.

Disability Confident is meant to run for another year, the only way that it will make progress, and counter the damage it has already done, is to actually get out there and challenge workplace disablism. The message disabled people need Disability Confident pushing isn't 'We took on X as a token and they're sooo inspiring', it's 'Company Y refuses to employ disabled people and we are therefore taking them to court for breaching the Equality Act 2010', because when you have been trying softly-softly for 70 years without progress, its probably a sign that it's long past time to start kicking butt and naming names, pour encourager les autres.

1 comment:

  1. I actually meant to put this in my own blog, Flat Out, where my other Disability Confident pieces have appeared, but didn't notice I was writing it from the WTB account instead. As disability employment (and DWP whitewashing) still falls within the wider scope of WTB I'm leaving it here - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!