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Looking for a job when you're disabled can be difficult, but it shouldn't be impossible

I accept that I’ll never work a 9-5 job like most people, but I should be able to make my contribution to society without barriers being placed in my way.

IN DECEMBER 2013, I completed my degree in Social Science in UCD. I was extremely proud of my achievement, but thoughts of the future were weighing heavily on my mind. I had my qualification, but I hadn’t fully considered how or if I was going to be able to use it in my career.

I’m sure I wasn’t the first graduate to feel this way! But whilst the other graduates could be preparing their CVs, signing up to recruitment agencies and websites and brushing up on their interview skills; I had other things to consider before I could start my own job hunt.

This is because I am a graduate with a disability. When you have a disability and you’re looking for employment, there is a myriad of issues to consider, like: Will the office I work in be accessible? How will I get to work in the morning? Will I lose my disability allowance if I get a job? What about my medical card?

I decided I’d take some time out to mull over my options. Never one to sit still for long, I began working, voluntarily, with the Irish Wheelchair Association and Disability Federation Ireland, among others.

Increasing my confidence

Two years later and I’m still volunteering with these organisations. Whilst I may not have gained financially from this work, I have gained personally, in that my own self confidence has grown. I enjoy my work and I feel I’m a valued member of the team.

But every now and again, as I watch my loved ones head off to work where they earn the money to pay their bills and care for their families; I think to myself: I should be doing that! I should be contributing to the economy and earning the money to look after my own needs.

But having both a disability and a job is rare here in Ireland. In fact, only three out of every ten adults of working age who have a disability also have a job.

Many people with disabilities, like myself, are able and ready and want to work. Understandably, there may be some physical limitations, but this should not exclude our participation entirely.

If I were to enter the workforce I would not be able to hold down the traditional 9-5 job. I have a physical disability called brittle bones. I also have a curvature in my spine which in turn affects my breathing so I need to use oxygen at all times. I suffer from tiredness and low energy levels as a result. I couldn’t be physically present in the office, Monday-Friday, 9-5.

You don’t have to be physically present in an office 

But in this era of modern technology, you don’t have to be physically present in an office in order to participate. I do a lot of my work from home and use calls, emails and texts to keep in constant contact with my colleagues in the office.

I may lack in physical ability but I believe my other abilities such as my technical know-how, my interpersonal skills and my intellectual ability, more than make up for it.

I am an intelligent, well educated young woman, who just happens to have a disability.

But I worry that the government, the policy makers, the employers – the very people that create the positions I could be employed in – don’t recognise my abilities. In fact I’m not even on their radar.

I had high hopes that things were changing when I read a speech made recently by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny. At the launch of the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities he acknowledged that, in the past, disabled people had not had much of a role to play in society; in fact, they existed on the periphery of it.

But moving forward that would change, there would be a focus on every individual’s ability (not disability), “on their desire and their determination, and their right, to be part of the national task of getting Ireland back to work”.

No assistance to us in Budget 2016 

However, these good intentions did not translate into actions in Budget 2016. In fact, Budget 2016 offered little or no assistance to a person with a disability looking for a job.

There was no increase in the Disability Allowance (DA). The DA can sometimes be the only source of income available for a person with a disability who has to deal not only with the cost of living but also the additional cost of disability.

There was no restoration of the Mobility Allowance. The Mobility Allowance was paid to disabled people who had problems with accessing and using public transport. Public transport has improved for people with disabilities but there is still a long way to go; necessitating the use of taxis and alternative transport services for people with disabilities. These can be very costly and account for a large chunk of the disabled person’s wage before they’ve even been paid.

The Mobility Allowance assisted the person in paying that transport bill.

There were no changes made to the eligibility criteria of employment support schemes, like Momentum and Gateway. Employment schemes such as these are only open to those on the Live Register, that is, people who are in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance or Jobseekers Benefit, therefore people who claim disability allowance are excluded.

There was no support offered to a person with a disability, who is also a job seeker. So I was more than a little perplexed when I read Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin’s budget speech. In it, he said “the best weapon against inequality is not the social welfare system. It is decent jobs and fair wages”.

But surely the very act of making it so difficult for a disabled person to access employment makes it impossible for them to move from the position of inequality?

I would love to have a job, contribute to society and to the economy and no longer be dependent on the state, but I fear that will never happen whilst these systemic and attitudinal barriers remain in place.

Rachel Creevey is a journalist and disability advocate. As well as her qualification in Social Science, she also has qualifications in Social Care Practice and Event Management. You can follow her on Twitter @IrishRach  

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