Today is World Cerebral Palsy Day. It is all about embracing diversity, and helping to create a more accessible world for the 17 million people living with Cerebral Palsy (CP).
As a person with CP, I have firsthand experience dealing with the misconceptions, discrimination and barriers that come with being a person with a disability. CP is often viewed as a childhood condition. What people tend to forget is that CP is a lifelong disability. As adults with CP grow older, they may experience a further decline in functionality, as well as developing comorbidities as a result of having CP.
In my experience, these comorbidities together with the primary diagnosis of CP create a lot of barriers. I think one of the greatest barriers for people with CP is access to employment. When I was a child, I was supported through school and university. My disability was not seen as a barrier to access these services. However, as soon as I graduated, I noticed the same types of supports were not available to help me access employment.
The Australian Government created Disability Employment Services to help people with disabilities access employment. In my experience though, these services are not equipped to assist highly educated people with disabilities to find suitable employment. Often it is left up to the individuals to find and apply for jobs. This comes with so many complications, as many employers think that a person with a disability will be unable to fulfil the requirements of the job. Employers might think that they will need to make too many modifications. Many employers are just not willing to make these changes, which means that people with disabilities are denied the opportunity to work.
For example, I recently applied for a disability only position in a government agency. I was offered the job. However, I was told that I would be required to work full-time. My disabilities prevent me from working full-time. I was told that although I was perfect for the job, I had no choice but to decline the position. I’ve since seen other government agencies advertise disability only positions, with the same requirements of the person needing to work full-time. It begs the question, that if the government is not willing to make changes to working hours, how can they be encouraging other organisations to employ people with disabilities? Should they not lead by example?
When I have been offered a suitable job for a person with multiple disabilities, I face discrimination within the workplace. It’s found when employers are not willing to pay me according to the law. It’s being told that I should do unpaid overtime because my disability makes me slower than others (when there was no evidence to support this). It’s being threatened with violence or being yelled at. It is hard to know if this would be the same experience of anyone in these workplaces, or if I was treated this way because of my disabilities.
It is rare to find organisations that see the gifts and abilities that people with CP can bring into a workplace. In some cases, offers of employment can feel like they are only given so that the organisation is seen to be creating diversity. Today I say to you, there are a million reasons to employ people with CP. People with CP have often learned to be patient, adaptable and developed the ability to think outside the square, to make things accessible to them. These are great skills to have in any workplace. Employers might even find that employees with CP bring unique perspectives and abilities into their workplace.
It is time to change the way we view people with any disability. Now is the time that we need to act fairly and treat everyone with the respect and dignity they deserve. It is time we see that people with disabilities are people too. They are people who would like the same experiences in life as anyone, including the experience of employment. It’s hard to know why we continue to deny that opportunity to adults with CP, who are capable of working albeit with adjustments.