I started a new job last week. So far it has involved a lot of reading - more than I have done since I finished my MA - but I think I am going to enjoy it. It's getting back to doing policy work, whereas my old job, with a local Council, had moved away from that.
Inevitably, a new job is a source of anxiety but this is the first time I've been "properly" disabled and changing job. When I started my last job, back in 2008, I already had back and leg problems and had been using a stick, but I didn't have a disabled parking badge and could mostly get about OK. A few months after I started, I seriously injured my right SI joint, which resulted in the transition to using crutches. 2 years later I broke my tailbone causing even more problems and a year ago I started using a wheelchair. I've more than once had to fight to get adjustments made or had to work around accessibility issues.
So, I found myself dealing with the practicalities of disability with a new employer. I have to say I am incredibly lucky in that everything has gone very smoothly with my employer. A parking space was made available for me without me having to ask and they're happy to do whatever I need. This is just as well, as Access to Work, the government scheme I first used for adaptations (a specialist office chair and some other equipment) about 10 years ago, has been much watered down in the meantime.
When I attended the Unison Disabled Members Conference back in October there was a lot of discussion about the effect changes to the scheme have had on disabled workers. It's particularly affecting workers with hearing and visual impairments, but it is also having an impact on those with a physical disability who require adjustments in the workplace . Increasingly, employers are expected to make these, in line with their obligations under the Equality Act. But while I now have the luxury of an employer who will do what is necessary and would not dream of discriminating, I don't doubt this is providing a barrier to employment to some disabled people - and it seems like very little is being done to challenge that.
When I first used the scheme, you could apply within the first six weeks at a new job and they would provide any equipment needed at no cost to your employer. This reduced the risk that an employer would reject a disabled candidate because of the potential cost of adjustments. When I changed jobs, because my chair had been provided by Access to Work, it was mine to take with me to my new job. This support was subsequently restricted to smaller employers and latterly it seems the expectations on employers have increased. I'm still not sure what support will be available this time round.
The cuts to Access to Work make me particularly angry as this is a scheme which is supposed to remove barriers to disabled people working. We still don't know what effect the scale of the cuts. Reducing and restricting what it covers means that it is harder for a disabled person to find work, it adds another potential cost to employing a disabled person which serves as a disincentive for all but the very best employers. And for some people, the cuts may mean work is no longer a viable option. Surely that's the opposite of what should be happening.