As an invisible disabled woman at the beginning of my career, I experienced my share of discrimination when looking for a job. I have cystic fibrosis, a disease that means that despite my rigorous daily treatments, excruciating pain, and reduced life expectancy, I don’t look like I am sick. As a result, my needs – flexible hours, the ability to work from home, and free time for hospital appointments – may be less obvious to potential employers.
The pandemic has made me even more aware of the disadvantages that my illness brings with it for me. In 2020, work from home has normalized. So it was shocking when I asked to have an interview online instead of in person and the interviewer ignored all of my emails. Before I asked, they said I was a strong candidate for the role.
The Disability Discrimination Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against someone because they are disabled. This type of discrimination consists in the fact that you are treated less favorably because of your disability compared to your non-disabled colleagues
The Disability Discrimination Act, passed in 1995, was such a big moment in improving the rights of people with disabilities, but there is still a long way to go to ensure equality for people with disabilities. 25 years after the landmark legislation, I spoke to people about the disability discrimination they faced in the workplace.
“They thought it would be best if they demoted me.”
I lost my eyesight in August 2019. White spots appeared in my sight and within a few weeks I could no longer leave my apartment without help. In early September, I was sent for a brain scan that found I had a type 1 meningioma on the front of my brain that was pressing on the optic nerve. I was sent for brain surgery in late September. Unfortunately, while most of the tumor was removed, my eyesight did not return.
Weeks after my operation, when I was at home in Scotland, I received a call from HR at work. They said now that I was blind they thought it would be best if they demoted me in my own interest. I didn’t really understand what was going on. I was still in the early stages of recovery and really needed more time.
Four weeks later I received another call from Human Resources, along with one of the company’s senior counsel, asking if I thought it would be a good idea to demote myself from my role as a manager.
At that point there was no assessment of my skills and they hadn’t referred me to workplace health. So how could they rate what I would and would not do when I returned to work? This is often the reality of workplace discrimination, coated with a false sense of friendliness. But the way I was treated wasn’t nice. And*.
“They extended my probationary period and when that ended they said I couldn’t have made it.”
My experience of disability discrimination at work still haunts me because I blame myself for how I was treated. I have depression, anxiety, and BPD.
I had started a new job that I really loved and that I worked hard on. I was still in my probationary period when I was raped. The trauma of the event triggered a mental health breakdown. I became severely depressed and started harming myself frequently until I was hospitalized.
The work knew I was having problems, but instead of offering me support, they extended my probationary period and when that ended they said I couldn’t have done it. Their reasons were that I was doing the job “slowly” – something that I never had a problem with and that I knew wasn’t true. It is clear that they got rid of me because I was sick and suffering. Rhea *.
“The place was not accessible for me as a wheelchair user.”
As someone with hemidystonia – a neurological movement disorder that, in my case, causes the muscles on the right side of my body to involuntarily contract or cramp, affecting my hand function and speech patterns – I have grown used to society making me incapacitated assesses disability.
But it was in my first job after graduation when I really saw this ruling go into effect in the workplace. I was gone for a training week in mid-January. It was freezing cold and the place where we did the training was not accessible to me as a wheelchair user. This triggered my dystonia to play.
We were doing a breaking news exercise and suddenly, when the camera turned on my face, my dystonia decided to do the worst and affect my speech. I stuttered and couldn’t use my jaw to form correct sentences.
When they showed it to the room full of colleagues and future employers. I sat and cried because my disability had let me down in my head again. The manager in charge of the training wasn’t happy with leaving it there and urged me to answer the question, “What would you do better next time?”
The answer that came out of my mouth was “don’t have my disability”. Gemma.
“They would set me on fire and tell me I don’t look like I have mental health problems.”
I suffer from BPD, Anxiety Disorder, Depression, PTSD, and PME. In a previous job I worked as a domestic abuse support worker, I was actively denied adequate adjustments due to my mental health. Months earlier, I asked to work from home a few days a week to relieve the pressure of doing administrative tasks while having panic attacks and intrusive thoughts. They allowed me to work from home for six weeks. Upon returning home, I was told that my home “privileges” should be suspended as part of a policy change.
When I was told this it immediately triggered a series of panic attacks and forced me to be sick. When I got back, I was determined to go back to work from home. Instead, “solutions” were offered that included annual leave instead of work from home and regular “wellness meetings” with my manager. These meetings were grossly unethical. They would set me on fire and tell me that I “overreacted” or that I “don’t look like I have mental health problems”.
A few weeks after my release, COVID-19 lockdown measures were put in place, proving that working from home is feasible and that the agony, anxiety, and stress I endured during those two months was unnecessary torture. Evie.
“Instructions must be short and specific, otherwise I cannot follow them.”
As an autistic person, I have experienced discrimination throughout my employment. Last year I worked as a cashier for a takeaway. At first I thought everything was fine. I told them I was on the spectrum and what adjustments I might need and why, and we got off to a good start.
But it was going downhill. The instructions must be short and specific, otherwise I will not be able to follow them. There were constant contradictions: being louder or quieter, being less or more enthusiastic. My confidence started to wane. I was supposed to be flexible enough that it was unreasonable. And any adjustment I asked for was never given to me.
In the end, I got fired for the first time in my life. I don’t need pity, I just want to be “seen” and meet my needs. Sofia*.
* Names have been changed.