Northern Ireland

Economic downturn leads people with disabilities to fear for their jobs

Laura McCartney
Image caption Laura McCartney from Disability Action said she is concerned about the impact of the recession on people with disabilities

A charity has warned that the economic downturn might erode some of the good work done in improving workplace culture for disabled people in recent years.

Disability Action has received an increase in queries from people with disabilities who feel their jobs are under threat.

Laura McCartney from the charity said she is concerned about the impact of the recession on people with disabilities.

"At this time of economic difficulty, we're finding a lot of people with disabilities are struggling to stay in employment or find employment," she said.

"While the Disability Discrimination Act has made an impact, and there has been a change in culture and an improvement for disabled people, there is a risk that all the ground we have made up is being eroded by the economic situation."

Disability Action and other organisations offer a range of services for employers and employees.

They said raising awareness of the help available was very important in dealing with the issue.

'Pressure'

Ms McCartney said: "With the squeeze on employers, reasonable adjustments start to feel less reasonable or a sickness absence starts to have a bigger impact on an employer.

"There certainly is more pressure on disabled employees now and we'd be really keen to work with employers and employees to decrease that impact."

She emphasised that small adjustments could make a big difference to disabled employees.

The experience of Ayshea Hinds shows how positive the difference can be.

Ayshea is paralysed on one side, and also has epilepsy and a learning disability.

Image caption Ayshea Hinds, who is paralysed on one side, and also has epilepsy and a learning disability, works at a call centre in Belfast

She works at the First Source call centre in Belfast and loves her job.

She also travels to England to do a drama course every week.

Her employer has arranged for her to work Saturday to Wednesday so she can do this.

It has also facilitated regular working hours to minimise the impact of epilepsy and given her some one-to-one coaching.

"The first thing I would say is that you should not let the disability get in the way - just do what you need to do," she said.

"Disabled people want to be treated as equally as everybody else.

"Employers shouldn't be afraid to pick up the phone for advice."

First Source have worked with Disability Action to help Ayshea.

The company's human resources director for the UK and Ireland, Laura Hourican, said the company's approach has paid off with "fantastic results".

"We get a really engaged and motivated employee," she said.

"Any company benefits from getting a broad, equal and diverse workforce."

Awareness

Campaigners said the picture across Northern Ireland was more mixed.

Organisations like Disability Action said the main barrier to progress was not the willingness of businesses, but perhaps the awareness of what help was available.

The schemes on offer include Workable, funded by the Department of Employment and Learning, which is available to employers and employees who are having difficulty in work, or having trouble finding a job.

The Access to Work Scheme can provide funding where there's a financial cost for employers making adjustments for disabled employees.

The Employment Advocacy is another project - launched recently by Disability Action and run by disabled people, for disabled people.

Campaigners said it is important businesses take up the available assistance to help maximise the opportunities for disabled workers.

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