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‘Let down by the people who should be supporting us’

 

DISABLED jobseekers are being let down at the one place they should be able to rely on for support – their local Jobcentre.

A new report – focusing on the experience of people living with complex disabilities – lays bare the barriers preventing many from finding work.

Eight out of every 10 people with complex disabilities are unemployed, according to national disability charity Sense, who produced the employment report.

One in two of those say a lack of adequate assistance and equipment means they are not receiving help they need.

Crucially, Sense’s research found Jobcentres across the country are without specialist assistive technology on their computers, making it more difficult for those who rely on it to look and apply for work.

Zoe Bates, the Sense employment co-ordinator, said: “There are many people with complex disabilities that want to work, and with the right support will thrive, but sadly they’re being denied at the first hurdle – the job search.

“Jobcentres are the frontline tool the Government use for supporting people to find work, but they aren’t being provided with the equipment and training that they need to do this.”

Assistive technology can take many forms, like text to speech screen readers, dictation software and braille displays, and make it possible for some disabled people – such as those with sight and hearing impairments – to use computers.

But the Department for Work and Pensions only funds this equipment once someone is in work. Jobseekers often can’t afford to buy it for themselves, meaning they need support from external services.

Currently, the computers in Jobcentres only offer Microsoft’s “standard accessibility features”, which Sense says is inadequate. The charity is calling on the Government to provide specialist assistive technology in its Jobcentres through an assistive technology fund, which it says is a relatively low-cost change that will make a huge difference.

The report also found more than half of jobseekers with complex disabilities did not feel supported by their Jobcentre work coach, who is there to provide support with looking for work, help identify skills, and assist with applications and preparing for interviews.

And as fewer than a quarter of those who had seen a work coach said they received one to one support, Sense revealed that initial training for work coaches does not include disability equality training.

The charity says all frontline staff at Jobcentres should get appropriate training to help them to support disabled jobseekers.

Ms Bates added: “Everyone should be able to work if they want to work. And while employment isn’t right for everyone, many disabled people find that having a job enriches their lives.”

Once people with complex disabilities find employment, the report found:

*One in six do not feel their disability is well understood by their employer.

*Two out of five had been harassed or bullied at work.

*The employment report is available here: www.sense.org.uk/information-and-advice/for-professionals/policy-public-affairs-and-research/employment-support-for-people-with-complex-disabilities/full-research-report/

ONE person eager to find work is Jade Cotton. The 35-year-old is non-verbal and registered blind and – like many with complex disabilities – has had a bad experience in Jobcentres.

She said: “When I attended the Jobcentre, I wasn’t given the opportunity, or encouraged, to look for work on their computers. If I was, I’d have needed a joystick that I could grip and magnifying software to enlarge the fonts, which they don’t have.”

Jade has now been introduced to Sense’s employment service and successfully secured interviews. She hopes to soon land her first job.

“I’d always been told that I won’t get a job because of my disabilities. Sense challenged me on this and made me realise there was no reason I couldn’t try.

“Nobody else had ever told me I could so I just didn’t know it was an option until then,” added Jade, from Birmingham.

Sense offers tailored employment support, training and job coaching to people with complex disabilities. The charity’s employment specialists can help people to fill in applications for benefits, access support schemes such as Access to Work, and use assistive technology.

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