I wrote a post last year titled The Trials and Tribulations of Disabled Job Hunting but I wanted to share this specific story on its own because its representative of one of the key barriers that still exists within disability employment.
For the past two years I have really struggled to find any kind of paid work. My current CV makes no direct reference to my disability (Cerebral Palsy, Wheelchair User) although it did in the past. I’ve talked about my disability in some of my previous blog posts and these are available to any employer through the blog portfolio on my CV. I felt like progress was being made before the Coronavirus pandemic h me having gotten far in a number of different recruitment process is but lockdown put pay to them (as it did with millions of others.)
I got a DM from an editor the other day. He had seen my work and thought I had the right background to write for his website. After a little bit of probing and investigation I discovered the role was essentially voluntary unless the site took off. This is fine as the commitment was short enough from the time perspective as to not be a huge issue (one 650-word article a week) yet substantial enough that it could be put in my portfolio/on my CV. The caveat was that the articles had to be fitness themed.
Given my Cerebral Palsy this is obviously not my area of expertise but I figured there was a potential opportunity here to showcase a different perspective with my writing. So, I cold pitched the editor a few ideas.
One about the skills and insane fitness required for wheelchair tennis (a big passion of mine.) Another focusing on the therapeutic and fitness benefits of horse riding (another hobby I’m massively keen on.) Thirdly, a disability perspective on daily exercise during lockdown. Finally, a more general discussion about the difference between athleticism-based sports (Tennis,Rugby Football) and those that are better classified exclusively as skill games (Darts Snooker, Pool, Bowls etc.)
The editor then turns around and says although my pitches were strong, he had set his sights exclusively on “gym fitness.” Asking a person with Cerebral Palsy to write 650 words a week on “gym fitness” is not technically impossible but requires a basic knowledge base that I don’t have. It’s not the kind of thing that can be easily researched. The equivalent would be getting an able-bodied person to write regular columns about disability issues. Not technically incorrect but showing a lack of foresight or any desire to increase authentic representation Thus, a potentially promising opportunity disappears.
I’m not looking for sympathy by writing this piece nor am I saying that the editor is wrong for wanting my pictures to fit very squarely with the brand he is trying to create. This is his prerogative. That said by taking such a broad topic and giving it a relatively specific focus that requires a certain level of knowledge and life experience to write about he is excluding a wide range of potentially valuable opinions and perspectives that could potentially give his site a much wider audience and broader appeal. I wish him well but won’t be joining but wish him well in the attempt to craft the best side possible. That said this is a strong example of an opportunity that could have potentially gained interest from a wide audience and benefited any number of people from all backgrounds limiting itself by choice. An opportunity that might look good on paper for a disabled applicant to gain experience an add to their portfolio but will still possess a barrier that they might not be able to overcome.