Flex Appeal: Disability
Flexible working is not solely for parents, it’s not something only for ‘mummies that want to see more of their babies’. It’s about a fundamental shift in how we work. It’s about giving humans – all humans – the flexibility to do the job they need to in a way that works for both employer and employee. Here, Sally Darby, founder of Mums Like Us talks about flexibility and disability.
According to government statistics there are over 11 million disabled people living in the UK. 16% of working age adults live with disability. There is a 30% difference between the percentages of disabled and non disabled adults in employment. Meaning that you are significantly less likely to be in gainful employment if you are disabled. It is also the case, that households containing a disabled person are substantially more likely to be living in poverty than households with no disabled member.
It is my feeling, since becoming disabled through MS ten years ago, that disabled people are a minority group who continue to face daily persecution, prejudice and discrimination. This is happening online, on our streets, in education and in the workplace. This huge section of our society is being under represented, under heard, and under valued. We are making a huge moral and economic mistake by not valuing disabled people and making our world work for them.
I am a mother of two young children. I have a severe visual impairment and significant mobility difficulties. For a very long time, I felt like the only person in the world that was parenting, working and living with disability. It was extremely isolating.
I created Mums Like Us – a network for disabled mothers. The aim of this group was to create community for other mums who were living with disability. I wanted to create a group where these women felt they could discuss the highs and lows of their unique experiences without fear of judgement. The Facebook group, exclusively for disabled mums, is a safe space for such discussion.
Last year I created the website and the Instagram account in the hope of widening the audience beyond disabled mums and encouraging others to consider the issues we face.
There is, as we know, enormous pressure on mums. We face a societal expectation that we should be all things to all people. We should be nurturing at home and ambitious at work. We should be vulnerable yet strong. We should practice self care whilst nurturing the needs of our children. We should be powerful and brave, a good role model, a strong leader and we should do all this while continuing to be judged on our physical appearance.
Disabled mums are juggling all this with additional pressures. They battle the contrasting media images of the disabled person as victim and as superhuman Paralympian. The vast majority of us of course, identify with neither.
For those of us who are mothers, the decision (should we be privileged enough to feel we have a choice) to work or not to work is much the same as it is for able bodied mothers. Approximately three quarters of mothers are in full or part time work.
Juggling work and motherhood is difficult. For the majority of working mothers, expensive childcare is unavoidable, maternal guilt is likely, judgement from others is almost inevitable. On a practical level, school runs, class assemblies, appointments etc make the demands of the nine to five difficult to manage.
When you combine these with the challenges faced by disabled mums, the traditional working model can feel incompatible with family life. These challenges are, for example , the need to accessible working conditions, periods of illness or pain and endless medical appointments.
Employers who embrace flexible working are able to accommodate the needs of a disabled mum. If her hours can be set by her schedule, she has the potential of any other person. She has already proved she has resilience, determination and courage by the bucket load. She can be a valuable employeee.
Time and time again, however, disabled mums have had no choice but to leave employment because it is assumed that no more can be done to create an environment that meets their requirements. Mums like us members repeatedly point out that working from home would have allowed them to meet their personal needs whilst meeting those of the organisation.
I want to make it clear that many mums like us members report supportive employers who have treated them with equality and dignity whilst making necessary adjustments to accommodate their employees. The good practice is a hundred percent out there.
There is no doubt however, that Disabled mums have experienced prejudice at all stages of gaining employment and working life. They have been forced from the workplace and they have felt they had no choice. The changes that need to be made are, more often than not, simple but resisted.
I would like to take this opportunity to say that I worked as a teacher. I was supported, encourage, respected consistently throughout my twelve years in the profession. All reasonable adjustments were made to keep me in work. Teaching, however, requires the teacher to be there, in the classroom, at the same time as the children.. the decision to leave was mine. I was not pressured or pushed. I felt I could no longer do my job with the integrity that I wanted to. This was a desperately difficult decision. I would love to see as few as possible disabled mothers have to make this decision.