So much more to access to work

As a Gloucestershire woman with a disability, I found that gaining access to work was a challenge. It didn’t happen overnight but, with the right attitude from my employer, it did happen. Now, 5 years into my role at Barnwood Trust I am able to reflect on what I bring to my role and how good things have come about at my place of work.

Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey said:

“Young disabled people tell me how difficult it can be to get a job without experience – and they want the same choice of training opportunities as everyone else to help them into work. We’re opening up Access to Work to do just that – so that more young disabled people can get a foothold in the jobs market, get their careers on track and achieve their full potential.”

Sadly, my experience of access to work was not wholly positive. Having a constructive conversation was very challenging and, with every insolent question during my interaction with this system, a small piece of my self-confidence and self-worth was chipped away.

My access to work advisor held the keys to unlock my potential or to permanently lock me out. I’m not sure how one person having such a big impact on my future career equated to me having equal rights? I certainly did not feel that the access to work scheme helped me to move towards being successfully employed. Or to building me up to ‘achieve my full potential’.

But this isn’t the whole story. I gained access to work through different means and my current career with Barnwood Trust brings me enormous satisfaction.

My self-perception over many years of my personal journey has shifted from a passive recipient to a self-empowered individual. My mind has been exposed and matured to the realisation that disability is a social construct.  As such, we can as a society come together collectively to harness the tools of comradeship, self-empowerment and authentic leadership. Together we can claim the process and deconstruct the barriers of discrimination.

I learned about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) which focuses solely on a community’s, likely unrecognised, assets. As all too often we are defined by our deficits and we rarely get the opportunity to learn the skills of unlocking individual and collaborative potential. ABCD practices can tip the power balance back into a community’s favour meaning they hold ownership of the community in the widest sense. That community can organically take shape… in whatever way works best for that group of people in a neighbourhood.

It was this focus on my assets as an individual contributor that gave me the self-belief and determination to go forward and pursue a meaningful career. As a result of various individuals being more than willing to invest in me, I have been a community Builder with Barnwood Trust for five years, as I write this. I would very much like to think that such investment has payed dividends to the Trust in that time.

As a disabled woman living and working in Gloucestershire, having the opportunity to be employed for my skills and gifts was a real game changer for me – in the way I now perceive my contribution in society, being exposed to the working world has given me room to mature, grow and develop in ways no other opportunity could have.

For example, I grew up in numerous institutionalised settings where I experienced two ends of an extreme spectrum. On the one hand, I was held up as an ‘inspiration’ on an incredibly high pedestal from which I could only fall. On the other, people had incredibly low expectations of me and very little responsibility was placed on me, meaning I was not exposed to these valuable lessons until much later in my life. By which point, these lessons were arguably a lot harder to pick up and learn but, nevertheless, imperatively valuable to adult life as a whole.

Responsibility had all too often been taken out of my hands even to the extent that I was never allowed hot tea (to avoid scalding!). In contrast, my workplace allowed me to spread my wings and take self-directed risks resulting in some successes and some failures. From both the successes and the failures that we all experience I continue to learn and develop my working practices as a Community Builder. Barnwood Trust is a learning organisation too which makes it an excellent environment to experiment safely and hand-in-hand with mutual support.

Being a part of a creative team where voices are heard and valued feels like it is a very innovative way of working and harvests the greatest results, as we connect not only as colleagues but as unique individuals. Having your teammates rely upon your unique gifts as much as you rely on theirs is incredibly empowering – creating collaboration and affirmation of your self-worth when ordinarily the focus is on being a ‘recipient’ or ‘client’ who requires ‘care’ to be done for you.

Room to imagine and think outside the box has allowed me to see that as unique individuals, communities and society as a whole, we all have the choice to see beyond the labels that can divide and separate us, to the immense strength we have when we value and nurture everybody’s collective contribution.

by Katie Peacock, Community Builder at Barnwood Trust

We hope you enjoyed this blog. Many people use our Opportunities Award to open up exciting new possibilities – such as training, equipment or clothing that may help towards a job, volunteering or setting up a new business.  It can also be used to help with materials for a hobby or equipment for a sport you enjoy.

Are you an employer that would like to learn more about what it means to be inclusive with employment opportunities? We run free workshops where people from all over Gloucestershire are welcome to join in and learn and discuss various issues relating to inclusion, disability and mental health. Take a look at our Workshop pages for more information or sign up to our newsletter to be informed of future workshops.

Any questions or opinions? Share them with us on Facebook and Twitter