There are over 100,000 people of working age who are deafblind and living in the UK. However, a new report from the disability charity Sense, has revealed that, although many of them are keen to enter the workforce, only a shocking 4% of 18 to 24-year-olds who are deafblind are actually in employment – a rate almost ten times lower than the employment rate of non-disabled young people – and the employment rate of deafblind people over the age of 24 is just 20% - almost four times lower than the national average.
More broadly, with 46% of disabled people out of work, the rate of employment of disabled people is 30% lower than that of non-disabled people. These striking statistics reveal how important it is that the right support structures are in put in place so that those who want to work, can.
With the Government now publishing their Green Paper on disability employment, and reaffirming their commitment to halving the disability employment gap, it is essential that all disabled people who want to work - especially those with more complex conditions such as deafblindness - benefit from the extra resources being put in to place. I share Sense’s belief that disabled people who want to work, fulfil their ambitions, and play active roles in their communities, should be supported to do so.
In their report, Sense undertook research with people who are deafblind of all ages and in differing employment situations, from actively seeking work to running their own business. The final report, Realising Aspirations For All, revealed the multitude of barriers faced by people who are deafblind, both to enter employment and to progress when in the work place.
The report highlighted the appalling situation that currently prevails, where support programmes and employment support providers are failing to provide the right level and type of support for disabled people to enter, and maintain, employment. The situation is exacerbated by some employers, who lack awareness of existing support schemes, run inaccessible recruitment processes, and harbour negative views about the abilities of disabled people in the work place.
To address these failures Sense is calling on the Government, employment support providers, and employers, to make targeted support available, to increase the accessibility of employment, and to give disabled people equal opportunities to realise their aspirations.
An important first step is for the introduction of specialist support models targeted at people who have more complex support needs and are not likely to benefit from the Work and Health Programme, and trials of innovative specialist support models using the Innovation Fund from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health (DH).
These efforts should be complemented at a local level by a better understanding of the demands of the local labour market so employment support providers can proactively reach out to employers, encouraging applications from disabled people.
The impact of the correct support and guidance for disabled people to access work can make the world of difference. Sense highlights the case of Bethany, who is 23, born deaf and with deteriorating vision. Receiving support meant she could go from struggling to find employment, to growing in confidence and working towards starting her own business.
The new Green Paper provides an important opportunity to build a more inclusive, diverse and meaningful society that enables everyone to contribute. I join Sense in calling on the Government to do all it can to make this a reality.