Would you work for free?
Maybe you’d consider doing it for charity, or your best mate’s start up project. Perhaps you’d do it for the promise of an open bar.
But what if you were expected to work for less – or nothing – just because you had a disability? This is something I’ve experienced as a disabled woman many times over the years.
For instance: I was once invited to be a guest speaker on a panel. Each panellist was to receive £250 for their time and expertise.
My then agent called me to say she’d had the most frustrating and bewildering conversation with the event organisers regarding my fee.
‘Which charity would Samantha like her fee to be donated to?’ they had asked her, to which she replied: ‘The charity of Samantha, of course’.
I wasn’t aware my wheelchair also came with a halo and angel wings, and that I’d obviously be willing to donate all my earnings to charity. Don’t disabled people have bills to pay, too?
On other occasions I’ve been asked to work for nothing when I knew a budget was available. Each time I said yes even though I cannot independently take public transport and I knew that expensive cab fares would leave me out of pocket.
This is because I actually love to work and I love what I do. I love having a routine. Heck, I even love paying taxes. Being part of a team and feeling included is so important for me as I can, at times, feel very isolated.
But the assumption is that disabled people must simply be grateful for any opportunity that comes our way, and that we are just sitting at home twiddling our thumbs until someone takes pity and includes us.
It’s taken years for me to stand up for myself, to know my worth and be clear that what I bring to the table is extremely valuable.
So what’s stopped me in the past from slapping a price tag on top of my head and wearing it with pride, like a diamanté tiara?
My lack of self worth. Imposter syndrome. Not feeling like my skills were on par with others in my field.
I was embarrassed, and felt almost cheeky asking for money. I came over all ‘British’ and proper and avoided the subject like the plague.
My concern right now is that the job losses that have resulted from Covid-19 will push many disabled people to work for free, or out of work all together
I also internalised some of the ableism that had come my way. I didn’t often see people that looked like me and recognised early on that opportunities were few and far between, so I believed I was one of the lucky few to be picked for jobs and events. Gosh, even some of the disability charities I worked at employed hardly any disabled staff.
I felt like I had the golden ticket, and if organisations said jump, I’d ask how high.
I’ve been to interviews and auditions I couldn’t even access, with stairs and no lift.
I remember clearly one job interview where the employer was wincing as she showed me round the building, and it became increasingly obvious how inaccessible it was.
There was no disabled bathroom, she told me, ‘so I’m not sure how you’d manage with that?’ I knew then and there I wasn’t getting the job.
The reality is that many disabled people work their bums off just like the rest of society. There are almost 14million people with disabilities in the UK, 3.9million of whom are in work.
Many of us work remotely on zero hour contracts because buildings, offices and public transport don’t accommodate us.
My experience is not isolated. Lydia Wilkins, a freelance journalist who campaigns for #FairpayForFreelancers, is autistic. She is well trained and experienced, but, as she told me, ‘I have always been underestimated, simply because of my label. I may be freelance, but people like me are so worth your time – and we deserve to be paid a decent amount.’
She pointed out that it’s discriminatory to pay someone less because they have a disability, and that autistic people remain sorely under-employed, when they are largely capable of working.
My concern right now is that the job losses that have resulted from Covid-19 will push many disabled people to work for free, or out of work all together.
I’d hate for any employer to take advantage of the current economic climate to perpetuate the disability pay gap that already exists, and justify not paying individuals or valuing their talents.
According to a 2018 report from the TUC, the annual gap stands at £2,730, which is equivalent to an average household’s spend on food for 11 months and leaves disabled workers more likely to struggle to meet everyday costs.
Not only does paying disabled people what they are owed set a wider precedent about how we value and treat disability, it’s a necessity to ensure we as a community survive, and live independently and safely.
A job doesn’t just put food on my table and pay for my electricity – it contributes to my new wheelchair that costs anywhere from 4K-20k to run and maintain. It pays for extra care packages or that stair lift, adapted kitchen or wet room that don’t come as standard in every home.
Of course we all have expenses, but it’s worth noting that on average a disabled person spends £583 extra a month just for being who they are.
And with the austerity and benefits cuts we have fallen victim to over the past few years, being disabled has never cost so much.
Source: Read Full Article