Very recently I started negotiating with a disability awareness charity with a view to securing a 6 month contract with them. The CEO of the charity was very keen to have me on board due to my very relevant experience of working with small charities and my direct knowledge and experience of disability. He was even willing to bypass the equal opportunities policy and hire me without advertising the role. This was not ethically possible so I agreed to apply for the role along with everyone else and was given the “nod” that the contract would, probably, go to me.
A few weeks before this I was invited to meet the Chair of the board and another member of staff to discuss the future of the charity and where my skills could be utilised. This is where I first encountered the surprising concept of “disability hierarchy”. Both staff members were full time wheelchair users and one of them said to me, “there is no-one more prejudiced about disability than disabled people” or words to that effect. I didn’t really understand what he meant by this till the CEO called me a few weeks later and said that although they liked me and what I had to say they were “unhappy” that my disability is progressive. I didn’t pay much attention to this till the interview where it was painfully obvious by the lack of eye contact and follow up questions that I didn’t stand a chance of getting the contract.
I’ve since been reading up on the hierarchy of disability and studies seem to show that disabled people and society have negative views on certain disabilities and a hierarchy or pecking order exists. Is that what the CEO meant when he said they were unhappy that my disability is progressive? Firstly, how on earth do they know about my condition unless they ask me! Is it better to be a permanent wheelchair user than someone like me who can get around with sticks but sometimes needs a chair just because there is the threat of “progression” hanging over them? Why would potential progression affect my ability to do the job? Just because MS can be progressive does not mean I will get progressively worse! All this stinks of discrimination to me and I have yet to decide what I’m going to do about it! The CEO has been in hospital over Christmas so I have yet to see what, if anything, he’s going to say about it.
In the meantime I have more work on the horizon that is much better suited to my skills and abilities so I’m not losing too much sleep over it but it has opened up a can of worms for me. Do I have a duty to pursue the discrimination issue given that this is a disability awareness charity we’re talking about???