Black Disabled People Need Better Representation

A new study on disabled black people and employment has found that they are worse off than other people with disabilities and that disability organisations are failing to acknowledge the racial disadvantage they suffer. The report: Ethnicity, Disability and Work, commissioned by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) which included interviews with 28 people of African origin and 20 people of African Caribbean origin, shows that some black people feel that the political agenda of disabled organisations tend to give their concerns a very low priority and consequently voluntary and community organisations are not seen as being particularly helpful in securing employment for disabled blacks.

Specifically, the report claims that “there is a tension” between the perceptions of disadvantages that arise from “disabilism” [discriminatory, oppressive or abusive behaviour arising from the belief that disabled people are inferior to others] and those resulting from racism.

The report recommends that both statutory and voluntary disability organisations should focus on placing race higher up the agenda and should reconsider their own attitudes and practices to ensure that they meet the requirements of race relations legislation, as well as their obligations under disability legislation.

The report calls on the government to establish a quota system for employing blacks with sensory disability and suggests job applications should not include a declaration of disability until after the short-listing stage. Only 15 per cent of black adults [and those termed “ethnic minorities”] with sensory impairments in the UK are in employment according to this study.

The three-year project is the first major study on this issue which gives a voice to some of the concerns of black disabled people whose views are often ignored or neglected by the mainstream. Black Britain tried to contact Julie Charles, the founder and chair of Equalities National Council [an independent enterprise run by its service users] for this story but she was unavailable.

But a release by the emerging National Council of Disabled People, Carers and those with long term impairments from the black community affirmed their belief that the needs of black disabled people were not adequately catered for.

The release said: “For disabled people, carers and those with long term impairments from our communities to have a real say in the decision making process in the UK, we have to be there too. Not as a tokenistic lonely minority figure but collectively and as a decisive voice on policy. If we are not represented nationally then our needs will not get the recognition they rightly deserve.”

David Sessay, 60, is originally from Sierra Leone, has lived in Leeds for many years and is registered blind due to chronic glaucoma. Sessay was forced to give up his job and business due to his sight loss and has experienced the lack of job opportunities available for disabled Africans and African Caribbeans in this country first hand.