Disabled people are being turned down for jobs because of their condition, with one woman failing to get an interview for a job despite applying for more than 100 roles.
Shani Dhanda, 30, has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease.
She told HuffPost UK that after she left school at 16 she sent off 100 job applications without ever hearing back from prospective employers.
It was not until she decided to stop revealing her condition on her cover letter that she got an invitation for an interview.
It comes as a new report from disability charity Scope revealed on Monday that more than a quarter of disabled people believe they have been turned down for a job because of their condition or impairment.
Employers are being encouraged to create environments where disabled staff members feel confident “coming out” about their condition or impairment, as only 49% surveyed by Scope said they felt aware of their rights as a disabled employee.
Shani, a disability rights activist from Birmingham, says the experience of failing to obtain an interview once prospective employers knew about her condition left her questioning “what quality of life” she was going to have.
“I thought no one was ever going to give me an opportunity to work and I wanted to be a contribution to society... the prospect of not being able to work was really sad.”
Shani says she was looking for a part time role while she studied at college.
At 3ft 10, Shani adds that she was limited in the roles she could apply for and avoided bar work, waitressing and supermarket vacancies, instead opting for administrative and telecommunications roles.
After removing any mention of her disability from her cover letter, she says she immediately got invited for an interview and was offered a part time job at a telecommunications company.
She says that, although she did not like to think that she was losing out on opportunities because of her condition, the experience was “a reality check of what the world can really be like”.
Shani’s situation is not isolated. New research conducted by Scope shows that 48% of disabled people have worried about telling employers about their impairment or condition.
Even while she was still a pupil at secondary school, Shani says she had terrible careers advice.
“All I was told is that I should try and get a job with my local council because they have a quota of disabled people that they need to employ every year.
“I just found that really insulting because I wasn’t judged on my skills or what I wanted to be in life.
“I was just looked at as a person with disability and told that you should just be some sort of box ticking exercise or tokenism,” she says.
After leaving university, Shani pursued a career in events management.
But after working with one company for six years, she felt she had to leave because her employers could not accommodate her request for flexible working hours.
I was just looked at as a person with disability and told that you should just be some sort of box ticking exercise or tokenism.Shani Dhanda
Shani says that, in addition to brittle bones, she also has scoliosis and arthritis. This can mean that travelling to work, particularly in cold temperatures, can cause her discomfort.
As a result she asked her employers if her hours could be more flexible and if she could work from home on some days.
After her request was denied, she says she felt “really let down” and undervalued: “It was such a slap in the face.”
She added: “I don’t like to have to ask for special treatment or for special adaptations or anything but it’s something I have to do in order to do my job.”
She decided to hand in her notice.
“There’s a lot of different issues,” she explains. “There are issues in getting a job and there are issues in actually keeping the job.”
She continues: “If I had the flu or something I would never want to go off sick because I feel that, if you have a disability in the workplace, you have to over compensate and you want to demonstrate to your employer that it was the right decision for them to give you the job.”
Shani got another role at another company, but faced similar problems when it came to flexible working hours. She has decided to work for herself - a decision made partly because she feels unable to find an opportunity “suitable” for her.
Scope’s research found that 20% of disabled people who have requested vital workplace adjustments have said they felt uncomfortable asking, the study shows.
The charity spoke with disabled people across a range of industries in England and Wales.
Some participants felt they had shared information but had not been listened to, while others felt pressured into talking about their impairment or condition following inappropriate questions from colleagues.
Scope is calling on employers to:
Create an environment where people feel they can be themselves at work
Make clear to all staff that support and adjustments are available
Challenge attitudes to disability through training, story sharing and campaigns
Establish opportunities for disabled people to discuss their impairment or condition in a way that works for them.
Mark Atkinson, Scope chief executive, said: “This report should be a wake-up call for businesses as it exposes the real challenges thousands of disabled workers face every day when trying to access the vital support they are entitled to.
“We need to drastically transform workplace culture so all employees are confident requesting support and can discuss their impairment or condition on their own terms.
“Employers who don’t make their workplace genuinely inclusive will lose hugely valuable members of their team because they are unable to stay or progress in that job.
“We can and must solve this problem, but employers and the Government must act now to ensure workplaces are truly inclusive and HR policies on equality aren’t just a document on a shelf.”