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Ticking the disability box
It’s happened a few times before. There’s a pen in my hand, an application form on the table in front of me, and a question: do you have a disability?
Even now, I hesitate writing about it. The answer? It’s complicated. When I took my first baby steps out into the big world of work, I remember asking my parents for the answer - as if it was up to other people to determine if I had an impairment or not. Now, having had two jobs under my belt, I’m getting closer to finding out what exactly that box on a job application means for me.
But first, a little backstory. Ever since I was around 13 years old (I think - the exact details are still hazy now) I’ve worn hearing aids – first in one ear and then bilaterally a short while later. I don’t know what exactly caused my mild deafness and tinnitus, and whether it was something I was born with or acquired, but the idea that I was an immature seven-year-old who shoved his ear too close to a speaker at a disco ‘just for fun’ springs to mind for some weird reason.
Yet whilst I can call myself an idiot for doing such a thing over a decade later (if, indeed, I did), I’m still reluctant to call myself disabled. I can still do everything anyone else can, just with the odd adjustment here and there. As bad and inaccurate as it sounds, I fear that ticking the box will create a stereotype in my potential boss’ mind before they even meet me, but that’s far from the truth. Even if they did, UK equality laws prevent employers from acting upon their own prejudice.
However, my most recent job, right here at Scope, offered something different on my paperwork: the option to tick a box which said I was disabled because of society’s attitudes and the way certain things were run. I had heard of this idea – the social model of disability – before and this definitely felt like the right way to describe myself, so I ticked the box.
After all, I remember occasions at the cinema where the lack of subtitles mean I can’t hear what Optimus Prime is saying in the latest Transformers movie (I’m no longer a fan of the franchise now, anyway), and certain restaurant environments mean I can’t hear the people next to me. There’s plenty more to be done, and I’m certainly ‘disabled’ in this sense.
Although, it doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself disabled under the social model, or in any other way. As with any label we assign to ourselves - or society assigns to us - we can choose to own that label and define it in our own special way. Words change over time (Scope was previously called The Spastics Society before the phrase became a term of abuse) and whatever feels right, we can use to help others understand us. In my case, it’s the phrases ‘mildly deaf’ and ‘hard of hearing’ – whichever one I feel helps people appreciate my impairment better.
Anyway, to revert back to the topic of jobs though, I suppose there’s now an interesting question to ask: should job applications now ask if you’re disabled under the social model?