I just want to be paid the same as non-disabled men

Celia Chartres-Aris in two photos side by side

I was initially elated (Picture: Celia Chartres-Aris)

As I left the job interview for the first stepping stone into my legal career, the employer shook my hand, winked, and said, ‘I expect we shall see each other again very soon.’

I was elated – everything I had worked so hard for, committing myself to my school work, going on to study law at university, was finally coming to fruition.

Then came the email. ‘Congratulations! Please find attached our diversity and inclusion forms for employees.’

I ticked that I identify as disabled and needed reasonable adjustments, then sent it back, not thinking too much about it.

Days later, I received a phone call from the interviewer, saying that they wanted to know more about my disability.

Celia Chartres-Aris

After a long pause, the interviewer’s tone shifted (Picture:CHARLES FOSTER KANE LIMITED)

Happy to oblige, I explained and talked through the adjustments I needed – access to an accessible bathroom, permission to carry sharps and an agreement around attending medical appointments.

After a long pause, the interviewer’s tone shifted. The call was hurried to a monotoned finish.

That same day, I received an email that they no longer thought I was suited to the role and had chosen another applicant. They didn’t believe, the email stated, I was going to fit in with the team dynamic because I was ‘different’, and they weren’t able to offer adjustments.

It’s an experience I was reminded of this week when the results of the Disability Pay Gap 2023 report by the Trade Union Congress were announced. 

It revealed that disabled workers are valued less than other staff, and that non-disabled workers earned £2.10 an hour more than their disabled counterparts. 

Celia Chartres-Aris

Unfortunately, this is the reality of employment for disabled people (Picture: Porto&Bello/Ada Ventures)

That’s an increase of 75% in the past 10 years, and as a disabled person, those results are appaling, but not surprising. 

Unfortunately, this is the reality of employment for disabled people.

After being forced out of full-time employment due to repeated discrimination, and feeling no other option than self-employment, I have long felt the struggle of fighting for equal pay.

I was born with a genetic abnormality called Loeys-Dietz Syndrome, a genetic condition that weakens the body’s connective tissue that has numerous life-threatening complications.

Celia Chartres-Aris blowing out candles on her cake as a child

I was born with a genetic abnormality (Picture: Celia Chartres-Aris)

Celia Chartres-Aris in hospital

I have been humiliated and ostracised at work because I am disabled (Picture: Celia Chartres-Aris)

As soon as you mention words like ‘disabled’ or ‘neurodiverse’, we become stereotyped. They ignore the facts – and the person – before them.

Even if we do finally get our foot through the door, the challenges for disabled people in the workplace don’t stop there.

Repeatedly I have been left feeling under-valued and treated differently. 

I have been humiliated and ostracised at work because I am disabled. Told that I don’t belong with the team. That I am only there to tick a diversity box. Been given menial tasks because they didn’t believe I could keep up with everybody else.

So tired of the barriers of being disabled in business, undervalued, mistreated and without access to reasonable adjustment, I finally told myself that enough was enough.

Taking the biggest risk of my life, I left formal employment and decided I was going to work for myself, championing the removal of discrimination wherever I could.

Today, I am a multi-award-winning campaigner, lobbyist, investor, and policy designer. I work closely with organisations, charities, and governments, advocating for improved equity of representation, inclusivity, accessibility, and opportunities for disabled people. 

Celia Chartres-Aris on stage

I decided I was going to work for myself (Picture: Ada Ventures)

I am also the co-founder of the first policy unit in the UK that focuses on putting disability at the heart of Westminster called The Disability Policy Centre and Access2Funding, which transforms and the opportunities and outcomes for disabled entrepreneurs.

I am incredibly proud of the work I have done to help shape the world for disabled people, around political representation, SEND education, business and the accessibility of the facilities around us.

The barriers for disabled people in employment are rife. We are misunderstood, seen as risky rather than talented, and we have our capabilities judged on our health, not skills.

On top of that, accessibility barriers – virtually and physically – run rampant alongside stereotypes about who we are. 

Over 25% of small businesses in the UK are owned by someone with a disability or health condition and – as of 2020 – the spending power of disabled people (known as the ‘purple pound’) and their household is estimated to be worth £274billion per year.

Celia Chartres-Aris at Downing Street

Today, I am a multi-award-winning campaigner (Picture: Celia Chartres-Aris)

But disabled people are also almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people, which makes an employment gap of 29%.

The responsibility to eradicate ableism and improve outcomes is on all of us – as both employees or employers.

We must transform the opportunities and outcomes for disabled people, creating an equal playing field.

A disabled person must be perceived as equal value, worth, talent and ability as a person without a disability. They must be treated in the same non-discriminatory manner and receive fair treatment, process and management as a person without a disability.

Celia Chartres-Aris on stage

Accessibility is a right, not a privilege (Picture: Shaw Trust)

The removal of barriers that transform the opportunities and outcomes for disabled people is achieved through active intervention, promotion and instilment. Being proactive, not reactive.

Accessibility is a right, not a privilege. We must create more opportunities for participation, eradicate ableism and foster environments where disabled people feel recognised and valued.

To the employer who turned me away because of my disability, I say this: Disability does not equal less ability.

And I hope to employers more generally that the data from the TUC is seen as a wake up call, a chance to address the urgent need to help disabled workers, who are already subject to an estimated £975 a month in costs. 

Nobody should experience these kinds of situations of discrimination based on any element of their identity.

It’s important to address this issue, and as it stands, the UK employment sector is failing badly.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk. 

Share your views in the comments below.

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