Ableism in the Workplace
If you regularly follow my posts you’ll know that I very recently changed jobs; I quit my previous job after only being there for just under 11 weeks, & up until now I haven’t said very much about my reasons for leaving a job so soon after getting it. Well! For those of you who are curious or just nosey, I will reveal all in this post. I want to warn y’all that I will be discussing ableist behaviour & attitudes in this post so if that’s going to upset you then close this window now!
Phew, okay. I have a feeling that this is going to be a difficult post, so if my writing is a bit of a mess you’ll have to forgive me. So, after months of desperately looking for work I finally started working for a transport company at the end of November; I was hired to work 20 hours a week, supervising a young disabled boy on his journeys to & from school! This was something I was excited to do (some of you will remember my excited Tweets) as I knew I would be making a real difference to another disabled person’s life – unfortunately, this never actually happened.
I signed a contract on a Friday & was due to do some training come the following Monday at 10am – instead, I received a phone call at 6am asking me to be ready & in my local town centre for 7am… my mum & I thought that this may be my new boss testing me to see how committed to the job I was so I agreed to cover the shift on a school run for a group of children with disabilities & behavioural issues. Phone calls at stupid hours continued to be a thing though, & very quickly it became clear that I wasn’t being tested – this was just how my boss treated their employees. At this point my boyfriend told me I should quit, but I was unable to as I needed money, but I did start looking for other work within the first two weeks of my employment with the transport company & eventually started talking with the nursery I now work for.
During the first week at the company I worked 7 hours & 55 minutes, & on the second week I worked 8 hours & 45 minutes; nowhere near the 20 hours I had been promised – it’s safe to say that at this point I was really angry & upset. I was spending a lot of money on public transport to be at the pick up points for the job I was doing on each particular day (despite being told in my interview that I would be picked up in my local town centre every day, which is a 10 minute walk from my house) & I had no idea whether I was working the next day or not, until about 5pm in the evening, or 6am that morning. I was stressed, I was tired & I was upset at how I was being treated.
On the Friday of my second week I was put on a run to an extra-support school, & I stayed on this run for the next 6 weeks; during these 6 weeks I started to feel a little happier – I was working set hours & liked the children I was working with. Unfortunately, I was working 10 more hours a week than I had been hired to do & I was getting up at 5:30am & wasn’t getting home until gone 5:30pm. I had no time to read or see my boyfriend during the week, & had no time to relax when I got in from work. I wasn’t necessarily happy on this run, but I was earning enough money to pay the bills & was finally getting to work with the type of children I wanted to work with.
Things didn’t stay this way though; on one particular day, the bus we were given had a very heavy set of stairs that I was unable to lift/push down for the children to use – the other passenger assistant I was working with had a bad hip, so she was also unable to operate the stairs on this particular bus. We spoke about this together & decided we would ask our driver to do the stairs for us that day – it is actually the job of the driver to do this anyway, but in most cases the passenger assistants will do it as it’s easier & saves time. The driver said that was fine; he would operate the stairs that day & that afternoon we would tell our boss that it wasn’t practical for us to have that bus because of my health problems & because of my colleague’s hip. For ease I’m going to now refer to the driver as Driver, & the other passenger assistant as Assistant.
On the afternoon run, when we picked the children up from school & dropped them all off at their homes, Driver started to show his ableist colours. As we pulled up to one of the student’s houses the student got up & to the bus door before me; said student then opened the door himself & jumped down from the bus without any of us pushing the stairs down into place (not unusual for the older children to do on any of the buses).
When I got back on the bus after taking the student to their front door, Assistant told me that the children weren’t allowed to open the door themselves; I told her that I knew that, & that I had only let the student go down the bus aisle in front of me as I expected Driver to get up to do the door & stairs, as he had for all the other children. Driver then called down the bus at me that he was busy driving – a ridiculous comment as the bus obviously isn’t moving when the children are getting off the bus. Anyway, a few more comments were made between us, which led to me pointing out that I had a hole in my spine & could therefore not lift those stairs because they were far to heavy – Driver then shouted quite nastily, in front of the children, that I shouldn’t be doing the job then.
Now, this upset me because I was told when I was hired that I would not have to do any manual work – my job was to entertain & look after the passengers – & that it was the driver’s job to deal with the door, steps & wheelchairs; so I was perfectly capable of doing the job that I was informed I would be responsible for. I was also upset because I was damn good at my job; the children all liked me & I had started to build some great bonds with some of them – one of the elder boys had even started to trust me & confide in me about the problems he was having at school. I was good at my job, so how dare this white privileged male tell me that I shouldn’t be doing my job because of my disability.
When I got home that night I cried, a lot, but my mum & I decided that it was best not to go to my boss about it as I was new & didn’t want to be seen as rocking the boat. I also didn’t want to get moved off of the bus because I enjoyed working with the children I was with, & at this point I felt that myself & Assistant got on really well too.
My time on the run continued, but less than a week later Driver made another comment that made me feel sick. Some of the children on the bus I worked on were violent (something that didn’t bother me at all), & over a period of a week one of the children was getting a little out of control. One morning, after I had been quite badly attacked by one of the children, someone at the school suggested to Driver that Assistant & I swapped which violent child we sat with to see if this calmed down the child who had been playing up.
Driver then told the member of staff that I had an issue with my back, & that I had refused to work with the other child because I didn’t feel like I could restrain him… this student was older than the student I sat with, & was quite a lot bigger than me, but I had never said I didn’t want to work with him – Assistant had told me that it was best that I sat with the younger/smaller child because of my size & she would sit with the older/bigger child as she was bigger than me, albeit not by much. Driver fully lied to this member of staff, & the member of staff responded to his lies by saying that maybe having me on the bus was something that needed to be addressed. Whilst this conversation was going on, Driver & the school’s member of staff were stood outside of the bus, just outside the door, whilst I was on the bus with Assistant & the child in question – I was still able to hear what was said though.
Once all of the children were off of our bus & the school staff were away from our bus I confronted Driver & asked him why he felt he had the right to discuss my personal health concerns with someone who has no right or need to know. I also made it very clear that my health did not affect my ability to my job & that I had never said I wouldn’t work with the older child. Driver shouted at me, lied about what had been said (as he didn’t realise that I had been able to hear the whole conversation) & told me again that I shouldn’t be doing the job, that I wasn’t capable, because of my disability. I got my stuff off of the bus & decided I was going to go back to the office on another one of our buses that does a run to that school; Assistant saw me crying & asked me what was wrong, so I explained, she was nice to me but didn’t really say much.
That afternoon, when I got to the office for the afternoon run, myself, Driver & Assistant were called into my boss’s office – Assistant had told our boss what had happened that morning & our boss wanted to talk to us about it. Assistant was quiet during the entire meeting; she avoided backing myself or Driver up on anything that had happened & very much sat on the fence during the whole thing; this was enough to hurt me as I thought we were friends. Driver tried to deny that he had ever said I shouldn’t be doing the job, but Assistant did say that “somethings had been said that shouldn’t have been”. I expected my boss to side with me as she herself has some medical problems, but at the end of the meeting she basically just wanted us to all sweep it under the carpet & start again. I then had to get on our bus & work for three hours with Driver & Assistant – I can’t believe I didn’t have a panic attack.
From that day onward Driver never spoke to me; he ignored me when I said good morning/afternoon to him (I was trying to be civil as we had to work together, but I hated the man), & if he ever needed to say something to me he would ask Assistant to ask/tell me for him. It was pathetic. All of this isn’t the only kind of ableism I witnessed from him though – he continuously made fun of certain children on our bus with disabilities & ignored one of the children completely whenever he tried to talk to him because he saw his OCD as him deliberately being difficult & rude. I also heard racist remarks made by Driver, as well as transphobic comments & homophobic jokes.
I was also no longer allowed to work with the violent child I had previously been working with.
The incident at the school & the meeting with our boss happened on January 10th & on January 19th I received a text message from my boss, during the afternoon school run, saying that it was my last day on that run & that I would be doing something different from the Monday; this would have been upsetting but okay, but she was also cutting my hours considerably. I was given no reason or explanation, but I heard from other members of staff that my boss couldn’t afford to lose a driver (i.e. couldn’t have Driver quit because of the situation) but that replacing me would be easy; basically, she was trying to get me to quit.
For the next 3 weeks I worked on a college run with young disabled adults, doing 13 hours & 45 minutes the first week, 11 hours & 30 minutes the second week & 8 hours & 15 minutes the third week. During this time I was having meetings & phone calls with the nursery I now work for & I signed the contract for the new job on my last day of working for the transport company. After I handed in my notice my boss started to underpay me, & has since refused to give me the money I’m owed, & I’m currently seeking advice from the relevant authorities about what to do about the fact that she is refusing to give me a copy of my contract & medical forms that I signed for them (something which I am legally entitled to).
If you’re still reading, well done, & you now know why I quit my job after a measly 11 weeks. I guess I wanted to tell this story because I really want to highlight that just because people work with disabled children (or adults), it doesn’t mean that they’re not ableist. Driver made me feel physically sick with some of the jokes he made about our students, & he even made one of the children cry because he lacked empathy so much – plus, he made me cry more than once & I don’t usually let people’s ableism get to me. My mum & boyfriend tell me to look back on this experience as a learning curve, which I definitely have tried to do – but it was also a very difficult experience for me, that has knocked my confidence dramatically.
I’m so grateful that my new employers are understanding & caring about my disabilities & illnesses, & that the women I work with are all sympathetic – none of them have made it seem like they have an issue with me doing the job & they’ve all been so welcoming & lovely to me. Even though my job at the nursery is causing me physical pain, I’m in a much better place mentally & I’m so glad that I never have to see that awful man ever again. Ableism is everywhere though, & I know for a fact that I’ve not seen the end of this kind of behaviour.