It is only fitting in National Disability Employment Awareness Month to take note of Justin Gallegos, a 20 year old runner from the United States with cerebral palsy, who was signed by Nike on World Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, 6 October 2018, making Nike history. This is a massive achievement not only for Justin, but for the disabled community at large.
Justin was understandably elated by what happened and took to social media commenting: “Today on World Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, I reached a milestone in my running journey! I became the very first athlete with cerebral palsy to sign a contract with Nike! …Growing up with a disability, the thought of becoming a professional athlete is as I have said before like the thought of climbing Mount Everest! It is definitely possible, but the odds are not in your favour!...”
Justin’s success demonstrates that hard work pays off, regardless of any barriers a person may have to overcome. But how great are those barriers?
Statistics show that for all health conditions people with disabilities have lower employment rates than those without disabilities. According to government figures, in the UK less than a quarter of people with learning disabilities, a speech impediment or mental health conditions are in employment. These figures highlight a real problem with disabled individuals accessing employment, be it because the challenge of entering employment seems too great or because businesses do not recognise the potential benefit that disabled individuals can offer.
Scope, the disability equality charity, which offers advice and support to individuals with cerebral palsy and other conditions, such as autism, hearing or visual impairment and learning or communication difficulties, has started an initiative to help overcome the challenges disabled individuals face when trying to gain entry to employment. It is providing online employment support for disabled jobseekers, helping with employability skills, CV guidance and interview techniques as part of a 12-week employment action plan to get them back into the workplace. This initiative is funded by Virgin Media, with the ultimate aim of supporting one million disabled people to get into and stay in work by the end of 2020.
It is encouraging to see such positive steps being taken. We hope that other charities and businesses will get involved in similar incentives to help break down employment barriers.