Katie Cragg is our newest Role Model and was one of the participants at the ENIL Study Session in July this year. Here in her own words, Katie tells us about how she became involved in the disability movement in the United Kingdom and tells us how she used her own unique skills to gain employment in these difficult economic times.
Could you please tell me a little bit about yourself?
I am a disabled person from Manchester, United Kingdom. I am passionate about human rights for disabled people, and have worked at a disabled people’s organisation for four years and loved every minute of it. I was brought up in a family who enjoyed lively debate and this is where I feel my political education started, around the dinner table. I think of myself as a queer feminist and also spend my time working on disabled women’s issues, and running a disabled women’s group each month. I work and campaign on local issues, but I try to keep myself updated on the issues that disabled people face all around the world. I love music and film, and always look for new ideas and truths and stories to be told.
What is your personal experience of disability?
My personal experiences early on in life are that of hostility and ignorance by a lot of people around disability. I found that people would rather ignore it rather than confront it. It is shocking to me that my government repeatedly ignores calls by the international community to look at how disabled people’s human rights are being violated.
It distresses me that support services meant to be for disabled people are run and controlled by non-disabled people, while disabled people face little or no employment and education opportunities. It is depressing to know that disabled people are seen as a burden and lacking any contribution to society by those in power.
It hurts me that non-disabled actors are still hired to play disabled characters in TV and film, with unrealistic character development – disabled people are portrayed as pity objects and come to believe they are incapable of achieving just as rich life experience as non-disabled people. Representation is very important, and young disabled people have limited options in that respect.
When did you first start your engagement with disability issues and why?
When I was eighteen, I was asked by a friend to be involved with a documentary film project around access to music and nightlife, in Manchester, UK. I had already experienced negative attitudes towards my disability in other aspects of my life by that point, so I thought it would be interesting to show others the barriers that young disabled people face when trying to participate socially with their friends. This is the first time I saw myself as a disabled person – as young person I was encouraged to try not to focus on my impairment. God knows why.
I think it important for disabled people to be given a platform for their own issues, as it was obvious to me that disabled people were under represented in all areas of society. This led me to doing my own research on disabled people’s organisations, and finding my local organisation – Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) whose aims I strongly agreed with, and now I work full time with them on a young disabled people’s project.
Who has influenced you the most, and how?
My friends, old and new have influenced me the most – the ones who give me the focus to change people’s minds. I am a reflection of my peer group and we all share the utter disbelief that disabled people are treated like second-class citizens. The people my age always seem to be more open and willing to discuss issues, whereas I think the older generation are unwilling to acknowledge their faults and adapt their behaviour.
Is it difficult for you to find a new job?
I would say my situation is different because I have managed to gain experience in different roles throughout my late teens and early twenties and I know where my skills lie. Mostly it is about convincing another person that you are capable of carrying out tasks day-to-day, which as a disabled person, sometimes I cannot do my job AS WELL as I can on a good day. This takes good negotiation skills and action planning. Some would say these are ‘soft skills’ – but I have made a career out of it! Who knows in the future. My dream job would be to make documentary films and work collaboratively, there is nothing stopping me from doing this right now, apart from myself!
Describe your present employment and even your past employment experience?
I have faced many barriers in gaining work experience. The attitudes of employers, judgements made on my competency based on my impairment, a lack of opportunities for casual work as a person with a mobility impairment to name a few issues that have affected my chances of gaining employment. In a way this helped me to focus on my strengths and do my research to find other ways of trying new things such as volunteering with youth projects. I think it is very important to take as many risks as possible and try everything once or twice, this applies to my career also.
Of which achievement from employment are you most proud?
One achievement would be applying for funding to start up a collaborative project with architecture students and academics focusing on accessible public toilets and working together to create a workshop space to explore important issues in relation to this. Not only does this have a big impact on disabled people’s independent living options and how they access society on a daily basis, but these issues impact on women, trans people, sex workers, drug users, homeless people and more.
Hopefully we will be successful in gaining funding, so this will lead to a workshop resource I can use over and over again, and facilitate the sharing of stories, and lead to further work.
What is your vision for the labour market for disabled persons in your country at present and for the future?
While disabled people in the UK are facing cuts to crucial services, education and support services, it is hard to focus on employment as the overall goal. Disabled people have been de-valued by Members of Parliament and decision makers to the point where protest is inevitable. There are still massive differences between outcomes of employment for disabled people and non-disabled people, more so now, as there is less employment and funding overall. I see a danger that disabled people will be pressured into unsuitable education placements and day care services, while their real passions lie unexplored.
In the future I would like to see more schemes that attempt to acknowledge and remove the barriers that disabled people face, more information made accessible for disabled people to access rights they didn’t know they had, and more opportunities for disabled people in every aspect of society.
What advice would you give to young disabled persons?
Go and find your local disabled peoples organization and get involved in the issues you feel passionate about. Meet people, listen and if there is something you feel strongly about, protest. You are capable of far more than people say you are!