Fourteen per cent of the UK’s 4.5 million self-employed are disabled individuals, highlighting the growth of the freelancer economy and the flexible opportunities it can offer talent. But their freelancer stories are rarely heard. But thanks to fellow freelancers that’s changing.
According to IPSE research, there are about 611,000 disabled self-employed people in the UK. This amount has increased by 30 % in the UK over the past five years.
That said, freelancers and contractors with disabilities appear more often in the self-employed sector than the general workforce. This is increasingly by choice. This finding is also in line with the lack of more inclusive and flexible office and transport environments that cater to the needs of workforce talent, not the other way around.
“Many disabled people choose to work for themselves to manage their work/health balance,” IPSE has reported in a Guide it has published, Freelancing and Self-Employment with a Disability.
“For individuals with disabilities, productivity levels can often be unpredictable, and many freelancers find themselves losing hours to medical appointments, sickness and recovery time. And managing multiple illnesses and disabilities may also be of concern,” said IPSE.
Additionally, the self-employed members’ group said, long term illnesses and disabilities occur more in older people (aged 60 and over), a predominant demographic within the self-employed sector.
Someone can become disabled at any time in their career, through illness, life events or trauma, for example. The severity can increase or decrease for any number of reasons. That is why it is crucial for community networks to grow and provide real-life advice and stories.
In a recent publication from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health, it states they recognise that “self-employment may be attractive to people with a health condition or disability and that it is important to provide them with support to start, sustain and grow their self-employment.”
But if you are self-employed where exactly is this “support” going to come from? Most likely from the freelance or startup community, rather than clients or the government.
Sometimes just knowing others have been in the position you are in right now and have dealt with the matter at hand – or at least one similar to it – in a professional way, with a positive outcome, could be just what you need.
If, say, for any reason, you have not discussed your concerns with your clients, but feel you should, then it might be a good idea to reach out to the freelancer community to ask what others in your position have done. Don’t just take one person’s experience though, consider and compare several.
There are individuals and organisations out there creating news and advice networks for disabled freelancers. One such outfit is The Unwritten, a stories-based startup publication for disabled people by disabled people.
With Rachel Charlton-Dailey at the helm of The Unwritten, the mainstream press are getting an awakening on what it really means to be a self-employed disabled person in the UK. Charlton-Dailey’s work regularly appears on Metro UK, HuffPost and Stylist. Along with Deputy Editor, Caroline McDonagh-Delves, and the contributors, the website aims to provide readers with disabled stories that don’t just focus on “inspiration or trauma”.
For example, in Charli Clement’s recent opinion piece, it was noted that just 22% of autistic people are in paid work. In the article, Clement discusses the launch of Spectrum 10K, a scientific study that is using DNA samples from 10,000 autistic people and their families along with other information based on a set of questions. The study aims to examine the genetics of those providing samples along with their responses to see how their experiences shape their wellbeing and daily life.
Those with autism have mixed feelings about the study. Clement is one of them.
“It is an ableist society holding our wellbeing back, not our DNA,” says Clement.
“We need an increase in social care and education funding, we need post-diagnostic support, and we need doctors to actually understand autism as a condition when considering our other healthcare.
“Autistic people need to be involved in this research properly, from the beginning and with our interests truly understood and at the heart,” says Clement.
“We desperately need research that will fix society, not autistic people.”Charli Clement
According to the National Autistic Society, 700,000 people are on the autistic spectrum in the UK. The Society says that there is “no official count of people with autism but this is a well-established estimate and if anything it’s likely to be conservative. This figure represents more than 1% of the population.”