Being disabled doesn’t mean I’m unable: Liz’s story


Paralympic swimming gold medallist Liz Johnson has swapped the pool for the boardroom in a bid to shut the incapacity employment hole for good

My profession was re-routed in a single second in 2017. I used to be watching a report in regards to the incapacity employment hole, and heard a statistic that left me shocked and appalled: the hole stood at greater than 30%, and had remained that manner for a decade. This meant that hardly half of the UK’s 13.9 million disabled folks had been employed, in comparison with 80% of able-bodied folks. Listening to this stopped me in my tracks.

It stood in full distinction to my very own expertise as a disabled athlete. On a human degree, I associated so intently to the folks I used to be listening to about. However as a lately retired Paralympian, my very own profession was largely free from a lot of the obstacles that block the trail of many.

Profitable my medals got here with an enormous quantity of exhausting work, however rising up – and all through my swimming profession – I by no means actually thought-about myself to be disabled. I now realise that I used to be merely naïve in regards to the microaggressions society reveals to discriminate towards disabled folks. These impair us greater than our disabilities ever might. However at that time in my life, I used to be doing virtually every little thing my able-bodied associates had been doing; I simply needed to go about it otherwise. This outlook was reaffirmed after I went swimming.


Liz coaching within the pool

My mum first took me to the pool after I was three. I used to be born with cerebral palsy, so she enrolled me in swimming courses to strengthen my muscle tissue. I felt free within the pool and powered via my coaching periods. I wasn’t inherently gifted, however swimming was a terrific outlet, and I embraced it with every little thing I had. It was one of many few locations the place my incapacity didn’t appear to matter.

Over the course of my profession, I received 5 gold medals throughout European and World Championships; and though I did not qualify for the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, I went on to get bronze, silver and gold within the following three Video games. Beijing in 2008 was bitter candy. My mum – my greatest buddy and my largest supporter – handed away not lengthy beforehand. I additionally sustained a shoulder damage which left me with out using my strongest arm in coaching. However I nonetheless obtained the gold.

My can-do perspective ensured my exhausting work within the pool was rewarded. I realise now that that is what units my expertise of being disabled at odds with that of so many others. Though my incapacity decided my race classification, it didn’t decide my possibilities of success. So many disabled folks have this similar drive to succeed, however are trying to work in sectors that don’t champion their distinction. As a substitute, they’re met with closed doorways and excuses.

The factor that ultimately slowed me down was utterly unrelated to being disabled. I needed to have surgical procedure for a hernia in 2015 and fell behind with coaching. In consequence, I didn’t go for the Video games in Rio de Janeiro that summer time. I referred to as time, retired from the game, and heard that information report on the employment hole whereas embarking on new beginnings.

Some setbacks are past your management – an injured shoulder for instance. However on listening to in regards to the employment hole, I refused to see incapacity as a setback or settle for that it ought to management an individual’s alternatives. It was the employers who wanted to vary. My life experiences taught me that simply since you do issues in a different way, doesn’t imply you possibly can’t do them in any respect. So, I used to be decided to carve out a spot for the disabled neighborhood on the earth of labor I used to be about to enter into myself.

It was round this time that I met Steve Carter, who’d been in recruitment for greater than 30 years, and was uninterested in being introduced with the identical pool of candidates. We had been arriving on the similar drawback from completely different angles: various expertise was being dominated out of the hiring sport earlier than it had even began, and we wanted to take motion. We had our lightbulb second, and The Ability People (TAP) was born.

We created TAP to vary the way in which companies strategy range, and naturally, that begins with our personal crew. Everybody at TAP has some type of incapacity, and is dedicated to reaching range. We’re a melting pot of various ethnicities, ages, and genders, and we meet within the center to speak actually and overtly to companies about our experiences, and break down obstacles to entry.

“My life experiences taught me that simply since you do issues in a different way, doesn’t imply you possibly can’t do them in any respect”

We work alongside companies, reworking their tradition and operations to make sure every little thing is authentically inclusive. With out laying these foundations, you possibly can’t assist really various workforces.

It was intimidating shifting from the pool to the boardroom, however I knew we had a worthy trigger and, evidently, so did the large company gamers. Not lengthy after launching, we received contracts with Chelsea FC and HSBC. We’ve since developed even additional to launch Podium – the primary jobs platform for disabled freelancers. Within the wake of Covid-19, many employers are realising that they want distant employees simply as a lot as disabled folks want versatile jobs. So, we’re connecting the 2 to create significant work for disabled freelancers.

Over the previous two years I’ve grown used to going through a distinct sort of enviornment, and a distinct sort of crowd. I depend talking about incapacity on the LinkedIn convention in Dallas, and being nominated for the BBC’s prestigious 100 Girls checklist in 2018, amongst my biggest achievements; and with TAP and Podium we’ve made headway we’re actually happy with.


Pictures | Amy Mace

However the employment hole nonetheless stands at 28% within the UK. Add to this the financial fallout of the well being disaster, and it turns into clear why disabled folks want our assist greater than ever.

In some ways although, the coronavirus lockdown has introduced the expertise of the able-bodied inhabitants in keeping with that of disabled folks. The remainder of the world is adapting to restrictions, challenges, and well being dangers as a part of on a regular basis life – in addition to working from residence. Employers are waking as much as the truth that flexibility works, that means the time has by no means been higher to embrace a pool of expertise that stands to achieve an enormous quantity.

Steve, the TAP and Podium crew, and I’ll proceed to work collectively to deliver our concepts to life, to shut the incapacity employment hole for good, and to empower disabled folks to seek out jobs which don’t simply meet their wants, however allow them to thrive.

I’ve lived my dream as a Paralympian. Now I need different gifted, expert, and passionate disabled folks to attain theirs. As a result of consider me, they’re greater than succesful.

Rachel Coffey | BA MA NLP Mstr says:

Liz highlights one thing so many people miss – each one in every of us is completely different. It’s in our range our distinctive abilities stay and thrive, not regardless of it. It’s so hanging to listen to how society’s attitudes have been a barrier – however the good factor is that attitudes can shift, and Liz is on the forefront of enabling that to occur.

It’s so inspiring to see how Liz faces obstacles and champions change. We would not all be Olympians, however she reminds us all of us have the ability to assist create that optimistic change.

Hero picture | Pictures by Amy Mace

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