Monday, 1 May 2017

What are you going to do when you finish? #BADD2017

[The Blogging Against Disablism Day graphic, depicting a colorful grid, with each square showing a different colored stick figure person, like the ones for the restroom signs.  Some of the stick figures have mobility aids, and one of them is just a handicapped symbol.  At the top it says "Blogging Against Disablism"]

I'm back at university, albeit a different one closer to home, studying again after my body through a fantastic tantrum the last time I tried it. It's also a general election year again, which is not what anyone expected. Maybe this time politicians will not tell me my life is no life at all but I don't hold out much hope for that.

The university I'm at now has a real focus on employment and one of the highest graduate employment rates in the country. That is great, everyone wants to be able to get a good job when they leave university right? Isn't that the point of going?

Not really, not for me at least. I applied to uni (both times) because I love learning and my brain likes to be busy. That's fine, each to their own, if you went to uni because you want a higher paid job then more power to you.

But here's the rub - I am not employable, not really, not as I am now. I have plenty of skills, I am smart, I'm a self starter, I have a whole bunch of somewhat impressive things on my CV, I meet the person specification for a whole lot of jobs already. But I'm not employable.

Why? Because graduate jobs, entry level jobs, training programmes and internships, essentially any job which I will be qualified for at the end of my degree and I'm vaguely interested in tend to require you to be able to work consistently and for more than a few hours a week. They are usually full time and then some.

At uni I have around 10 hours a week of lectures and tutorials, I manage that, I manage to get my work in and so far I'm doing okay. But I don't have the energy to do a whole lot else besides that. I spend a lot of time in my room resting or doing low energy activities. I'm fortunate I can do that much, last year I couldn't, 18 months ago I couldn't and I have some wonderful PAs who help me do the practical daily living things I don't have the energy for. There are not many graduate level jobs, for people at the start of their career that fit well with that. And not many non-graduate level jobs that my body would be able to withstand either.

So where does that leave me?

I'm still in my first year but we're already being encouraged to look for an industrial placement, to think about our employability, to look at jobs or voluntary roles to do alongside our academic work. And that's fine - until it's not.

It's not fine when the message of employability, employability, employability means I start to question why I'm even doing a degree in the first place. I still love learning, that's not changed and the academic work excites me (even if do I complain about it on twitter a lot when I'm meant to be writing essays). But being beaten over the head again and again with "get a job", "get a good job", "get experience" wears you down.

When the university prides itself on this measure, not academic achievement, not student support or satisfaction it leaves those of us who cannot work, who might never be able to work with a bad taste in our mouths. It's no secret that this rate of employment among disabled people is about less than 50%.
If I'm not well enough to work at the end of my degree am I letting the university down?
If I can't find a job role that I can fulfill without ruining my health have I wasted everybody's time?
If I can't sustain employment will my degree be just another way I have sponged off the state and wasted taxpayers money?
If employers refuse to adapt to my needs or provide support in the workplace will I be counted as a bad investment?

This is not just a problem in my current university, though I've noticed it a lot more here than at my previous one, it's a problem everywhere.
It's a problem because we are treating education as a means to an end instead of an end in itself.
It's a problem because education and especially the use of public funds in education is seen as an investment to be paid back at a later date.
It's a problem because employers expect people starting their careers to have boundless energy and work oftentimes for free or for next to nothing in un/low paid internships.
It's a problem because disabled people are not really thought about at all, either by employers or the careers advisors at university.

When I finish my degree I might not get a job. Or I might. Or I might stay in education forever. Or I might get a job and work myself into the ground trying to keep up with the non-disabled people ad end up really sick again. Or I might stay on ESA and subject to the whims of the DWP for as long as they deem me sick enough. Or I might sit and crochet for the rest of my life. I don't know. I have no idea what my health will be like in then and what my body will be capable of, let alone what employers will accept.

So when you ask me what I'm going to do when I've got my degree I am being honest when I tell you I haven't got a clue. But it shouldn't matter. To anyone.

This post was written for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2017. More #BADD2017 posts can be found here.

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