Lots of changes are becoming apparent now Hayley’s turned 16 and as she starts looking for part time work, her deafness raises certain issues…
Friday evening, in a pizza restaurant
“Come on Mum, a bit more than that!”
Hayley clinks her wine glass against the pinot grigio bottle from which I’ve just poured her, meanly she would say, a shot-size serving.
“I am 16 now and I’m allowed to have alcohol.”
Yes, our little Hayley has turned 16. The sparklers have barely fizzled out on her birthday cake and already big changes are afoot.
I’m sure she looks a tiny bit taller, her make-up that bit more sophisticated, a little more time spent on her hair with the straighteners each morning – and that’s just for school. Her skirt’s folded over at the waistband an extra turn, revealing more knee than ever, in strict contravention of school rules.
She’s certainly that bit more determined – which is saying something! – and alcohol consumption aside, now she’s set on finding herself a Saturday job.
For two years she’s been on a local youth enterprise scheme, with work placements in local shops and cafes where she gets paid in vouchers. But she’s no longer eligible as she’s 16 so she wants to get a proper job.
I’ve been helping her fill in an online application for a local branch of a national restaurant chain and it’s brought up a new area for debate.
Where the form asked if there’s any disability, I found myself going against everything we’ve done before, with school or club applications.
“Don’t tick the box,” I told her.
It felt awkward, duplicitous and with connotations of shame or embarrassment – like it’s saying to Hayley there’s something she has to hide or lie about.
Which is the opposite of everything I’ve instilled into her: to be upfront about her deafness, to feel comfortable with it, that it’s up to the world to accept it and try to support her to be included.
“But Mum, why?” she asked. “What about equality and discrimination?”
She knows, because I’ve told her, that it’s illegal to discriminate against you if you are deaf.
“Disability is an unknown quantity that might pose extra problems or effort or opportunities for embarrassment”
But that’s not the way the real world works. I know human nature, have worked in positions where job applications are being screened; been part of the decision making process as to who gets called in for interview. I’ve seen others panicking, not knowing what difficulties disabilities could pose, covertly ruling out certain applications, not because they are nasty but because disability is an unknown quantity that might pose extra problems or effort or opportunities for embarrassment.
“Just get in your foot in the door first,” I tell her, let them see how capable you are, that it’s possible for you to communicate perfectly well, then bring it up.
I honestly don’t know if it’s the right thing to say. But for now while she’s starting out instinct tells me that right or wrong, a pragmatic approach – stealth approach if you like – is more to her advantage, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s going to need all the advantages she can get in an unequal world where she is so often at a disadvantage.
What are your views on whether Hayley should declare she has a disability or not? Leave a comment!