Gold medal winning Paralympic swimmer Liz Johnson has launched a jobs marketplace to showcase the untapped talent of the disabled workforce and connect them to remote work opportunities on their own terms.
The website, called Podium, is the first jobs marketplace designed to cater for freelance disabled talent and tackle discriminatory hiring practices. Johnson joined Faye and I on the Freelance Corner podcast to discuss the platform, and wider topics of discussion around freelancing as a disabled person.
The Welsh swimmer told the hosts about her consultancy business The Ability People (TAP). TAP works with corporates such as HSBC and Chelsea Football Club to improve the recruitment and retention of disabled talent in order to close the UK’s disability employment gap, which stands at a shocking 28.6 per cent.
The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) published a report in 2019 about the number of disabled freelancers in the UK. At the time of the report, there were over seven million disabled people nationwide, and they accounted for 14 per cent of the self-employed workforce – amounting to roughly 611,000 people. Writing in 2019, the report reads: “The majority of disabled people we interviewed had a positive view of self-employment, they felt it met their needs where employment couldn’t, and intended to stay in it for the long-term.
“The data supports this, showing almost half (44%) of disabled people had spent 10 years or more in self-employment. Most of the problems that disabled self-employed people experience are the same as the wider self-employed population. These include difficulty knowing how to set up their businesses, the scourge of late payment, keeping up to date with regulations, and the challenge of maintaining their businesses.”
Paralympian says her career ‘didn’t exist’ when she was young
Johnson told Faye and I about the challenges faced by disabled freelancers. The former swimmer has since become a broadcaster and covers the Paralympic Games, as well as working for TAP. She had inspiring advice for those at the start of their careers: “We all have challenges and barriers, and we all have times when we have had enough. My advice is for you to take your time and think if that’s true or not, because nobody knows what’s around the corner.
“My career now didn’t exist when I was growing up. Being a broadcaster on the Paralympic Games wasn’t a job that existed, because it wasn’t on television when I was young. So, when people ask what you want to do, and then they decide to tell you it’s not possible, don’t listen to them. Because anything is possible. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it. You’ve just got to bide your time and wait for the right time.”
The jobs platform for disabled freelancers
Now, Johnson and her business partner aim to tackle disability discrimination at its source with the launch of Podium. They hope to disrupt the digital hiring space and highlight the expertise of disabled people.
“Podium was something we’d always talked about, even from the inception of The Ability People, but we needed to figure out the detail and how it was going to work and actually then take the time to build it and all those kinds of things”, Johnson says. “The pandemic gave us that opportunity.
“At The Ability People, we believe that anybody can become disabled, so we approach that aspect of it in quite a loose term, because there’s a lot of people who have disabilities that are undiagnosed, or they have it and things that impact their lives, but are not recognised conditions. But if it means that they’re disabled from working in a conventional working environment, then we really need to consider that to enable them to access freelance work.
So that freelancer signs up to the podium, and then they have the opportunity to fill in a profile. They also create listings of their capabilities and the types of work that they’re willing to do. It’s a shop window of freelancers, really!”
The platform is free to use and open for freelancers to create their profiles. These profiles empower disabled workers to showcase their skills and set their own rates of pay. Clients post jobs and search for professionals within Podium’s community of freelancers. Likewise, freelancers can search for roles which suit their needs and both parties can contact each other directly. This removes biased processes of selection and gives disabled people increased agency in the job-hunting process.
Should I tell a client that I am disabled?
One of the questions sent in from a listener was whether they should disclose their disability to potential clients.
Johnson told the listener: “It’s a very good and a very common question. At The Ability People, our stance on it is: does it impact what you’re going to do? Is this something that your disability affects, that requires an adjustment? Or, or would it make you feel comfortable if someone else knew about it? Because it’s a very personal detail about you, and so the the short answer is no. You don’t have to always tell the client.
“I find that with freelancing, a lot of the time, it’s not necessary to tell them. In fact, in any situation, it shouldn’t be necessary to tell them because you want to be working with organisations who are authentically inclusive.
“If you’re going to be going on site, and you have specific requirements when it comes to personal care, or eating, or something like that, then maybe it is a good point to ask the question, but when it’s relevant. Sometimes your disability becomes the elephant in the room, and you wonder when you should disclose if you have got a disability but being on the [Podium] platform, you’ve kind of done that already. And, by having the freedom to put yourself up for the job or the task, you’ve said you’re capable of doing it. So really, the organisation has no reason to ask any more about you as a person, so it gives transparency to the whole process.”
Listen to the full episode here, or on your favourite podcast platform.