Gillian Reynolds, Phillip Nicholls and Catrina Alferoff
Work is essential to all societies: it produces the means of sustaining life, and those excluded from work are also excluded from vital social relationships (Oliver, 1991). Despite concerted efforts by some employers to seek equality of opportunity for disabled people, and notwithstanding recent growth in technology as an enabling resource (Roulstone, 1998), criticism remains concerning high levels of unemployment for this particular social group (for example, Morrell, 1990; Oliver, 1991; Reynolds, 1994).
The national picture concerning employment and impairment is fairly well documented, if in some instances rather dated. National surveys revealed an estimated two million disabled people of working age living in Britain (Martin et al., 1988-9). Relatively few are employed, and those who are employed often experience lower wages, poorer working conditions, and longer hours of work (Oliver, 1991). Underutilisation of skills and training, and barriers to promotion are rife (RADAR, 1993, cited in Thornton and Lunt, 1995). Desire for work may be stronger among disabled groups than among the able-bodied population (Prescott-Clarke, 1990; Thornton and Lunt, 1995).
In terms of social policy, the quota scheme for employing disabled people in the UK — in force since the 1940s but largely ignored by governments and many employers since the 1970s — was unsuccessful in promoting reasonable employment opportunities for disabled people. Perhaps perceiving the pointlessness involved, registration fell from