How do we break a taboo?

A sports­man from Auchter­muchty aims to change the way we act to­wards peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in the work­place, and stars in a new ad­vert. Michael Alexan­der meets Ste­fan Hog­gan

The Courier & Advertiser (Fife Edition) - - NEWS - Malexan­der@the­courier.co.uk

Pic­ture the scene: Two of­fice work­ers, Ken and Luke, had been play­ing “email ten­nis” in their em­ployer’s head of­fice for months – but fi­nally, they agree to meet in per­son for the first time. Bound­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to­wards each other in the cor­ri­dor, Luke holds out his right hand to po­litely shake hands with an equally smil­ing Ken. But Luke is left flus­tered and awk­wardly with­draws his ges­ture of friend­ship when he re­alises that Ken does not have a right hand to re­turn the shake with.

Wel­come to a new Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment ad­vert which is part of a cam­paign to en­cour­age more busi­ness own­ers to recog­nise the ben­e­fits of em­ploy­ing staff with dis­abil­i­ties.

And to get the mes­sage over that dis­abil­ity should not be seen as taboo.

Fig­ures have re­vealed that 41.7% of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties aged 16 to 64 are in em­ploy­ment, com­pared with more than 81.5% of abled work­ers.

Aim­ing to in­crease op­por­tu­ni­ties for dis­abled Scots across the coun­try, the Dis­abil­ity and Em­ploy­ment Cam­paign 2017 is tar­get­ing small and medi­um­sized busi­nesses and pro­vid­ing them with sources of in­for­ma­tion on hir­ing those who may re­quire ex­tra sup­port.

With peo­ple who have a dis­abil­ity ac­count­ing for 20% of the Scot­tish pop­u­la­tion, but mak­ing up only 11% of the pri­vate sec­tor work­force, cam­paign­ers are vo­cal that more needs to be done to plug the gap.

Among the em­ploy­ees with dis­abil­i­ties from across Scot­land who are back­ing the drive is 24-year-old Ste­fan Hog­gan from Auchter­muchty in Fife.

Ste­fan – who works as a life­guard in Cow­den­beath with Fife Sports and Leisure Trust, and stars in the ad­vert as Ken – was born with one half of his right arm miss­ing but in­sists his dis­abil­ity has never held him back in the work­place.

“The ad­vert is ex­tremely rel­e­vant to my life and the sit­u­a­tion with the hand shake is some­thing I ex­pe­ri­ence a lot,” ex­plains Ste­fan.

“Peo­ple go to try and shake my right hand and ob­vi­ously I’ve not got one.

“That doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence to me. I just put out my left and shake what­ever hand is put out. But some peo­ple get all flus­tered and don’t know what to do.

“It de­pends on the per­son – most peo­ple don’t say any­thing but oth­ers are a lot more for­ward.

The ad­vert is all about break­ing down that awk­ward­ness.”

As well as work­ing in a de­mand­ing job as a life­guard, Ste­fan is also a for­mer pro­fes­sional ath­lete who has rep­re­sented Great Bri­tain.

The for­mer pupil of Auchter­muchty Pri­mary and Bell Bax­ter High School in Cu­par was in­volved in com­pet­i­tive swim­ming through Dis­abil­ity Sport Fife from a very young age.

He missed out on the Lon­don 2012 Par­a­lympics and was “ab­so­lutely dev­as­tated” to miss out on Glas­gow 2014 Com­mon­wealth Games qual­i­fi­ca­tion by just two hun­dredths of a sec­ond.

Af­ter tak­ing up triathlon, he also missed out on Rio in 2016.

How­ever, he is now us­ing his knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence to coach young swim­mers aged nine to 13 with the Or­cas squad of Carnegie Swim­ming Club – where he him­self was once a mem­ber.

He is con­fi­dent that the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s Dis­abil­ity Cam­paign 2017 will help oth­ers utilise their skills too.

Ste­fan got in­volved in the ad­vert af­ter be­ing told about it through Scot­tish Dis­abil­ity Sport and be­ing nom­i­nated for the au­di­tion in Ed­in­burgh.

It was filmed at the cap­i­tal’s old blind school and the ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing in the me­dia has in­spired him to launch his own Blether Blog YouTube chan­nel.

He has also been ap­pear­ing on STV2’s Live at 5 show as a re­viewer of the day’s news sto­ries, and now has am­bi­tions to do more me­dia work.

“The say­ing I use is that I think the only dis­abil­ity in life is hav­ing a bad at­ti­tude,” he says.

“I was bul­lied a lot at pri­mary school – less so at high school. It up­set me a lot at the time. But that’s how I’m so re­silient now. The way I was treated and the way my mum and dad brought me up to not let it up­set me.

“Through be­ing my­self and keep­ing my head up, I’ve never let my dis­abil­ity stop me from do­ing any­thing.”

Ste­fan says Chan­nel Four de­serves spe­cial credit for pro­mot­ing Par­a­lympic sports in re­cent years, which has helped raise wider pub­lic aware­ness of dis­abil­ity is­sues.

But he says there is “def­i­nitely a huge way to go” to over­come the taboo, adding: “not ev­ery­one knows a dis­abled per­son so there’s of­ten still that awk­ward­ness when they meet a dis­abled per­son.

“I think many em­ploy­ers prob­a­bly do still dis­crim­i­nate against peo­ple who are dis­abled, not be­cause they don’t like the per­son but be­cause of cer­tain as­pects of the job or prac­ti­cal­i­ties of ac­cess­ing work­places,” he adds.

“Most peo­ple don’t say any­thing but oth­ers are a lot more for­ward

Pic­tures: James Mitchell.

Ste­fan Hog­gan aims to break the taboo of dis­abil­i­ties.

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