Michael Alexander speaks to Fife lifeguard Stefan Hoggan who is starring in a Scottish Government advert to breakdown the ‘taboo’ of disabled workers.
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 disabled people aged 16 to 64 are in employment, compared with more than 81.5% of non-disabled workers.
Aiming to increase employment opportunities for disabled Scots across the country, the Disability and Employment Campaign 2017 is targeting small and medium-sized businesses and provide them with sources of information and support on hiring those who may require extra support.
With disabled people 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.
Amongst the disabled employees from across Scotland who are backing the drive is 24-year-old Stefan Hoggan from Auchtermuchty in Fife.
Stefan – who works as a lifeguard at Cowdenbeath leisure centre 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 in an interview with The Courier.
“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 about it all.”
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 – and is confident that the Scottish Government’s Disability Campaign 2017 will help others to 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.
“It’s important to break down the stigma and awkwardness associated with talking about disability,” he says.
“The saying I use is that I think the only disability in life is having a bad attitude
“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 deserve 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.
“Also, when it comes to employers, there’s the legislation. But I think it’s hard because disabled people come in all shapes and sizes. 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.”