Criminology graduate Lucy Thorpe has been turned down for more than 500 jobs since she left university.
The 24-year-old believes the only reason she isn't being given jobs she's more than qualified for is because she uses a wheelchair .
Lucy, from Derbyshire, even says she was asked in one interview "why she didn't just stayon benefits".
Lucy suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which means her joints are very loose and prone to dislocation.
But the constant rejection from potential employers has left her battling anxiety as she struggles to survive on just £600 a month.
Lucy said: "I’ve lost count of the number of roles I’ve applied for – it’s well over 500.
"I heard back from about half, and I’ve had about 100 interviews.
"But it was the second they saw the chair, or I declared I had a disability, that they would say 'we’ve found a better candidate'. It was always the same loophole.
"There were a few occasions that employers said in a subtle way, 'we’re not hiring you because you’ve got a disability'. I’m not stupid, I can read between the lines."
At one interview Lucy had to transfer herself onto a foot-high step, then lift her wheelchair onto it and climb back in, jst to gain access to the company’s building.
Discrimination on the grounds of disability is illegal under the 2010 Equality Act.
But Lucy is adamant she was rejected "solely on the basis of my disability".
She added: "On some occasions, the employer would take one look at me and I could see their face drop.
"I was once asked by an employer why I had applied for the job and why I didn’t just stay on benefits, because they didn’t think I had the capability to do the job.
"I ended up with depression and anxiety. I was in utter despair and didn’t know what else to do."
Lucy's hunt for a job started two years ago when she qualified with a 2:1 in criminology and criminal justice from Bangor University in Wales.
She doesn’t declare her disability in applications "unless absolutely necessary", and has been invited to attend more than 100 interviews.
But she says several employers held these away from their premises, leading her to believe their building wasn’t accessible.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must provide reasonable adjustments for disabled interviewees.
Lucy, who is an ambulatory wheelchair user, which means she has limited walking ability, said: "There was one building that had four stone steps up to it, a glass security door, and then the door into the building itself.
"The gentleman who owned the building took me to a coffee shop around the corner to conduct the interview there.
"As soon as he saw the chair and realised the building wasn’t accessible, he wasn’t interested.
"He soon realised that I wasn’t able to get in the building and that he could hire someone he wouldn’t need to make any adjustments for."
For another interview Lucy was forced to lift her wheelchair over a foot-high stone step.
She said: "I had to think quickly how I would get into the building – I wasn’t just going to say 'it’s fine, don’t worry, we can do the interview over the phone or in another location'. I wanted to do it to prove a point.
"So I got out my chair, transferred to the step, dragged my chair up the step, into the building, got back into my chair, and went through to the office, to prove that I’m not going to let a small obstacle get the better of me.
"I make a point in interviews of saying I’m independent, I live alone, I can drive, I have an adapted car, I can do anything for myself. And the same applies in the workplace."
Last May, Lucy thought she had finally secured her place o the career ladder when she got a job as an academic writer.
But she was made redundant in January – on the same day that she had enquired about her firm moving to a more accessible location.
She said: "The office was up a flight of stairs and there was no lift – so I had to drag myself up the stairs and it got to the point that I actually pulled part of the bannister off the wall.
"I asked my boss, the owner of the company, if we could move to a ground floor office in the building that had become vacant, and it was on that very same day that he said 'it’s not possible because we’re going to have to let you go'."
But Lucy refuses to give up on her dream and is now looking for part-time work as she plans to study for a masters degree in psychology in Nottingham and then a PhD in the US to eventually become a therapist.
She receives £600 a month in Personal Independence Payment and Universal Credit , which also pays for her rent, but she admits having the extra money would be useful.
Lucy said: "I really can’t be ungrateful as it’s a great safety net for me and without it I would be really lost. But it’s not a brilliant amount of money to live on.
"I don’t remember the last time I bought myself clothes.
"The only luxuries I have are my gym membership – which I need to keep my strength to remain independent and push my chair around – and my mobile phone contract."
After being diagnosed with EDS in 2017, the most important thing for Lucy is to be taken seriously in ob interviews.
She added: "I’m able to work, I want to work – I got my very first job when I was 12 years old at a dog kennel and I then had a paper round.
"I have something to contribute and I want to contribute. So why should I be stopped from doing that?
"My story is one in millions. I’m not the only one.
"I’m much more lucky and privileged than other disabled people, but we have to have these conversations about these uncomfortable topics – we can’t keep on sweeping it under the rug."
Research reveals there are one million unemployed disabled people in the UK who want to work, according to the Office of National Statistics.
A YouGov survey of HR professionals revealed more than half of 515 people questioned said they believed it would be easier to recruit a non-disabled person.
While a third admitted they had never interviewed a disabled person.
Lucy is speaking out as part of a campaign by Virgin Media and the disability equality charity, Scope, who are joining forces to call on businesses to take action to tackle the UK’s disability employment crisis.
They have launched the #WorkWithMe pledge, which has been backed by global brands including Philips, JCB and Centrica – an initiative to bring businesses together to help improve workplace practices.
Mark Hodgkinson, chief executive at disability equality charity Scope, said: "Disabled people often get a rough deal getting into and staying in work.
"Far too many struggle to get into work, and too many fall out because they don’t get the support they need to thrive.
"There is a huge amount of disabled talent and potential waiting for companies to tap into.
"Both government and businesses have an urgent need to address the disability employment crisis."
Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson said: "While there are 950,000 more disabled people in work compared to five years ago, stories like Lucy’s prove that there’s more to be done to ensure every disabled person who wants to work can do so.
"Recruiting disabled talent isn't an act of charity – it's what smart employers are doing to get ahead of the competition."
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