I RECENTLY left the public sector. Since leaving school at 18, I’ve spent my career so far working in it in some capacity. Between both parliaments, government and the NHS, I’ve worked across the public sector in a variety of roles.

The truth is, I didn’t leave the public sector because I didn’t enjoy it or no longer wanted to be there. I left because, despite my best efforts to try and fit in, I just didn’t.

I was diagnosed with autism and ADHD relatively late at the age of 24, so it’s an important caveat that for a good number of the years I worked in the sector, I was undiagnosed and frankly, my brain was on fire. However, being undiagnosed doesn’t make difficulty any less profound or indeed, any less deserving of accommodation.

Between working patterns, recruitment methods, inaccessible workspaces, lack of adequate training and a sheer unwillingness to actually listen to disabled people – it’s a sector built by its very design to keep disabled people out.

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I tried for a long time, and exhausted myself in every way imaginable, in a fruitless effort to be recognised for my strengths. My weaknesses, however, were the perpetual talk of the office. As goes the everyday experience of a disabled person.

There are a number of reasons the public sector is so entrenched in disabled inequality. The most glaring being that many of the people in powerful positions within it are tunnel-visioned on a way of working that simply does not match up to a modern society – to the active detriment in particular of disabled people and even more specifically, neurodivergent people.

Too many managers unqualified to manage disabled people, given a free pass to manage them anyway. Too many HR employees on bizarre power trips – the Miss Trunchbulls of the public sector – enforcing rigid, out-of-date (and frankly just terrible) policy like their lives depend on it. It’s utterly bleak, and the most distinct takeaway of it all is the sheer lack of humanity and compassion with which these organisations operate.

It’s important to note that I don’t make these assertions with limited experience. In seven years, I worked in five roles across four different organisations with more than 10 different managers. I had in excess of ten different managers in that time.

This is not a case of fluke or bad experience, it is a case of undeniable systemic failure.

The “smarter workplaces” initiative that was adopted by major public sector employers certainly made offices look more modern – but the reality of those open-plan monstrosities was that neurodivergent employees are left to work in suffocating, isolating pods. Pods that are incredibly limited and often have no booking capacity, meaning that if they aren’t free when you went to work, you just have to suffer the hellishness that is an office packed to the gunnels with hot desks and fluorescent lights.

Nothing but an afterthought in an incredibly extensive design process, despite making up a significant portion of Scottish society. A taster of another of the biggest issues – deeply flawed policy and governance that is inexplicably unfit for purpose.

I write this light-heartedly, from a position of gratitude that I no longer work in this environment. I am fortunate that opportunity allowed me to get out. But the reality is, my newfound positivity is only afforded to me because I chose to spare myself the suffering.

The truth is, working in the public sector almost ruined me. Emotionally, physically, financially, professionally. The wounds, although healing, are deep. I promised myself in the depths of the despair that when I got out – if I did – I would tell the truth about my experience.

The radio silence on the fact that organisations in the public sector have some of the highest number of disability discrimination cases of any sector is a grave injustice. As well as being an outright disgrace given the widespread assumption, as should be the case, that this sector leads by example.

These statistics are not insignificant. For every single disability discrimination case number, there is a human being, suffering at the hands of what can only be described as conscious failure. It’s not as if those at the top don’t know this happens, much of the information on this nightmare is already out there and available.

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In the seven years I spent in those trenches, I was bullied, punished for being different to other employees, told of my simple incompetence so often that the belief now permanently resides deep inside me – and takes work to subdue. Micromanaged because it was assumed I was incapable. Exploited and expected to work above my pay grade and consistently overlooked. My unpaid labour was relied on exponentially, at times to rewrite entire policy structures on neurodiversity because I quickly became the token neurodivergent person. All the while I overworked, at times until the early hours of the morning, to overcompensate for what I’d learned to view as my own personal failures.

In what was perhaps the most egregious breach of that shiny “disability confident” website sticker, I was told in writing that my employer did not agree that I was autistic after presenting them with a diagnosis. HR, of course, were more qualified in the intricate neuroscience behind the workings of my brain than an actual psychiatric consultant.

Emblematic of the omnipresent arrogance at the core of this issue.

I won’t spell out the many reasons this was painful, but fighting for more than a decade for a diagnosis – and finally being afforded the liberation that comes with it – only to have it robbed from you is plain, needless cruelty. And it wasn’t just happening to me.

This probably reads as a personal grievance for the failures bestowed upon me personally, I hope it does. I am aggrieved. I am also not alone – and I write this not just for myself, but to shine a light on the suffering felt by the disabled community in that space. Fighting to be seen and valued in all corners of a sector systemically committed to keeping them out.

There is some willingness to improve things, but it is led almost entirely by people without lived experience. In most cases, the unpaid labour of disabled employees, active within disabled employee networks, is relied on to make any progress. Whatever progress is offered, is incredibly slow and rarely translates into meaningful difference.

Humza Yousaf is a man dedicated to advancing the rights of marginalised groups, he’s made that clear. In spirit of that commitment, I’d urge him to conduct a review of the public sector as an employer. Not only for the benefit of themselves, but it is simply fact that our public services cannot run at their best for every person in Scotland unless the employee base represents the people accessing the service.

It is time the public sector was held to account, and made to actually work for their Disability Confident accreditation. For some of us, the shiny sticker on your website actually matters.