By: A.H.

As hard as it may be to imagine these days, there was once a time when the words “Aberdeen” and “Industry” didn’t always come with the word “Oil” in between them. Aberdeen was once a city with a wide range of industries including; ship building, textiles, paper manufacturing, granite quarries and a range of other areas of manufacture.

These industries all brought with them certain dangers, especially in the days before health and safety legislation- welders would often get ‘a fire in the eye’, or stonemasons have a chip hit them and would have to be rushed to the Eye Institution on King Street.

In fact, this was the second specialist eye hospital to be set up in Scotland (the first being in the even more heavily industrialised Glasgow, for much the same reasons) and was likely positioned where it was as it was roughly equidistant from the engineering works of the shipyards and the stone-cutters where accidents which needed a quick response were likely to take place.

While some found work in mainstream employment, other people found employment in specialist workshops such as the Royal Aberdeen Workshop for the Blind (now better known as Glencraft). These early adopters of the social enterprise model (The Aberdeen workshop was set up in 1843) specialised in training and employing people with various disabilities in various crafts such as brush-making or woodworking and offering ‘meaningful’ employment.

Though it wasn’t until 1995, when the first Disability Discrimination act was brought in, that it became illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities in the workplace, some mainstream industries were traditionally ‘open’, such as people with hearing loss or deafness working in environments like the quarries. Though there was a history of employment of people with disabilities in some fields, that did not stop discrimination occurring, as evidenced by the video above.

Despite the 1995 Disabilities Discrimination Act, and it’s later replacement the 2010 act, discrimination in the workplace remains difficult to prove in many cases and unemployment rates amongst the disabled community remain far above average- 52.5% of those who qualify as disabled under the Equality Act being classed as “economically inactive” by the Scottish Government in 2016.

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