“Mum, shall a tell ’em am disabled?” | Disability and Employment

Recently I wrote a blog about jobs and careers for the Brittle Bone Society which you can read here. In a nut shell it’s me talking about the fact that I didn’t really see myself having a job, not because I couldn’t do it – but that the world wasn’t set up for me to. I therefore couldn’t really imagine what ‘career’ I would have. Today I thought I’d expand on the topic of being disabled and my experience of employment.

When I was about 16, I was desperate for a job. I wanted to talk to people, be at a till and do small talk all day like all my friends were doing. What. A. Dream. I started to look for jobs and apply. As I filled in the form I would shout to my mum in the other room “Mum, shall I tell ’em I’m disabled?”

But the truth is, I was so nervous to apply for jobs because application forms didn’t show who I really was. I felt like I was hiding behind a screen if I got an interview I would have to say “surprise! I’m 2 ft 11″, yorkshire lass in a wheelchair – hire me!” but that the first impression would be an immediate barrier. I worried that people would be so nervous to interview me, I wouldn’t be able to show what I could give. I was so used to people staring at me in public, I felt like I wouldn’t be taken seriously.

People reading this will naturally want to shout “interviews are neutral! you will get it if you’re the best for the job” and yes, you would hope that is the case. But I know that right now, the world that we live in this is not the case. I know I’m not and was not on my own as Scope published that “48% of disabled people have worried about telling employers about their impairment or condition”. A great example of how hard it is to get a job when you’re disabled is this article about my friend Shani. She has proved that after taking disabled off her applications after 100 attempts, she was far more successful.

And if you read this and still want to say “but it’s hard for everyone to get a job these days!” I would answer, for disabled people – the first impression of them from most people is their perception of disability. It’s really hard to get across your skills and override the disability, even if you’re the most experienced. Especially for someone who has a very visible disability like mine.

Throughout my childhood I therefore gained a lot of experience, volunteering with Bernados, speaking at other schools, getting head girl, volunteering at festivals and taking part in Disability Sport. Little did I know that all this and more, would set me up to building lots of skills such as networking, organising events and public speaking. These all added up and eventually I would use these in future interviews. I haven’t had loads of interviews in my life but out of 5 interviews I was successful in 3 and I honestly think it was down to the opportunities I took along the way whilst building my confidence.

Gem volunteering at Leeds Fest in 2013
This is me volunteering at Leeds Fest in 2013

There are loads of angles that I could have taken with this blog, but I thought today I would write some quick top tips to fellow disabled friends reading this. Because, I’ve been there – feeling like I just couldn’t get anywhere. So I would say:

1. Apply for jobs that suit you – don’t lower your expectations, raise them and know that you would do the job and more. Don’t forget to check out Access to Work. Think about what support you may need so that any negativity beforehand is in the bin.
2. It is ultimately your choice if you tick that ‘disabled’ box on the application, but for me – I eventually found that the right employer would embrace this and the people who invite you for an interview are the right people to work for. However do not feel pressure to tell them your life story. They only need to know what adjustments you may need for an interview.
3. If you eventually get an interview – turn it around – this is YOUR chance to see if you would want to work for this organisation too. If you are asked if you have any questions, ask about any concerns you may have and what solutions there are.
4. Being disabled gives you skills that other people have to work hard at. For example you have to plan everything and preempt barriers you may face. These are brilliant skills so don’t be afraid to slip them into applications and interviews in a positive light.
5. And finally be proud of your achievements and BIG THEM UP because only you can.

To summarise – I now work with both brilliant disabled and non-disabled colleagues and I love it. Yes I’ve had to sort my life out a bit and put support in place – but it works for me. And finally, I vow to tell ’em I’m disabled on every application I fill in the future.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post? Have you had experience of applying for jobs and do you think ticking disabled has made a difference? Let me know by chatting to me on my Facebook or Twitter, find mi deets on my contact page.

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