Career planning, job-hunting and all that comes with it can be difficult (especially in these crazy Coronavirus times!), and having a disability can make that feel all the more difficult. But it doesn’t have to be! I hope that this post can help you think about some of the things you might want to consider in terms of disability and the workplace, whether that be part-time work during your studies, a placement role, or a graduate role.
Sell yourself, disability and all!
As students, we have heard over and over and about the importance of ‘selling ourselves’ to potential employers and getting to know our strengths and skills to do so (it really is important, by the way!). On top of this, consider relevant strengths and skills you have developed due to having a disability and talk about these things, with examples, in interviews. Just be sure to keep them relevant to the position you are applying for. Perhaps an interviewer asks you about a time when you have demonstrated your communication skills – you could talk about how you have had to communicate clearly and effectively with different health professionals at different levels for the best outcomes, and about how you tailor what you share about your disability dependent on the person or situation. Perhaps your disability has meant that you have had to come up with creative time management techniques. You are also likely to be particularly resilient. Don’t be afraid to emphasise these! They are valid, and they are part of what make you awesome!
My placement year experience
My placement year within an Educational Psychology Service was a fantastic experience! It also gave me the opportunity to figure out more about the support I need in the workplace as a result of my disability. I have a chronic pain condition which developed during my studies at Aston and, with that, comes mobility issues, exhaustion and brain fog (on days when this is really bad, I call it “pain brain”!), amongst other things. Here is what I learned:
- Preparation is key! Before my first day, I enquired about accessible parking and accessible toilets, where the lifts were and other things that I knew I needed to be able to work there. It eased some of my first day nerves (which are absolutely normal, and most people have them!) and it meant I wasn’t late on my first day trying to figure it all out when I got there.
- Help them to help you. Just because things are obvious to me, that doesn’t mean they are to others. For example, on a school visit with a colleague, the meeting room we were booked into was upstairs and way way way at the other end of the school. I was on my crutches and I managed it, but a pretty bad pain flare up followed. It wasn’t obvious to my colleague that stairs and distances were tricky for me…because I hadn’t told her. Now I know, going forward, that sharing this sort of information helps others to help me.
- Be upfront and honest. I have regular healthcare appointments to attend, usually during working hours. If this is the case for you, employers and placement providers appreciate the heads up. It will also give you the chance to find out what the policies and procedures are for time off for appointments.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up. Discuss with employers/placement providers what support you need and allow them to tell you what is feasible. This two-way dialogue is really important. If you have been told that certain things will be put in place to support you and these things don’t actually happen, (politely) remind whoever it is that agreed to it or the person who needs to action it. It may just be that they need a gentle reminder!
- Things can change. Your health condition may change. Your symptoms or the severity of them may change. What support is available to you in the workplace may change. Where appropriate, it can really help to have regular mutually agreed reviews to discuss any changes in terms of your disability or the support that can be offered. On placement, I had monthly supervision with the same person and we incorporated these discussions into those meetings.
- Working from home may be an option. With my disability, I am sometimes physically unable to get somewhere, but am mentally/cognitively able to get work done. So, I asked my placement provider about the possibility of working from home. Many of the team already worked from home sometimes anyway, so it was easy for them to provide me with a laptop and link phone for me to work from home when I needed to. One good thing to have come out of COVID is that working from home has become much more commonplace now. There will, however, undoubtedly be some jobs where working from home just is not feasible, perhaps because of the nature of the job or because of confidentiality issues – in these cases, have an open conversation with your employer about what can be done.
- Aston offer so much support! A dedicated Disability Advisor for placement students would have been an amazing resource while I was on placement, but there was no such person in the Careers+Placements Team then. But now…the C+P Team have Hinesh! Hooray! And don’t forget that the Enabling Team can also offer advice and support.
Keep an eye out on Aston Futures and your inbox for events such as webinars and workshops that are run by the Careers+Placements Team. For example, I attended their “Disclosing your Disability to Employers” webinar last year, which included advice from employers as well as from members of the C+P Team. I found this really useful!
Whether you are searching for a placement, preparing to start a placement, or looking for work, good luck!
Written by Amy Roberts, Aston Graduate, 2020