Let me start by saying that no two people with a disability are the same.
Whilst some of us may share a diagnosis or have a similar condition or similar symptoms, the experience of disability and how much it affects people can be very different. You might consider your disability to be a very small or very big part of your identity, or maybe somewhere in between. Regardless, at the heart of it, is a person. An individual. Someone who has their own unique wishes and expectations for how they should be treated.
Only share with your employers and placement providers what you feel comfortable to about how your disability affects you and what may help or support you. Try to keep the complex medical terms out. When and how you share this is down to you to decide. Let your employers, or potential employers, know about your disability in terms of how it will/may affect your role and what support you will/may need, as well as some of your strengths as a result of having a disability (it probably means you are super resilient and empathetic!).
Samira Dar from the C+P team facilitated a really useful webinar last autumn around disclosing a disability. One of the things that really stood out for me was one of the employers referring to it as “sharing a disability” rather than “disclosing” it (which can have negative connotations). I’m going to talk about when and how to share a disability, as doing so effectively can ensure that your needs are met and that you are not disadvantaged.
Sharing at the research/enquiry stage
When you are researching companies and organisations, find out whether they are affiliated with any disability schemes. For example, Aston Uni is a Disability Confident Committed Employer and offers the guaranteed interview scheme. This means that applicants who share a disability are guaranteed an interview as long as they meet the minimum requirements for the role. Personally, this is really important to me because I feel like it would ensure that I am not disadvantaged because of my disability. It also says to me that the employer is particularly supportive of their employees with disabilities. I also understand that some people prefer not to go through the guaranteed interview scheme and would prefer to wait to share their disability after they have been offered an interview, so that they know that their disability hasn’t played a role in the decision to offer them an interview. There is no right or wrong here. It’s about what feels right to you.
Sharing at the application stage
Sharing your disability at the application stage can allow for reasonable adjustments to be made during the application process. For example, employers may be able to provide application forms in alternative formats for those with sensory impairments.
Sharing at the interview-offer stage
Let’s say you’ve been successful in getting to the interview stage. Firstly, woo hoo and well done you! Sharing your disability ahead of your interview means that you can ask for reasonable adjustments for your interview. If your disability makes travel difficult, you could ask whether it is possible to arrange a video interview rather than an in-person interview. If you use a wheelchair, you can see if a wheelchair-accessible interview location/room can be arranged.
Sharing at the interview stage
Imagine, you’re in your interview and you’re being asked to give examples of your problem-solving abilities. This could be a great opportunity to share your disability! You have probably faced many, or at least some, barriers as a result of your disability, and you will have had to find ways around these barriers. These are examples you can talk about. Not only are you sharing your disability, but you are also demonstrating your strengths and skills as a result of, or even despite, it!
Sharing once you’ve got the job
Having an open two-way discussion with your employer is really important here. Talk about what reasonable adjustments would help you do your job, be more productive, and make you feel more comfortable in the workplace. While I know some of the things that can be done to support me, I don’t always know what is possible or feasible. Having this open two-way dialogue allows suggestions to be put to you that perhaps you hadn’t thought of or didn’t realise were possible.
An ‘All About Me’ profile
During some training during my placement year within an Educational Psychology Service, I was introduced to the concept of ‘All About Me’ profiles used in schools to highlight pupils’ individual needs. My colleague running the training had created her very own ‘All About Me’ profile which she keeps updated and has sent off with job applications and it got me thinking… this could be such a useful tool to facilitate conversations around disability and related requirements with employers, which can sometimes be quite uncomfortable/difficult discussions to have!
The ‘All About Me’ profile can be electronic or printed, formal or jazzed up – whatever works best for you and is most appropriate for the role. Tailor what you include to the job role! I recommend including the 3 sections I mention below, but you can obviously adapt it as appropriate. Again, there is no right or wrong – just make sure you do and share what you are comfortable with.
The 3 sections I would recommend you include are:
- Things people like and appreciate about me. This is essentially sharing your strengths and skills that are relevant to the job role. These can be related to your disability as well as more general ones.
- What’s important TO me. Here you could share some of your values that are in line with the company’s/organisation’s values. Show them that you are a good fit for them.
- What’s important FOR me or How best to support me. What to put in this section is fairly self-explanatory. Include how your employer can support you, both in terms of your disability and perhaps more generally. For example, you might be someone that works best if they have the first 20 minutes of their working day solely for catching up on emails – put that in this section! Your disability might mean that you would benefit from certain software on your PC to help you be more time-efficient – put that in too! The key here is to keep the things you put in this section realistic and relevant.
An ’All About Me’ profile is a tool that gives you the chance to really think about what you do and don’t want to share before you actually share it and, for creative minds, it is a fab opportunity to let your creativity out (bonus!).
It can be used at any/all stage(s) of the recruitment process. This could be especially impressive to send along with your cover letter or application form, if you feel comfortable to. Especially for certain job roles, such as those involving working with children! It will most likely make you stand out from the crowd and it allows the potential employer to get to know a bit more about you. You could also share it with employers once you’ve got the job, using it to start a conversation about reasonable adjustments in the workplace and to ensure that these are updated if necessary. Perhaps you could also consider suggesting the idea of your whole team creating one, as a team-building exercise or similar. That way, making one may feel a little less alien, and your whole team can get to know how best to support each other!
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