Tomorrow, Trailblazers launch their Employment campaign. I thought it would be an opportune moment to reflect on my experiences in the world of work.
I got my first job at the age of 16, and 10 years on I feel sad and somewhat reluctant to say that I dont think an awful lot has changed. A decade on, I speak to individuals who are blatantly dissuaded from going down certain avenues of employment, and others who have found it difficult to work part time or intermittently. Some are placed on incapacity benefit because the job centre advisors are ill informed or under trained in the disability field, even those who are apparently specialists.
I believe that people should be able to accomplish whatever they feel they can, and what people thought was impossible to achieve years ago, has now become a reality for many. With support workers available, you do not need physical dexterity, your brain can be celebrated and used to its maximum capacity.
I have had both positive and negative employment experiences but it is sad that the negative experiences have prohibited me from working in certain fields. This I believe is sometimes due to ignorance and prejudice. I have also however, worked and met with some wonderful people so would not change this for anything.
My first job was during my A-levels where I worked as a part time receptionist and customer services advisor at a leisure centre, called Aspire. Asprire was a brilliant place to work.As a charity, all profits went to help with research and rehabilitation for individuals with spinal injuries. It is important to note that disability was just part and parcel of Aspire, with disabled and non-disabled people working together, it wasnt even an issue.
Later on however, when I took a gap year, I tried applying to more ‘mainstream’ employers. After achieving AAB for my A-levels and having 2 years part time experience I didnt think it would be too hard to find some part time work. I however found that disclosure of my condition was a little tricky. Sometimes I would disclose on my CV and not get asked for interviews and the times I omitted to disclose I would miraculously be asked for an interview. On a number of occasions I was asked to an interview and I mentioned the fact that I would need wheelchair access, and subsequently the employer was somewhat reluctant and would say there was no access, or say that the toilets would be too far away.
This sometimes got me down, and I would feel frustrated. I decided to apply to a few temp agencies. That way, I wouldnt have to disclose, and they may decide I was best for the job based on my attibutes and experience. This worked, and I was glad to work for the National Blood Service until I went to university. They even offered me a full time post- but I wanted to further my education.
During my summer I attempted to secure internships, either on schemes or by mail shot. I found the same issues emerging regarding disclosure. The one placement I secured was through a family contact, I was grateful but would have rather acheived one on my own. The placement was in central london, and in a listed building. The lift was so small I had to remove parts of my wheelchair to get into the lift and I had to go to the local coffee shop when I needed the loo!
Whilst I was at university I was heavily involved in the Widening Participation programme, I wanted to let people know that nothing should hold you back from going to university, and if you have the grades and the willpower, you should make the most of it. I worked for the disability and dyslexia service and I sometimes acted as an intermediary between staff and students. I really enjoyed my work and felt that I was helping others to achieve and maximise their potential.
After graduating this summer with my law degree, I applied for numerous jobs within government, local government and charity. The new applications process often asked directly whether you consider yourself to have a disability. I knew I would be lying if I said no and so had to declare it each time.
I simultaneously started volunteering for Trailblazers and thoroughly enjoyed it, I was learning new skills whilst improving on existing ones. I then applied for a job at the MDC and secured it, and I find it thoroughly enjoyable!
In some ways I understand why I have in the past secured jobs in the public sector and disability related charity sector, as a lot of my experiences surround disability and I am passionate about equality, but I also feel that the skills are transferable and could be used in many fields.