After graduating in 2006 from the University of Wolverhampton with a 2:1 in BA (Hons) Multimedia Communication, I was eager to enter the world of work – and perhaps a little over-optimistic, thinking it would be an easy process! Though my University didn’t have a bespoke career guidance service for students with disabilities, I found the general career service to be supportive. I had my CV and Portfolio ready and began looking for suitable jobs. I obviously had some requirements due to my LGMD, which include wheelchair access, suitable work area e.g. desk height, as short travel distance as possible, and part-time hours. The very first job interview I had was actually a recommendation from one of my tutors; he put my name forward for a one-year post at the University, which I was offered after a successful interview. However, this was a student post, meaning that the pay was low and would be significantly lower as part-time. I thought, in my naivety (or stupidity!), that if I was going to continue commuting for another year (45 minutes without traffic and tiring on the best of days) then I would want more, and I thought there would surely be something suitable closer to home. So, I turned it down which is something I’ve regretted ever since.
Following this I started applying for jobs I’d found and from these I got a few interviews. A few times I was contacted by phone and I did notice that as soon I mentioned that I require wheelchair access the attitude would change somewhat; whereas I had initially felt the conversation leading to an invite for interview, it suddenly ended with me being told that they would get back to me (which never happened!) Other times the firm didn’t have access or were not able to offer part-time hours. In other cases I was told someone more suitable had been found for the job. Sometimes they would be willing to offer me a job but their offices would be inaccessible. Once a small firm tried hard to get me a space to work on the ground floor of the building, which was used by a different company, while they worked on the top floor. However this unfortunately didn’t work out. So I basically have had a varied experience with regards to the response to disability from employers.
Alongside doing my own job searches I also went to my local Job Centre. There was a step to get in but a portable ramp was provided which was fine. I was told that this office was closing and they were moving to a new building nearby in a few weeks, and it would be better if I came back then. They took my details and explained about the Access to Work scheme, which I thought was great. I went back as they had said, and was impressed with the facilities at the new building; easy access with automatic doors, lots of information leaflets, computers etc. and the staff were friendly too. I met the Disability Adviser, who went through details of how flexible-working could be requested from employers and also created a plan for me showing me how my benefits would be affected depending on hours worked – which I found useful. Aside from this, I found that there wasn’t much help in the way of finding a job. He did go through some general searches but no real support or advice on how I could better search for work in new media, design or marketing. All the jobs that I was encouraged to apply to were all admin based – not what I wanted but I did apply, as I was getting desperate by now and wanted any kind of work experience! In the end I stopped going to the Job Centre as I was basically doing nothing different there than at home job searching.
I then heard about a one-week graduate development course called Graduate Futures organized by Staffordshire University, which I decided to go to. I found it to be very well set up and useful. There was lots of help and advice in general for all graduates, and also tailored support based on each person’s chosen career industry. There were workshops, speakers, group tasks, and everything was very inclusive of everyone’s abilities. There was even a great presentation on disability in the workplace. After the course I felt a bit more refreshed as I had previously started getting quite downhearted. I think most of the people who attended the course have found work.
Alongside everything I was doing freelance work from home in graphic and website design and done two websites for small businesses and bits of design work i.e. business card design etc for friends and family. But this was hard to come by. I continued job searching, as I’d like the opportunity to work in a team environment and learn/gain more skills.
It was at the Graduate Futures course I was told about Remploy who are a recruitment agency for people with disabilities. I thought this was a great opportunity but must say for me personally it wasn’t that helpful. It was great for access and facilities and everyone was trying to be helpful. I know many of the people who I met there successfully found work, but I was still stuck. They mainly focus on retail and administration roles, to contact centre jobs, warehousing & logistics, and catering roles. So the advisers didn’t really look outside of that. I kept going to Remploy for a couple of months with no luck, so decided to stop going.
All the while I was doing my own job searches, freelance work and doing various voluntary work; I worked for one year part time as a Volunteer IT Assistant at a local Day centre called Elwood Day Centre. Here I helped the IT Tutor, assisting clients with disabilities work through basic IT projects. I also received physio at the Centre, which was great. Unfortunately Elwood Day Centre has since closed due to funding cuts. I also did a couple of month’s remote volunteering as an online Marketing Researcher for YouthNet. I had to do some website research and document particular information to report back. As well as this I started a distance-learning course with the NMC in Graphic Design, and later began volunteering with Trailblazers!
I started going to Work Directions, I think they are now called Pathways to work. The office again was accessible and everyone helpful. However, by now I was receiving more work at home; I am now working on two small websites for individuals, and also doing some freelance graphic design work for a new business that I receive quite regularly now. I must say the owners of this new business have been very supportive and understanding of my needs and I really enjoy working with them. I have basically had to manage my own pricing negotiations, time planning and project specifications, which has all been a big learning process as I didn’t set out to be working freelance – it just kind of happened! Being quite busy with work at home I didn’t go back to Work Directions, but am planning to once I have completed my current projects, as they did seem to be more supportive than the Job Centre or Remploy in that they focused more on the future of an individual rather than just getting a job – a bit like what I experienced at the Graduate Futures course.
This is just my experience of the services and attitudes of recruitment agencies, employers etc. I know many people will have had some similar, and some very differing experiences – it would be great to hear from you! :-)