As the new Employability Officer at Muscular Dystrophy UK I am setting up a Working Group for young disabled people in London to learn about their experiences of finding and staying in work. I will be asking the members to share the good, the bad and the ugly stories and I know this is not always easy to do, so I felt it was only fair that I share my story too.
I graduated university in 2016 with a law degree and like every other graduate, I began the daunting task of job hunting. Unlike other graduates though, I had to look for jobs that were suitable given my disability. I had to think about so many things such as if I could get to the job as a wheelchair user, if I could physically manage the hours and if my care hours allowed me to do the job. This limited the already narrow selection of available jobs! It was sometimes really frustrating when I’d see a job that I really wanted, but it was full-time in London and I knew I physically couldn’t cope with that. Accepting the limits my disability entails was not easy for me to do, at university I commuted full-time and pushed myself as hard as I could and rested during the holidays. At a job though, there aren’t month long holidays and summer breaks so I had to start being realistic about what I could manage doing long-term. This made me feel really down at times but I held on to the hope that at some point the right job would come along. (Spoiler alert! It did!)
I tried to keep busy during my time looking for a job by writing and volunteering which I really enjoyed and I needed to do to gain experience. I became involved with so many great organisations and this led to some amazing experiences for me, including going to events at Parliament and speaking at an Amnesty International conference in Rome. Through volunteering I gained a lot of skills and confidence in my abilities which allowed me to apply for more jobs and be offered the job at MDUK. I loved volunteering but there is something different about being paid for your work. It gives you a feeling that you are wanted and valuable. Plus you can’t buy vinyl records with enthusiasm!
With every rejection I received for jobs, I tried to think that it was due to a huge volume of applications and not because I disclosed my disability. It was completely my choice to disclose and I did it is because I view my disability as a strength. (Ironic as I have a muscle-wasting condition!) I have had experiences no other applicant has had and they have made me a very empathic, conscientious and determined person. These attributes were particularly relevant for the jobs I was applying for so I felt comfortable disclosing my disability and taking the risk I would be rejected because of an employer’s assumptions about disability. Where I did become nervous was when to ask for reasonable adjustments. I knew that many jobs allow you to work from home some of the time and for me this would allow me to work full-time so it was very important. I’d apply for a full-time job and then try and pick a time to ask if home working was an option – if home working wasn’t possible and I asked before an interview would they just throw out my application (which did happen once), if I asked at the interview would they think I had wasted their time or if I asked when I was in a job would they say no and make me feel uncomfortable (sadly this happened for a different reasonable adjustment). I’d over analyse my decision each time and again there doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong answer.
After about a year of job hunting I got this job at MDUK and I am so happy to be here. I get to work with an amazing team that understand disability and I get to work in an area I am very passionate about. My goal is to make a real difference to future disabled people finding work by telling decision makers your experiences and what needs to be done to get more disabled people in work. But I need your help to do this! Keep an eye on the Trailblazers website for ways to get involved.