I disclosed that I have my hearing impairment as part of the application process for my internship at J. P. Morgan. This meant that the same adjustments and accommodations rolled over to when I joined the graduate programme and I still use them now.
I would recommend disclosing your disability at the application stage because you are already competing with so many other candidates and you don’t want to be at a disadvantage. Sometimes you do need the extra time or extra accommodation and it just means the process is fair. When I was applying, I assumed there would be a misconception where I would be looked down upon if I asked for accommodations and would struggle to keep up when compared to everyone else. However, the reality is that it’s okay to ask for accommodations and voice your capabilities. It’s a two-way interest – the firm wants you to be able to perform at your best and you get to perform at your best.
Doing multiple applications, I did realise that companies work differently based on their diversity and inclusion mission, values and budgets. Some companies are already aware of the process and proactive to consult you on what adjustments could be requested, how the process works etc. There are, however, some companies where they have certain constraints or aren’t as proactive. This is fine, you can reach out to them instead or take it as a learning curve. I personally found this process key in giving me a snippet view as to what working in the company would be like which helped me filter my prospective companies. Companies with good policies and who proactively run employability webinars and insight days etc. became my top picks to apply to.
Another reason for disclosing your disability at the earliest opportunity is that it helps make the process of adjustments much more seamless. If they don’t know, they can’t put accommodations in place for you. So, it is to your advantage to be open.
2.Connect to the right people.
Who you speak to can be very important, so you get the support you need. Companies can be large and it’s not obvious who to approach. I found insight days, networking days and accessibility events such as those ran by Employability and MyPlus organisations very useful. I was able to leverage the contacts that I made, and they were able to connect me to the right people in the firm. So, it is helpful to use your network. At events, I took note of the panellists and reached out to them on LinkedIn. I learnt how to initiate these conversations, whom and how to ask for accommodations, learnt about the types of accommodations people would request and tailored it to my fitting. I started having the conversation with HR and the recruitment contact and thereafter was connected to the respective people. Getting the right connection can help streamline the processes.
When disclosing my disability, I learnt that its only you who knows what accommodations you need best so feel free to request it, educate them on why you need it and be open to exploring alternative options. They may not be aware, or it may be new to them so be prepared to help educate them. Talk about what has worked for you previously and what adjustments you have been using. Be patient; work with them – it’s a partnership.
It took me two years during university to know that I can ask for adjustments and to work out what worked for me. I had come from Kenya where there was no set support in place, therefore this was a huge learning curve from recognising that you have a right to disclose your disability, ask for accommodations, learn what you need and then how to communicate and request it. Then thinking about employment, I started to talk to people to understand what is out there and what I can ask for and to be honest my requests were a bit of trial and error. During my internship some adjustments took time to put in place whereas others were quick. It is therefore important to think ahead and if things take longer to put in place you need to request as early as you can, so they are in place when you join. This creates less chance for surprises and disappointments.
Working with my employer, I could feed back what worked or didn’t work and talking to others I learned from them about other adjustments which I was able to ask for and try out to see if it worked for me. Alongside this my hearing changed, going from being able to use hearing aids to total deafness and then cochlear implants so what I needed changed.
3.Be open from the start.
The role of your line manager is key. They will be assessing your performance and you don’t want anything connected to your disability to discredit you. It is important to make them aware early on, inform them on the extra bits you have to do, your limitations and your true capacity so you are comfortable and not overcompensating which eventually leads to a burn out. Trust me, that’s not the reputation a company would want! This would help them to create a level playing ground and can have more realistic expectations on what and how you deliver your work.
I also let my colleagues know when I started working in the team. I didn’t have to give a full background, it was enough to say that I am hearing impaired and that I would need to face them to lip-read, with no bright lights behind. I told them that they don’t need to shout, it’s not about the volume but things like accent and not being able to lip read pose a barrier and in those instances, they can write to me instead. It is important to note that it’s not rude to ask for what you need to make it easier yourself; people are compassionate, and they want to help to ensure you are comfortable, so it is okay to guide them in the process.
4.Be positive and patient.
Being positive and patient, will help people be more willing to come to you for help to better understand your needs. Being open also helps your colleagues have helpful conversations with you about your disability. Helping them, helps you. There can be a fear factor that they are invading your privacy, touching on something that they may feel is sensitive. If it comes from you, you can put them at ease, so they feel comfortable and are educated. It’s just a conversation.
One thing to note is that once adjustments are in place it can be easy for colleagues around you to forget. For example, talking on Teams or Zoom, you won’t necessarily realise I have a hearing impairment because I use a captioner. I therefore do regularly remind my colleagues and anyone new I’m speaking with online.
The more you are open, the more you can build a community. Others with similar conditions will want to connect with you to learn and share experiences. It also builds awareness. So, it’s okay not to always know what support you need or what is out there as you can have conversations by reaching out to others in a similar situation.
Companies are willing to learn. It can take time and continual conversations. Even over my three years at J.P. Morgan, things have continued to improve. The networks have spread across regions. Now, more than ever before, the vision in this area has changed. The positive mentality, community and support is always growing! Coming from Kenya when I couldn’t talk about my disability at all, to now where I am valued for who I am and given a fair stake to perform, I wear my disability as a badge of honour! There is a positive stigma change which is something powerful. So, be positive and confident!
There’s no point faking it – trying to hide your disability; it’s about ‘equity’ and giving yourself what you need to be matched as an ‘equal’. Remember, it’s okay to ask for what you need. You are the epitome of change and the building block to a brighter future so be the change initiator you wish to see!