I am a blind solicitor working at Freshfields in their Financial Institutions Disputes practice. I haven’t got all the answers but here are some tips from my many years of experience of working as a blind lawyer in the City. I hope these points help you on your career journey.
1.Find a career that plays to your strengths.
Consider honestly what your strengths are. Be confident in your abilities and ask a friend or classmate to help you if you are likely to downplay your own strengths. By focusing on your strengths and skills you can avoid the trap of ruling out careers on the assumption that a disabled person cannot do that job.
For example, many people might assume that a blind person couldn’t work in a role that involves reading long documents and writing advice. However, with the right technology and other support, it is possible, and here I am!
Your interests and academic background are likely to play a substantial role in your career choice but there are many other factors. Consider any skills and strengths that you want to use e.g.:
data analysis and numeracy
resilience under pressure
The list of potential strengths goes on. When writing an application or preparing for an interview, go back to your list of strengths, and give real life examples that show these abilities.
2.Don’t be afraid of disclosing your disability in the workplace.
Whenever I speak to students with a disability the question of whether to disclose comes up repeatedly. And, if you do disclose, the next question is when to disclose?
For me, I didn’t have an option of hiding my disability. It would have been obvious as soon as I turned up for an interview with my guide dog or admitted that I couldn’t read a printed article. However, I wouldn’t have wanted to hide it or delay disclosing – that would have made me feel uncomfortable.
I don’t list blindness as a skill on my CV but I have always been open about this on a covering letter or application. This probably meant that I received more knock backs along the way. But my view has always been that I would prefer not to work for an employer who would discriminate against a blind candidate and so I am saving effort by disclosing early. It also meant that I had the opportunity to request adjustments and give myself the best chance to perform well in the assessment process.
I understand the hesitance in disclosing an invisible disability or condition however I would urge you to consider whether an early disclosure might help you to request adjustments in the assessment process and allow you to perform at your best.
3.Request the support that will enable you to perform at your best.
Ask for adjustments and support that you think will enable you to perform at your best. This can include all kinds of support from your desk set-up and IT equipment to human assistance, changes in working patterns and simple changes in working practices of your colleagues.
Don’t limit yourself to what you think will make work bearable, the cheapest adjustments or what you have managed with in your academic studies if you could work more efficiently with other support. You might not know what will work best in the working environment and your employer will not be a disability specialist either so take the initiative to find out more about the role, the options for equipment and other support, and what is likely to work best for you. That way, you will be in a better position to suggest adjustments that will help you do your job efficiently.
Other points to note are:
There is a government funded access to work* scheme that may cover some or all of the costs of adjustments for your employer. Find out about this so you can share details with your employer.
Adjustments do not always work and may need to be reviewed and adapted over time. For example, better equipment may become available, your role may change, or you may find that you need different support as you settle into a role. So agreeing a regular review period with your employers HR team is sensible.
4.Recognise that it’s OK to ask for help.
As in everyday life, unexpected challenges are likely to crop up in your working life that can be easily overcome with a little help.
I am generally determined to be independent as much as possible both at work and in life, however sometimes I appreciate that it will save a lot of time and effort to ask for help. For example, when I can’t get any sound out of my computer, I save time by asking a PA to look at my screen to identify the problem. In addition, I would prefer to avoid ending up in someone else’s office on the wrong floor when I had the option of checking with a colleague that I am stepping into the correct lift. And I would usually accept help from a colleague who offers to open a door when I have a guide dog in one hand and a laptop in my other.
You will generally find that colleagues will be happy to help and will often offer help if they spot a challenge. Don’t be too proud to accept help that saves time and effort.
5.Pick your battles; not everything is worth fighting for.
It can be time consuming to arrange workplace adjustments and review arrangements as your role and circumstances change. The longer the list of requested adjustments, the more discussion and effort will be needed on your part to discuss what is possible and workable. So, focus on the adjustments that will make the biggest difference first. And try to consider the whole range of options to overcome an obstacle.
And finally, remember that you are not an access consultant for your employer (unless that is your job title), so preserve your energy for your day job and just focus on what your key access requirements are.
*Here is the link to the government funded access to work scheme: Access to work