When I left university I spent almost a year looking for work. Uncertainty over what I really wanted to do with my life left me applying for anything (relatively) local that sounded interesting. I filled in so many application forms, went to countless interviews, and eventually found my first real job. At the time, there didn’t seem to be much advice around for disabled people entering the world of work so I wasn’t sure what to do – should I be open about my disability, should I bring it up at interview, what kind of assistance could – and should – I ask for?
These are the questions that I wished I had answers to.
Should I mention my disability?
For many people, this is not negotiable. I have cerebral palsy, which affects the way I walk – it is not something I can hide! But there are mental and physical disabilities, of course, and not all physical disabilities are easy to spot. Is it something you should mention?
I would say yes. Most, if not all, job application forms these days will ask if you consider yourself to have a disability. I was always conflicted about ticking that box. I was worried if I ticked the box, would they decide not to employ me? If I didn’t, they would know I had either lied or decided to ignore the question. It makes sense to share information about your disability.
No employer worth working for would discriminate against you for it, so there’s nothing to lose and a lot to be gained from being open.
Can I ask for any assistance?
Of course! Either at interview or when you start the job (but really, the earlier the better) it is worth telling your prospective employers if there is anything they can do to make your work life easier. Whether it is an adaptation to your working environment such as an adapted seat or desk, or other types of adjustments such as flexible working hours, a good company will be more than happy to do whatever they can to enable you to perform at your best.
They may not be able to provide everything you might request but there should be a possible compromise.
At my current job I was approached on the first day to ask if there was anything they could do for me. Not all companies will be so forward but don’t be scared to make the first move and ask. Though I declined the offer of assistance at first (I didn’t think I’d need help), once I’d thought about it further and started the job there were some adjustments and flexibility I required. For example, the company provided me with a guaranteed parking space (they have more employees than spaces, so it can often be difficult to park close to the office) which has been a great help, and there’s much less walking now from my car to the office and vice versa.
What should I tell my colleagues?
How much information you share with your colleagues is your personal choice.
I would encourage you to be open about your disability and be sure to use the words you’re comfortable with to describe your condition.
Don’t let your colleagues, manager, or the company’s HR department dictate that for you. Sometimes, you might not need to talk about it at all. The company I work for has hundreds of employees in its large office, and in almost four years of working only one person has ever asked me what my disability is and as I’ve said, it’s very visible. I don’t know why this is; perhaps they are uncomfortable asking, or think it is rude. That won’t be the case everywhere, but you certainly needn’t be shy about talking about it; that way if you need any support or adjustments, your colleagues will know what to do.