I went to the University of Exeter to study English Literature and then the University of Law to study the Graduate Diploma in Law followed by the Legal Practitioner’s Course.
I am now a Trainee Solicitor at a US law firm in Mayfair. I have several chronic illnesses, including:
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which affects connective tissue throughout the body, causes loose joints and chronic pain / secondary fibromyalgia;
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), which is a heart condition causing low blood pressure, palpitations and presyncopy;
Gastroparesis, a stomach condition causing pain, sickness, and significant limitations to my diet;
Hyperferritinaemia Cataract Syndrome, causing cataracts in both eyes from birth, which were removed at the age of 22 when my eyesight deteriorated rapidly, and has left me with some complications with my sight;
Prior to seeking graduate employment
I was not particularly concerned about getting reasonable adjustments at work as I was lucky to have a dad who worked in an investment bank and could tell me about things that were put in place for himself and others in professional environments, to help them carry out their day-to-day activities.
The more I read up about other law firms providing help to level the playing field for their employees, the more comfortable I was with disclosing my conditions. It meant that I knew I wouldn’t be met with blank stares when I asked for adjustments, they would ask me what I personally needed and/or tell me what they had put in place for others to see if it sounded like something I would benefit from.
Once I started graduate employment
In my paralegal role at a silver circle firm, I found myself presented with staff members who took my conditions and adjustments even more seriously than I did. Once you make people aware, they are concerned to make sure that you get what you need. I said I had some weird dietary requirements that are quite specific, and as a result I had a meeting with four members of staff including the head chef at the firm (far more than I had anticipated!) They also gave two more staff members First Aid training to make sure that there was more coverage on my floor.
I also found that many people had desk adjustments, even without any medical conditions – their back sometimes hurt so they were more comfortable using a standing desk. The fact that non-disabled people were being catered for meant that I was more confident that any adjustment I asked for would be met.
Everyone who works in an office full-time has some sort of ache or pain from being sat in the same position all day, which companies are trying to combat to ensure they keep their workforce happy. They do this by bringing in ergonomic chairs, adjustable desks, physiotherapist appointments etc. So, by asking for that little bit more, disabled individuals are not asking to be treated differently at all.
Advice for disabled students applying for graduate roles and going through the recruitment process.
I had some great help from a careers adviser at the University of Law who taught me how to display my conditions in the best possible way on my applications. I had pretty good results, my conditions hadn’t interrupted much of my study, and I had some relevant work experience, so there was no need for me to put my conditions in the mitigating circumstances box on the application form. The careers adviser said that I should essentially try to ‘show off’ that I had still done everything else all other applicants had done (and sometimes more), even with several medical conditions to manage at the same time, so that must mean I’m pretty awesome. I loved this. From this point on whenever I was filling out an application I tried to answer at least one question by referring to my conditions and how they have developed me as a person and given me some great strengths that will transfer well into my career and the workplace. This included resilience, determination, and organisational / time-management skills.
My advice is to get a bit arrogant about it. This may sound strange, but I will explain:
My family valued modesty and our natural inclination is to be modest, play down any achievements, and never boast – this does not work when you are applying for jobs. You need to learn to blow your own trumpet, because no one else will do it for you. When I say get arrogant, I mean it in a way that you keep to yourself. Do not act cocky in front of recruiters or interviewers, but let it influence your application form. Keep the thought in your head ‘I am awesome.’ Realise your worth, have confidence that your disability or condition makes you a better person in one way or another, and let the confidence shine through. I don’t actually believe that I am better than everyone else because of my disability, but it helps to pretend that I think I am when I am about to write an application or go into an interview. It can make you feel good (if you do not already) about your condition in general, by thinking in this way.
Just remember you have achieved the same things that neurotypical and able-bodied people have done, whilst also battling stigma, medical appointments, symptoms of your condition, and everything else that comes with it. You have done and will continue to do awesome things. You just might have to do it a bit differently or take a bit longer than other people. And that’s okay.
I like to say this particularly for those with invisible conditions. We need to shout about it a bit more than people would usually prefer, because otherwise people do not know and cannot support your needs and make adjustments.
Also, it is good to remember that, ultimately, they’re just interested in whether you can do the job you are applying for. Once you’ve disclosed your disability and everything is arranged, focus on why you can do the job.
At MyPlus Students’ Club we have a range of blogs and resources related to this topic, to read further click on the relevant link below: