By Ogonna Amukamara; student, Middlesex University.
I never considered myself to be disabled in the past because I thought that being disabled meant that you were born with your disability. However, the Equality Act 2010 defines disability as a “mental or physical impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.” This revelation came as a shock to me initially. The teenage me was angered (and ashamed!) by the stigma attached to the label, and I denied having a disability for a period of time.
It was only by meeting other disabled people, who taught me to view my disability as a strength, that I gradually came to terms with my disability.
The ability to talk about your disability openly is something that many of us find difficult because we do not want to be seen as different. However, meeting people who had initially felt the same way as I did was a turning point for me; I got to hear incredible stories from different people with diverse experiences of disability.
For many of the people I met, their disability had presented challenges but these had not prevented them from succeeding.
I became more comfortable with the terms of my disability and I could identify myself more confidently. When I completed an application form and was asked the question “do you have a disability” I stated “yes” and went on to provide relevant information. This alleviated a lot of the anxiety I faced and also enabled me to access support and adjustments when required.
Choosing a career path
In spite of becoming more accepting of my disability, some doubts regarding my future career path almost discouraged me from going to university. I wasn’t sure that what I wanted to do in life was realistic for someone with my disability. For example, at first I wanted to become a physiotherapist but when I carried out research into the role, I realised just how physically demanding it would be. With the UCAS application deadline looming, I decided to revaluate my strengths developed as a result of the personal challenges I faced, in order to find a career path that was right for me.
The qualities I identified were that I am a friendly person, a self-starter who also enjoys working as part of a group. I researched different careers sectors to see which would be the best fit for me, and I eventually decided that I wanted to pursue a career in human resources. With this in mind, I used websites such as UCAS and Which University to choose a degree course and university.
Looking back on this experience, the advice I would give to anyone with a disability, who is exploring career paths is:
1. Self-awareness is key.
You are the expert in how your condition affects you and how to manage it; take this into account along with your interests, strengths and aptitudes.
2. Never underestimate yourself.
Having a disability will have meant that you have overcome a variety of challenges and developed strengths as a result.
3. Seek advice from your university disability service.
Ask about support and adjustments available to you-they may have work-arounds you haven’t thought of.
Update: Oganna is currently in her third year of BA Human Resource Management. While managing her coursework and deadlines, she is planning on applying for graduate jobs and researching Masters programmes.