1.Identify your strengths and know your worth to your employer.
The first step to being a successful disabled individual in the workplace is to ‘back yourself’ from day one. I know my greatest weakness is my inability to adequately organise and structure my thought processes. Consequently, this can be perceived by employers as laziness, lack of motivation and disorganisation.
However, during my time in Higher Education, I concentrated on developing skills in this area. In fact, I would say that I have turned my greatest weakness into my greatest strength.
The big turning point for me was spending time getting to know my tendencies and learning how I could develop these into strengths. By the time I started my graduate job, I had such a deepened understanding of myself and recognised that I deserved to have a seat at the table, just as much as anyone else.
2.Identify what support you require and what it will enable you to do.
Following on from the previous point, before applying for a role, it is essential not just to have an understanding of yourself but also what support you may require. Spend time getting to know the role and researching what will be expected of you and. As you do so, allocate time to consider how the employer can adapt your workspace to enable you to perform at your best.
As someone who has dyslexia and dyspraxia, all I needed was time and for no one to judge me. It’s very easy for invisible neurodiverse conditions to quickly translate into anxiety around perceived performance. Therefore, in order for me to perform to the best of my ability, I sought comfort in knowing my managers and colleagues understood why I did things the way I did.
3.Identify who the relevant people are to speak to
Once I was offered my graduate role, I spent a few weeks exploring the existing services and identifying individuals who were available for me to contact in case I required any additional accommodations. I discovered that the most effortless and comfortable approach was engaging in open conversations with my team, as it eliminated any potential negative judgment or misunderstanding. Moreover, I capitalised on my manager’s connections to help raise my profile. Consequently, I swiftly became part of the company’s disability and inclusion committee, which allowed me to deepen my understanding of my own condition whilst also learning about others.
4.Understand your employer’s perspective.
As much as I am a firm believer in advocacy and understanding the perspective of the individual, I think understanding the perspective of your employer is equally important. Recoginsing that their understanding of your condition might not necessarily match your own experience is an excellent opportunity for learning and development. Regarding my own condition, I found that while people had some understanding of dyslexia, they didn’t have knowledge of dyspraxia; this, again, was a great opportunity for me to share my experience as well as explain the difference.
5.Provide solutions / engage in problem-solving; don’t just present problems.
As a disabled individual, I think it’s really important to work with your employer to enable your own development. In doing so, when raising an issue where they could better support you, it is essential to provide them with possible solutions and to engage in the problem-solving process yourself, rather than expecting them to solve the issue for you. Your experience and expertise are vital in the process, and once again, it’s an excellent opportunity to gain and offer first-hand insight.
Here’s how I approached this: During my monthly one-to-one meeting with my manager, I explained that I sometimes take slightly longer than my peers to learn things and make them muscle memory. Therefore, it would benefit me if some of my deadlines were extended, or if I could I begin tasks earlier than others to ensure that I meet the deadline.
6.Build your network.
As I previously mentioned, I am a member of my company’s disability and inclusion committee. If your company doesn’t already have one, it is a perfect opportunity for you to start one. Not only does this generate awareness around various conditions and improve your own experience within the workplace, but it also helps initiate conversations and support others who may be struggling to voice their experiences.
Additionally, it’s incredibly important to initiate and encourage conversations around your condition as well as other disabilities. If people respectfully ask you questions about your experience, view it as an opportunity for learning and development rather than being dismissive and considering them rude.
7.Be polite, positive and firm.
Building on my point of working alongside your employer to implement the support you require, it is important to make this a positive process. If you sense their discomfort towards what they can offer or their reluctance to provide it, take the time to explain how making changes allows you to excel and perform better in your given role.
If your employer requests a compromise in what they can do for you, you need to be firm about what you need. If you find that another employee or a particular department is being negative towards you or your condition, it is essential that you raise this with your HR department or a more senior manager as soon as possible. Remember that you deserve a seat at the table just as much as anyone else and must ensure that you are provided with the support you need.
Want to work for a company that values your unique abilities? Search the latest graduate jobs and internship opportunities in your area and see where your career could take you: careers.enterprise.co.uk