I was diagnosed with Albinism at birth – a genetic condition that affects both the eyes and skin. Throughout my academic life, I received a lot of support from school and university but when it came to deciding on a career path, many had discouraged me from studying law (given the intensity of the reading) and I was told it would be impossible for someone with a visual impairment. I took a chance against all odds and I graduated from City University London with a Bachelor of Law with Honours. I then completed my Legal Practice Course at BPP Law School and joined Allen & Overy to complete my Training Contract and qualify as a Solicitor. I am now a Senior Associate at Allen & Overy, specialising in Projects, Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure.
My experience throughout the recruitment process to secure a Training Contract was very tough. In addition to the intense competition and the multiple rounds of interviews and assessment centres that needed to be tackled, I had a lot of challenges to overcome as a result of my visual impairment. The two main challenges that I faced at the start were not knowing: (a) what adjustments I needed (as I have never done assessment centres or case-study interviews before etc.); and (b) where to get the support from.
To address the first challenge, it became apparent with time that this can be overcome with practice i.e. by constantly applying and not being fazed by rejections (of which there were many!). I also valued the importance of being open with potential employers about my disability and the adjustments that I required at every stage. I appreciate it can be quite hard to be open about having a disability, but from my experience, disclosure is necessary to give yourself a fair chance. It also gives you the opportunity to see how supportive the potential employer will be throughout your career. Chances are, if they are not supportive at this early stage, they will never be – so use the recruitment process as an opportunity to test your potential employer. In my experience, A&O have been incredibly supportive from the start. If I hadn’t disclosed my visual impairment on the online application form at the time of applying for a Training Contract, they wouldn’t have accommodated my needs and I wouldn’t have been able to go through the rigorous recruitment process. So to me, disclosure is vital. At every stage of the recruitment process, I would have an open discussion about my needs and A&O would always accommodate them. This also continued throughout my career and is a testament that support will always be there to those who need it. It is not just a tick-box to get you through the doors. Since joining A&O, I have always worked closely with HR on DE&I. For example, we have recently established a disability network (called AccessAbility) of which I Co-Chair. We have also implemented the Workplace Adjustment Passport to help colleagues with disabilities and those who need specific equipment and adjustments record their requirements in one place.
As for the second challenge, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of support there is out there. I was referred by my university to a London-based charity called Blind in Business (BIB), who help blind and visually impaired graduates and undergraduates find jobs. From the moment that I got in touch with BIB, I was paired with an employment officer who gave me advice on which law firms to apply to and how to go about disclosing my visual impairment on the online application forms. BIB helped me gain confidence and shift my mind-set to enable me to see my disability as a strength. It also helped connect me with other young professionals who have a similar disability to mine and it was so reassuring to see others in the same boat. BIB have built an incredible support network. It is great to feel that you are not going through a challenge completely on your own. I would highly encourage anyone with a disability to reach out to charities and organisations for help. I am still in touch with BIB and I give back as much as I can – it is also immensely rewarding to see that I have come full circle.