By Michael Smith, Trainee Solicitor at Ashurst
After losing my sight whilst studying for a medical degree in 2009, I thought the world of work may be out of reach. I didn't have the knowledge or confidence to think that a full time job would be possible and would openly admit that I was ignorant as to the possibilities of people with disabilities being able to work, especially in the city.
My ill-thought out assumptions were clearly wrong and after a couple of hard years coming to terms with my new situation, I managed to start reading for a Geography degree at King's college in London. My advice to those trying to get into the City is read for a degree that you are fundamentally interested in and secondly, read at an institution which is highly regarded and where you will be able to reach your potential. Half the battle of reading for a degree is being able to positively engage with the content and think critically and analytically about the course. If you are not interested in the subject, this will be much harder.
In the second year of my degree, I attended the KCL Legal week which gave me an insight into the types of work city firms undertake and the sort of clients they act for. This appealed as did working in London so I applied for vacation schemes at firms which interested me. Ashurst stood out due to its leading energy and infrastructure practice as well as it's Tier 1 Real Estate Team. After jumping through the hoops of the application processes, I was offered a training contract which started in September 2015.
I can say with certainty that Law is a good industry with those wanting a sustainable and engaging career in the city. Despite having a visual impairment, the work is accessible as it is mostly desk based and a lot of the work is client-facing. Graduate recruitment teams are generally cognisant of how to make adjustments to their application processes. Although there is a long way to go in improving disability statistics and awareness in the city, there have been great strides in the past five years and as a disabled candidate, you should have confidence in most organisations in making the correct adjustments.
I have found 'softer adjustments' play a much greater role in integrating employees into the work force. In my case, I try and tackle my blindness head on, having informed the GR and HR teams as soon as possible. Adjustments have to be developed at vacation scheme interview stage, on the scheme itself, for the training contract interview and during my current two-year training period. The most effective way of having these implemented is by opening a clear and detailed channel of communication with several individuals so that everyone who needs to know about my disability understands the implications it has and how they can present work.
My colleagues at Ashurst have had a visual impairment training session and the benefits of this have been noticeable. People mention who they are on approach, and instead of providing manuscript mark-ups of work they instead jot bullet points onto emails so that my screen reading software can read the amendments. I, consequently, have not had to mention my visual impairment once since joining as my colleagues have had the situation communicated to them. I realise that those with other disabilities may not feel as confident in informing an employer about a disability but my experiences of being open and being confident about the fact that I can't see very well have been positive. On the flip side, on a vacation scheme at another firm, I only told graduate recruitment about my visual impairment and not the rest of the students or lawyers and it caused issues in finding meeting rooms and presenting and being given work on a daily basis. Being open or informing an employer about one's disability has always been a hotly contested subject, however at a firm which understands the significance of employing disabled candidates you should be able to confidently tell people so that the firm can get the best out of you and you can get the best experience from your training.