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Working Part-Time While At University With A Disability?

  February 11, 2016   

By Nicola Kenton, MCsi in Geography at the University of Birmingham, Freelance Journalist

Work experience with the BBC

I have been interested in journalism since I did a course at school in sports journalism and from there I have continued to do it as a hobby throughout school and at university. If I was able to, I had been interested to see if I could get a job as a journalist and the BBC has always been - for me - the biggest online website that you could write for. So I applied for the one of the BBC's work experience placements in the summer of 2015. This was to be a BBC Sport Kickoff Trainee Reporter and was open to anyone who had an interest in sport - the majority of my experience had been based around sport. I disclosed my disability on my application form and it was also self evident as I used my walking stick to get to the interview.

Managing my disability at work

The work experience placement was for a maximum of 20 days across an eight week period, which meant only working two days per week and doing the occasional extra shift. This was easier to manage than a full five day a week, 9-5 job because it meant that my body could rest in between shifts. It also helped that the placement was in the summer, when I did not have to attend university so my body was not over-compensating.

Reasonable Adjustments

One of the requirements of the placement was to attend two days worth of training at the BBC Academy in Bristol, When I went to the interview I knew that I may not be able to attend these days due to having a heart operation the day before. However, I did not want that to stop me from getting the placement and did not tell the BBC until they offered me the work experience. When I explained that I had only found out about my operation after I had completed the application and did not want to miss an opportunity, they asked if I could complete the work experience without going to the training and by completing some training on the job.

After discussions, it was decided that I could complete the placement over the summer and that I could work on days later in the week so that I could get the most recovery after my operation. When I got to the placement and completed the online training, there was a module about reasonable adjustments that could be made in the work place and to ask supervisors whether there was anything extra that could be done.

Tips for applying for work experience

I'd say if you can, to look for a placement that is right for you. If you can't manage working five days a week, try to find a placement that is only for a few days at a time. Have confidence in yourself too! If you have the passion and know what the role entails and that you are capable of fulfilling it, then fill in that application and go to that interview. I would always recommend disclosing your disability at the application stage, informing the employer of relevant information you feel comfortable sharing and asking for reasonable adjustments if they are needed. Work experience, apprenticeships and internships can all lead to a job.

I am now a freelance journalist working shifts a few weekends a month alongside studying and I have found the right balance of university and BBC work. There are opportunities out there for everyone - they just might not be found in the normal places.