Laura Carter, our Employer Liaison Officer, looks at what was discussed at the recent Leaders with Disabilities panel event and what it means to start your career as a graduate with a disability…
1.2 billion people globally live with some sort of long-term illness, impairment or disability (the equivalent to the population of China!). In the UK, it is thought that some seven million people of working age have a disability and 21% of working people try to hide their disability from their employers.
On Monday 20th February, Careers & Employability and GO Wales ran the Leaders with Disabilities event to enable students with disabilities to consider their career path after university and view themselves as leaders.
For this event, we were welcomed by a number of influential speakers from different industries, backgrounds and sectors to share their experiences of having a disability or long-term condition in the workplace:
- Rosaleen Moriaty-Simmonds OBE: Thalidomide campaigner, businesswoman, author & artist
- Dr Rhys Jones: Cardiff University Lecturer, reptile specialist, environmental consultant, researcher and broadcaster
- Victoria Minshall-Jones: Head of Legislation, Transport at the Welsh Government
- Ben Bostock: campaigner & fundraiser for #seabeyonddisability, Marketing & Communications Officer at Water Regulations Authority
- Sophie Bailey: Audit Associate at KPMG UK
- Katie Fisher: Head of Development, Doctoral Academy, Cardiff University
We’ve picked out some of their top tips for you!
Make the most of opportunities, facilities and services available to you
The panel members advised students to take advantage of all opportunities, facilities and amenities available. Rosaleen spoke ardently about fighting for her right to go to school and university as she was growing up, as disabled people were only entitled to an education in 1970.
Whilst at University, students can access provisions such as the Disability and Dyslexia service and GO Wales – a scheme which helps students with barriers to employment to secure work experience. Other student-run services are available such as Nightline, Student Minds and the Students with Disabilities Officer.
When entering the workplace, graduates can make the most of other services and schemes. Grants and bursaries are available through the government’s Access to Work scheme as well as other providers, such as the Journalism Diversity Fund. More information about other schemes and sources can be found at Employability and Disability Rights UK
Being open and honest with your employers
Panel members spoke about the importance of being open and honest with your employers about any adjustments and flexibility that may be needed, through occupational therapy. Often, plucking up the courage to ask is one of the hardest things for an individual to do. Panel members gave examples of various provisions put in place by their employers:
- Having an adapted desk and chair to aid with mobility.
- Having a flexible working policy in order to manage mental health in the most appropriate way.
- Having access to specific resources to aid with dyslexia, whilst dealing with large and complex quantities of information.
Being resilient and determined
Those with disabilities often have to deal with negative prejudices being imposed upon them. Sophie from KPMG was told she was ‘too smart to be dyslexic’ whilst Dr Rhys Jones was told by a teacher he would never have a successful career. Panel members spoke about society having a ‘skewed’ idea of disability as being something ‘extreme’ rather than being associated with a high-functioning person. Victoria, from the Welsh Government, felt at certain times her mental illness was only taken seriously whilst she was dealing with an outwardly severe episode.
Rather than focusing on disability and what you aren’t able to do, panel members emphasised what ‘your abilities are and what you can do’. For example, Dr Rhys noted that his severe dyslexia enabled him to have excellent spatial awareness and artistic abilities as well as an insight into how science should be made accessible to the public, thus propelling his media career. Ben kayaked 400 miles around Wales despite having cerebral palsy, whilst Rosaleen runs her own Disability Issues Consultancy in which she uses her first-hand experience to deliver quality disability training to organisations and campaigns on relevant issues.
Having a supportive network of people around you
At the end of the panel, students were given the opportunity to ask questions directly to panel members. One student thoughtfully asked what advice panel members would give to students feeling particularly low and isolated. One suggestion given was mindfulness training. The main advice given was to surround yourself by supportive and encouraging family and friends and speak about your thoughts, feelings and concerns to others. Panel members advised channelling those strong emotions to think about how far you’ve come and how far you will continue to go in the future.
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Laura, Employer Liaison Officer, Careers & Employability Team.
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The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including: Advice & Money, Careers & Employability, Counselling, Health & Wellbeing, Disability & Dyslexia and International Student Support.
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