From a very young age, I had grand ideas of what my career would hold. At one point, I wanted to be a teacher and then, mimicking my best friend, I had ambitions to become a vet. (even though at the time I had a fear of dogs!) Nonetheless, creating a successful career was always a priority. I was determined to work hard at school – after all, good qualifications guaranteed me a good career, didn’t it?
Of course, as a fairly niave little girl who had plans to conquer the world, I hadn’t even considered the challenges I would face as a result of having Cerebral Palsy! Discrimination didn’t yet exist in my little world. As I progressed through school and into further education, my life experiences had matured me a little and as I began thinking about my career, I realised I’d need more than qualifications to prove my worth to an employer.
I decided to do a 4 year sandwich degree at Oxford Brookes – my third year would be spent on a paid work experience placement. I reasoned that with some real experience behind me, I would be much more attractive to an employer upon graduation and I could prove that my disability didn’t equal inability. My next challenge would be to secure the placement.
Along with my fellow students, I began sending off my CV and filling out applications – I spent my days studying and my evenings job hunting. During this time I faced an important dilemma – when to tell the employer I had a disability? If I told them straight away, it might distract them from assessing my skills but if I didn’t mention it, it may be perceived as being dishonest. It’s a dilemma many disabled people face and there’s no right or wrong answer. (More advice on this to come in my “FlyingStart Toolkit” – coming soon!)
I eventually started securing some interviews and was quite confident when I secured one for a marketing agency near Oxford. The interview went really well and I secretly left thinking I had the job in the bag. My confidence was shattered a few days later when the employer emailed me to say I hadn’t got the job. His reason? His clients wouldn’t be able to understand my speech on the phone. I was gutted and could hardly believe what I was reading.
After some reflection, I constructed a polite reply stating that I strongly disagreed with him – there were many ways in which I could successfully communicate including email, letters and with some client patience, on the phone. At this point, I didn’t want the job, I wasn’t aiming to change his mind but I had to make my point. I think I even told him he had just missed out on a great asset to his team! Confidence which I didn’t feel at the time.
I went on to secure a position supporting disabled people into employment – perfect for me as I could emphasise with the clients. Despite this and many other bad experiences, I’m grateful for them. If it wasn’t for that employer, I might not have the drive and passion that I have now to help other businesses to embrace diversity and also to support individuals to overcome similiar barriers.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be starting to develop the “FlyingStart Toolkit” – a free resource for anyone looking for work. I plan to bring together everything you need to find employment – watch this space!