Last year, I submitted more than 140 applications. Only three led to an interview. I convinced myself that I had done something wrong in my search for a job in the media, but after one bruise, I realized that it was not me. It was my disability.
I have cystic fibrosis, an invisible disease that affects my lungs, which means my needs are often less obvious. What I need from potential employers is a commitment to a legal requirement called a “reasonable adjustment” to the normal conditions offered to staff. For me, this means a guarantee that I can, if necessary, work flexible hours and take time for hospital appointments.
I was protected during the pandemic and have not been able to leave my home for the past year. In May 2020, I was delighted to call for an interview for a deputy editor at a small media company. When I requested to have it online, rather than having it face-to-face, I was shocked when the interviewer started haunting me. Prior to my request for an online interview, I was told that I was a strong candidate.
It’s hard to get a job, but it’s harder to be disabled. There is currently about 8.3 million disabled people of working age in the UK, but only 4.4m work. According to Scope, the disability organization, disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed compared to others in the UK. They also apply for 60 percent more work than non-disabled peers before getting a job.
Caroline Casey, founder of The valuable 500, a collective that has ensured the commitments of 500 international general managers to promote the inclusion of disabilities in their organizations, says disabled people face various barriers to work. These include the attitude of employers and colleagues, the lack of accessibility and the inflexible working conditions.
“It’s exhausting to deal with stigma and stereotypes,” she says, “and that’s even before you get into the recruitment process.”
The decision on whether disability should be made public on job applications divides the community with disabilities. Many worry that the revelation will lead directly to rejection by employers. Despite the Equality Act 2010, which makes discrimination by disability illegal, and as far as job applications and CVs are concerned, disabled people rarely have evidence of their abuse.
Shani Dhanda (33) is a disability specialist and entrepreneur, born with a rare genetic condition called osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), known as brittle bones.
After being 16 years old, Dhanda applied for more than 100 jobs, but he could not get one interview. “I had one sentence in my cover letter that said I had a condition, but that I did not need adjustments.”
After Dhanda decided to remove any mention of OI from her cover letter, she was immediately offered an interview that resulted in a job offer.
Now Dhanda is writing her resume in a way that represents her condition as a skill. ‘It’s encouraging when I see an employer sign up for things like the Disability Scheme, and talk about adjustments and flexibility on their career page. Now I judge the company based on their actions and values before I decide to apply. ”
Because so many people had to work from home during the pandemic, disabled people had the opportunity to manage their health along with their careers. But the progress was bitterly sweet: before Covid, disabled people were often denied requests for flexible work patterns. These seemingly non-negotiable changes were implemented almost overnight during a global health crisis.
“It is ridiculous that a global pandemic is needed to innovate businesses in the way they allow employees to work.” Say Dhanda. ‘I think in the future world of work, flexibility should be the key. This will help more disabled people to stay employed and stay in work. ”
Hortense Julienne, founder of Miss Nang Treats, a plant-based series of snacks, and author of two cookbooks, suffers from a rare disease called desmoid, a recurrent tumor that destroys bones and the muscles around it. After several surgeries she suffers from chronic pain and uses her left upper arm little.
For Julienne, it was never an option to disclose her disability about job applications: “My intention was always that, if I got the job, I would prove that they were right to choose me.” But after little success in obtaining a position, she stopped applying and started her own business.
“Becoming self-employed has given me more control. I no longer have to constantly prove that I can do people who accept that my disability makes me stupid, ‘she says.
According to a study by Leonard Cheshire, a British charity that supports the disabled, one in five employers is still reluctant to employ a disabled person. The proportion of employers who say their organization employs any disabled staff has dropped to 33 percent by 2020.
Subira Jones is a life coach and corporate burnout consultant. She works as an investment analyst when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord.
She was 25 and after a year of debilitating symptoms she decided to take a career break. After five months, she was able to return to work.
“I was a sought-after candidate and received numerous calls from recruiters who wanted to represent me,” she says. ‘But since I said I needed a part-time or flexible position because of my disability, they have become reluctant. Once the recruiter turned it off, I knew I was not going to hear from them again. ”
When she mentions her disability, she runs the risk of being overlooked, and she became afraid to explain it. “If an employer sees that a candidate is disabled, he assumes that the individual will not be able to provide the necessary work,” Jones says.
She adds that an individual may have the right skills for the job, but that they may not have the energy or strength to work nine to five, five days a week. It then hinders career advancement for disabled candidates: if roles are not advertised as flexible, it forms an invisible barrier.
Yousra Imran (32) is the author of the West Yorkshire-based Hijab and red lipstick, a book about a young British Muslim woman who grew up between London and the Middle East. She is also a freelance journalist, working on educational marketing and has hypermobile Ehlers Danlos syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder and epilepsy.
Imran always declares that she is unfit for applications as companies cannot legally discriminate, and ‘if a place discriminates against me against my disability, it will show my true color and I do not want to work for it’.
Pre-pandemic, her employer had no homework policy and she struggled to manage her health while working in an office five days a week. But over the past 18 months, I have been able to prove that I can deliver all my work from home while managing my fatigue levels, so I am hopeful that they will be more susceptible to flexible work pandemics. “
Culture of openness
Studies show 17 percent disabled people are born with disabilities, while the rest become disabled during their lives.
“Anyone can become disabled at any time,” says Jane Hatton, CEO of Evenbreak, an accessible disability board. Hatton, who has a degenerative spinal condition, wants organizations to create a culture where people can discuss the obstacles they face.
‘N May 2021 report of Tortoise Media and The Valuable 500 found that there are no executives or senior executives with disabilities at any of the FTSE 100 enterprises. The average representation of people with disabilities among employees reported by FTSE 100 companies is 3.2 per cent, compared to 18-20 per cent of the UK population.
“It’s about creating a culture where it’s safe to talk about disability,” says Casey of The Valuable 500. ‘Companies need it. . . to create a culture where CEOs lead the discussion on disability. ”
At Evenbreak, Hatton tells employers that disabled candidates have the same range of experience and qualifications as everyone else, but that they will have additional skills if they face obstacles or different ways of doing things. ‘It needs a global pandemic to realize that people have not asked from home to ring. They asked to work from home so they could be more productive. ”
She suggests that companies may even share case studies of current disabled employees to obscure “preconceived ideas” of what disability actually is.
As a 22-year-old graduate starting out in the work world, I will continue to share my disability about job applications. If my resume is good enough without mentioning it, it’s good enough if I include it. It’s not disability that can hold me back, it’s discrimination.