So you have a disability or have a long-term health condition and are looking to pick up your career, perhaps starting out at work or would just like a job – do you feel confident employers will see past your condition? You have the knowledge, skills and abilities in your CV for the role but do you disclose your disability or health condition? To disclose or not this is the question. Having worked with disabled people and individuals with long-term health conditions for many years, these and many other questions stop or hinder applying for work and getting back to a career.
Indeed recent research from greatwithdisability suggests that 76% of students are reluctant to open about their disability or long term health condition. However the research did find that 57% of respondents recognised the benefits associated with being open and honest about their disability/long term health condition from the start of the process. Needless to say, these decisions for any person with a disability or enduring health condition are intensely personal and sometimes difficult to overcome.
The definition of a disability according to the Equality Act 2010 here in the UK, is a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on someone’s ability to do normal daily activities. The range of disabilities and long term health conditions identified is fascinating for a non-disabled person. ADHD, Autism, Acquired Brain Injury, Bi Polar through to Visual Impairment are amongst many that people navigate and manage in their daily lives at work.
So what is the best way to approach applying for work or progressing your career with a disability or enduring health condition?
Disclose or Not?
- Employment & disability employment advisers will give conflicting advice on disclosing in your CV/covering letter or application form – some say yes some say no. Perhaps the easiest choice for some is no. However, you may be missing a vital opportunity to highlight how you overcome daily challenges and still push on to achieve your ambitions and goals. The choice is made easier if the organisation you are applying to are registered with the Guaranteed Interview Scheme. You just tick the box and if you meet the minimum requirements then mechanisms will be in place for you to gain an interview. So the choice is not easy but well worth considering.
- Lastly, being open at the outset will no doubt help the employer make those “reasonable and practicable adjustments” for you both at the interview and to their workplace should you gain the role. Helping the employer help you through being open & honest about your condition or disability highlights a level of self-awareness which shouldn’t be ignored.
- So you have got yourself in front the interviewer or interview panel now what. If you have disclosed your disability then they will be prepared and ready to give you the best opportunity to shine. Well that’s the theory of course. Many employers may need support with disability awareness to stay on the right side of equality and diversity legislation for example. Having supported many employers with many disabled and people with health conditions it is as tricky for them as it is for the disabled person to navigate the interview properly. So if the groundwork between interviewer and interviewee has been done, everyone can get past the condition at the outset so that it enables the interview to go without surprises. Notwithstanding, giving the candidate the opportunity to tell the organisation why they would be foolish not employ you!
Moving on through your career with a disability or long-term health conditions
However difficult it may be, being open about disclosure and honest right throughout the application process and onward with your career, could well be the right way to go. Disability & long-term health conditions are wide and varied so will effect people in many different ways. So with more people with these conditions at work it can only be of benefit to all concerned and pave the way for others following on. Work is a healthy place to be, it can aid recovery and rehabilitation, provides focus and a sense of fulfilment to all let alone those with disabilities and long-term health conditions.
Also by being at work in a variety of businesses and organisations, with any number of health conditions or disabilities, there is a distinct chance you get the chance to remove prejudice and raise the awareness of being enabled by being disabled. So I guess the message is, if work or picking up a career is an option for you then be brave and show how talented you are regardless how others may see you. You have a lot to offer and it may be that the dilemma of disclosure or not is the only thing that is holding you back in the end?
Did you know only 15% of people with Autism are in full-time employment. All this despite 79% of people with autism on out of work benefits want to work according to the The National Autistic Society here in the UK. Some of the most satisfying coaching work is helping high functioning autistic or aspergers people access satisfying and fulfilling work. That said there are some specific challenges, just with anyone else finding a job, that can appear confusing and frustrating for the autistic individual concerned.
Though these challenges are not insurmountable and with careful planning and support for both candidates and employers, a good fit between role and person can be found. People with this learning disability have compatible levels of competence to their work colleagues, though can struggle to learn new tasks & perhaps experience problems transferring one task to another. However, the high functioning autistic person or aspergerian are renowned to bring a professional attitude, reliability and significant attention to detail to their work. I am sure your will agree a positive commodity that the individual can bring to the workplace and therefore should be encouraged and nurtured.
So what is autism or aspergers? Well these learning disabilities are part of the autistic spectrum that impair social interaction and communication. Now immediately we have hit upon two areas of the workplace today that could be potential banana skins. We all work socially & generally solve problems in groups and teams, and there is an expectation for teams to communicate & gel together with everyone engaging with the work processes. Autistic spectrum individuals can experience difficulties describing & expressing emotions that can lead on to organising specific work routines, adapting to unexpected outcomes and poor interactions with work colleagues. However, with support and some training in interpersonal skill & managing the anxiety of the processes involved, these problems can be managed effectively.
As you would expect there are levels of the learning disability and this article is not designed to provide a generalised step-by-step cure all for helping autistic people back to work. It is a individualised process of building confidence and self-esteem, helping the individual find what they are good at and preparing them for interviews etc. So what can be done to support more of the 79% autistic spectrum people into employment?
Clearly it is not a one size fits all program of support, however with a number of skills such as time management, interview skills & working with a potential employer that will no doubt help support. So here are a few points that may resonate with both job seekers, employed autistic/asperger individual & employers that may provide a place to start to address the issues.
- Start by carefully planning what you want to to do. Look at your strengths and areas to work on to be sure there is a good job/career role fit. There is nothing more dispiriting than being in the wrong job.
- Build confidence in your abilities, remember the positives of what you are great at and what you bring to the potential employer.
- Take time to manage the mental health aspects of stress and anxiety. Common issues for people looking for work but perhaps more so for autistic people. It is being unsure of unfamiliar circumstances that seems to create the anxiety. These problems can be managed with clear unambiguous language & coaching.
- Find out what is expected for the interview – both for employer and the candidate. Autistic people can take notes into the interview and a good employer will help the candidate through the process. That said interviews are stressful and especially for people who do not necessarily understand non-verbal communication and some abstract competency based questions
- Try to get work, volunteering experience and supported work when you can. A great way to find out if you can get on with the job and the potential employer.
- Look into interpersonal skills training & coaching to help you recognise the verbal & non-verbal communication in the workplace.
- Help the employer make the the reasonable and practicable adjustment to help you manage work. You may need more short breaks, be near natural light or get some fresh air regularly. Working with your supervisor closely will help manage these and many other adjustments at work.
- One for career coaches – do not use metaphor or euphemisms with autistic people keep the language clear and unambiguous.
Needless to say, this list is not a one size fits all as mentioned earlier, but with good support the autistic/aspergers candidate can find satisfying work that will help them live an independent and fulfilling life. Support is available from a number of different agencies and privately, so find an agency you can work with and within your budget. There are few services for adult job seekers which is a little disappointing considering the pool of untapped workers & candidates available. So don’t despair autism & aspergers are challenging learning disabilities but with support there are a world of possibilities awaiting. Drop me a line or call to hear about the inspirational stories of people with these conditions finding their way into work.