Disclosing my disability when applying for jobs

Posted on: 7 September 2021 by Hannah, a Philosophy & Business Studies student at the University of Liverpool. in Hints, tips and advice

Sat in A-level history class, I was given back a mock paper and asked to stay behind. ‘You seem to talk the talk in class Hannah, but it isn’t coming across when you write…has anyone ever tested you for dyslexia?’

At 17 I joined the 10% of the UK and was diagnosed with dyslexia. I’d never enjoyed reading or writing but I loved to learn, my confidence in speaking up and asking questions had previously masked my disability.  

When discussing my diagnosis with a friend he encouraged me by saying don’t let the 99% teach you about the 1%Just because the majority of people think a certain way doesn’t mean the minority is wrong- we all have something valuable to offer 

Having a disability can often make you feel insecure and alone but know you are part of a large community. More than 1 in 5 people in the UK have a disability – that’s 22% of the UK population – almost enough to be a monopoly in business terms. 

We live in world of generalisationphilosophers refer to this as Utilitarianism, when the action chosen that which leads to the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. This has created many barriers for those with disabilities making success feel impossible to reach – employment being no exception! I thought I’d share my experiences to show that anyone can achieve their full potential.  

My role as a Career Coach has enabled me to see first-hand the barriers to employment. Many students fear that; with gaps in education, lack of work experienceand lower grades due to extenuating circumstances - they will not succeed in gaining employment. While working at an event at the Career Studio, I was caught by surprise as I listened to a talk by Leonard Cheshire from Change100 on internships for talented students with disabilities and long-term health conditions. Their Change100 program aims to remove barriers and allow disabled students to achieve their full potential in the workplace.

It was inspiring to see that the difficulties people experience gaining employment had been recognised. I couldn’t wait to share this with other students who came into the studio. However, it hadn’t crossed my mind to apply myself. felt like a disability fraud, others experienced greater barriers to employment than me. In that moment I was reminded of the previous year when applying for the summer internship. 

As a 2nd year student I had been impressed with a company that had provided training for my job. I emailed the company asking if they would take me on as a summer intern. I wrote my cover letter and CV, had it checked, sent it off and was given an interview. When I arrived at the employer’s office, was presented with a document to read and improve by checking spelling, punctuation, grammarstructure and language. They told me this is the type of work would have been doing on an internship with them (as a professional consultancy that produces training and research reports)My heart sank. I couldn’t think of anything worse!

Already nervous and now embarrassed, I politely explained to the employer that I was dyslexic, and this would be difficult task. The employer was understanding, she offered extra-time and asked if they could do anything to support me furtherbut I had already felt defeated.

Not being one to give-up I sat down and concentrated on finding those spellingpunctuation and grammar mistakes –  when time was up, I hadn’t even thought about structure and language. 

A couple of days later, I got a call from the employer to give me some detailed feedback. She was positive and supportive, and told me ‘You’ll be glad to know you didn’t miss one spelling, punctuation and grammar mistake but the other areas did not meet the requirements. She then gave me advice on how I could positively disclose my disability and empowered me to own who I am 

Having reflected on this experience I chose to contact the employer who said - Hannah was a delight to meet. She was engaged, positive and pro-active - everything we look for in candidates. But on the day the written exercises just didn’t go her way, which can often happen in recruitment. It’s all about learning from the process and accepting that, unlike education, recruitment typically involves a lot more failures than successes. We had a great feedback call and I know Hannah learnt lots from the experience. We wish her lots of continued success and would love to hear from her again in the future! 

This experience hadn’t gone the way I wanted but it wasn’t a failure
. In hindsight, I should have just talked about my disabilityAfter considering this experience, I decided to apply for the Change100 internship. What was there to lose? A couple of weeks ago, I was offered the Diversity and Inclusion Intern placement with Colt Technology as part of the program.  

The whole recruitment process was AMAZING, and I felt supported from start to finish. I had the option to submit my application in writing or as a video and there was no psychometric testing. The environment at the assessment centre was designed to bring out the best in everyone there. I’m excited to make a difference and show employers that I can achieve great things 

This experience instilled confidence in me, knowing that the world is taking active steps to support disabilities. There are many charities working tirelessly to raise awareness to prevent barriers to employment – Leonard CheshireMydisabilityplus and EmployAbiltiy are just a few. 

Here are some valuable lessons I have learned for this experience. Hopefully, they can help you too: 

  • Be confident in talking about your disability. Although you are not legally required to disclose your disability at the recruitment stage, it will only benefit you to talk about your adjustments with your potential employer 
  • Your disability has given you strengths. How you have adapted to handle your disability will provide you with great evidence for skills in an interview i.e. I’m now a confident public speaker because my disability has made it hard to express my thoughts in writing.   
  • Don’t focus on your weaknesses. There is a job that will play to your strengths, you can’t be good at everything. Your education may have highlighted your disability – 80% of my degree grade is based on how well I read and write – but this doesn’t have to be the same in the workplace 
  • People are on your side and want you to support you. The majority of employers want to provide adjustments so you can showcase your best self - make sure you give them enough timeIf they don’tyou may want to consider whether that is the right place of work for you.  
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Your efforts (even if unsuccessful) may have been the spark in pioneering a recruitment process to be more diverse and inclusive - by small and simple things great things come to pass.  

In the famous word of Albert Einstein "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
 I have been reminded that I am not disadvantaged, just different from the generalised way many employers recruit. I’m a dyslexic student writing articles for thousands of University of Liverpool students

Don’t let the ways of the world dictate your hopes and dreamsown your disability, and be proud of who it has made you become