When I first started making noises about wanting to be a career woman I don’t think many people thought it would be a possibility (and I was far less disabled then than I am now).
I was told by those who humoured me, “You should go and work for the Government. They have to hire people with disabilities, it’s the law.” Or “I think there are special factories that will hire you.” This was not what I had in mind.
I did get a job working for the state government and I loathed it.
Other people wondered why I felt the need to bother, “surely you’d qualify for a pension.” They’d tell me.
It has always been my intention to work, so in later high school I did many administration/computer courses and as much work experience as I could talk my way into.
My resume` looked good and I got a lot of interviews for office jobs but I never managed to snag one so I swallowed my pride and signed to a disability recruitment agency.
It worked and they quickly found me a job. But they insisted on not only coming to work with me but sitting right by my side all day long.
Apparently this is what they do for everyone as some people can’t work without them. This was not me.
I saw it as intrusive and embarrassing. It also meant that I had to work harder to get my colleagues to trust that I could do things. So we parted ways.
13 years on and I am still working for the same organisation in the private sector and loving it.
I am not in the same job though. I managed to move around and get positions in other areas through my own merit (that comes with confidence and experience), and at one stage I had two directors fighting over me. That was nice.
Here are my favourite tips to help my fellow disabled jobseekers:
1. Be realistic: I am all for having a dream, but if you would like someone to pay you to do a job, it needs to be a job that you can actually do. For example, someone who is vision impaired would not make a very good air traffic controller and, if you can’t use your arms or legs then building and construction is probably not your forte either. That’s not to say that you should just do whatever. Just recognise your skills and limitations when choosing a career path.
2. Be honest: you don’t have to discuss your disability with your potential employer if you do not think it is relevant. However, it might be a good idea to let them know of any possible hick ups that you might encounter. For example, are you likely to need a few extra days off? It is possible that this may limit your job opportunity, but on the other hand it may give your new employer a chance to plan ahead and will avoid awkward conversations later on.
3. Your contribution has worth: I have heard of many people with a disability (myself included, who have been offered an unpaid work trial by an employer who liked them, but wasn’t sure if they were suitable. I always said no to this. If they want you to work for them then they can pay you! I wonder, does this happen in the able-bodied workforce too?
Note: I am not talking about actual work experience or doing a “prac,” in these cases you get something out of it too and you know where you stand.
4. Take the help that is offered to you: there are recruitment agencies that specialise in finding jobs for people who have a disability. These can be helpful to get you a foot in the door. Beware though, if you decide you don’t need them any more they can be difficult to shake off.
When you find your dream job there are organisations such as Job Access (if you live in Western Australia) who can help you with overcoming accessibility issues, or in gaining aids such as screen readers if you need them, with little or no cost to your employer. This is done through grants though so conditions do apply.
5. Have faith in yourself: Take it from me, everyone is in business to generate a profit. You got the job because the employer thinks you were the best candidate. You didn’t get the job as an act of charity so do your best and see where it takes you.
Working has given me a sense of purpose, given me a chance to learn new skills and grow as a person, provided me with an extra social outlet and given me the chance to be financially independent.
I hope that if it is what you want, having a job can do this for you too.