Lauren is 23 and recently began her first job as an administrator for a social enterprise. At the age of 13 Lauren lost the vast majority of her sight to a rare genetic disorder and is now registered blind. In this guest post she talks about the long and difficult journey to find a job, the difficulties disabled people can face and how she found success at last.
Looking for work
I graduated last year with a 2.1 degree in theology and began a long and difficult job hunt. I was under the illusion that with a good degree, a strong CV due to all of the volunteering that I’d done, and a lot of determination, I would find a job with minimal difficulties. This couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I applied for over 250 jobs in a variety of roles but I had no response from about half of them. I had some interviews but I didn’t get any further despite them giving me positive feedback and saying that they hoped I found a job soon.
Disclosing my visual impairment
I made the decision to disclose the fact that I was visually impaired on almost all of my applications and on my CV. My impairment nothing to be ashamed of so I wanted to be honest and open from the start.
I’m almost certain that some of the reason for not hearing from a lot of the jobs that I applied for was due to the fact that they underestimated what I could do because they knew that I was blind. In interviews I often spent most of my time explaining that, although I was blind, I could do the job just as well as anyone else who had applied.
Finally finding a job
I applied for my current job through the CharityJob website. After uploading my CV and a cover letter, I heard back from them the next day. Their email was extremely positive, asking how they could help make the interview best for me, if my guide dog would need any water and what they were to be like around her.
I went to the interview on a Monday and was told that I would hear back from the company on the Friday, but I heard back from them the same afternoon! They invited me for a taster session the following Thursday so I could see how they worked and for them to see how I worked.
The taster session was extremely positive, the team were lovely and I immediately felt like I fitted in. I heard from the team the same day offering me a job and I was delighted to accept!
The right support is essential
Access to Work have helped with my transportation and getting me the equipment I need to do my job. On my first day I had an assessment to understand what I needed and then we were given the go ahead to order the equipment.
For example, Jaws for Windows which is a screen reader, a braille labelling system and a splitter box which means I can simultaneously listen to my screen reader and the telephone. Having this equipment will ensure that I can do my job as well as my sighted colleagues and that my visual impairment doesn’t mean I’m at a disadvantage.
It’s a really good scheme but the process is slow and has too many stages to it. It would be far better if it didn’t take so long to sort out because for the first month at work I was unable to do my job and had to sit with other people to listen to what they were doing and this was at times frustrating. I just wanted to be able to get on with my job.
I also have very supportive friends and family who were there for me through the no’s and celebrated with me when I eventually got the yes that I had been so desperately waiting to hear.
My employer has been incredible
It’s a varied job and I’m really enjoying what I am doing. They have never had a disabled employee before but they supported me from the beginning and asked me what I needed. They were very supportive and fully participated throughout all of the Access to Work stages.
Now I have everything that I need, I am settling in with my team and getting to grips with the work that I need to do.
Feeling disabled by society
I feel that society’s view of my disability disables me far more than my actual disability, which I find incredibly difficult.
The unfortunate statistic is that two thirds of people with a visual impairment are unemployed and I was determined not to be. I was unemployed for 8 months and I remember feeling at times that I was never going to get a job and feeling pretty useless. I’m very glad to have a job and I’m keen to use my experiences to help others.
How attitudes can improve
I feel that people in many cases don’t look beyond a person’s disability and look at their limitations rather than the unique advantages that employing someone with a disability brings. People with disabilities in many cases are resourceful, determined, outgoing and want to work.
It’s time that there was more awareness about people with disabilities in the work place. We shouldn’t be overlooked just because we’re disabled.
If you have an employment story you would like to share, get in touch with the Stories team.