As soon as I stopped ticking the ‘disabled’ box, I got interviews

Charlotte Jukes is a qualified teacher based in Wales. After graduating with a first-class honours degree in teaching, she started applying for jobs but wasn’t getting any interviews. She decided to stop disclosing that she was disabled, just to see what happened, and suddenly she was getting interviews.

She’s supporting our Work With Me campaign to ensure that disabled people can get and stay in work.

Charlotte in her graduation gown
Charlotte at her graduation

I injured my spine in 2002 and was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2013. I’m in quite a lot of pain every day. I’ve had my conditions for quite some time and they have worsened over the years. I was a teacher up until March this year.

When I first graduated, with first-class honours, I thought it was going to be quite an easy process to get interviews. Especially given that my Local Authority have a policy where disabled people are guaranteed an interview if they meet the person specification.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Friends with fewer qualifications were getting interviews for the same jobs

I was very confused. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I found out that my friends who had 2:1s and 2:2s were being interviewed for jobs that I wasn’t.

I was the one people would come to for help with grammar, application forms, personal statements and CVs because English language is one of my specialist subjects, so I knew my applications couldn’t be bad.

I emailed the council to ask why I wasn’t being given interviews, as a disabled person who met all the requirements, but I didn’t receive a response. It just made me feel a bit hopeless. I felt like I was never going to be able to get a job.

As soon as I stopped ticking the ‘disabled’ box, I got interviews

My husband suggested that I applied for some jobs without marking the ‘disabled’ box, just to see what happened. I was a bit sceptical at first because surely if there is a policy in place, they wouldn’t be ignoring it? I was also worried. If I needed time off sick or I needed adjustments putting in place to make my role easier, what would happen then if I hadn’t declared that I was disabled?

As soon as I stopped ticking the disabled box, the interviews started coming in. I think I applied for eight or nine jobs then, and was given interviews for all of them.

I feel like there’s not much point in having a policy for guaranteeing interviews for disabled candidates who meet the criteria if they aren’t going to abide by that.

When I finally did get a job, I had all the support I needed

I was offered a job and the Head Teacher was excellent. When I first took the job, my conditions weren’t affecting me as much, but then the Fibromyalgia started to flare up. Things were worsening with my back and my arthritis as well.

When I told the Head Teacher that I was struggling, she referred me to occupational health. They made adaptations to make things easier. Things like a trolley for carrying books and special seats. That was great. I was very lucky there.

I loved everything about the job and I thought I was good at it. I loved the children and everything, it was brilliant! It was everything I’d ever wanted. I was even nominated for “The Pride of Wales” Award for “Teacher of the Year”, and I actually won that in 2016. Sadly, my contact was only for two years and I left in March this year.

Charlotte's "Teacher of the Year: Pride of Wales" Award
Charlotte’s Teacher of the Year: Pride of Wales Award

Now that I’m unemployed again, I’m worried I won’t get another job

I’ve started using a wheelchair and I feel that I have to tick the ‘disabled’ box now. If I didn’t and I just turned up in a wheelchair, I don’t know if the school will have access.

I’m worried about the future because I know it’s going to be very hard for me to get back into work. What will I do after all the years of work that I put in to train to be a teacher? It’s what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little girl, and to know that I won’t be given a chance just because I’m disabled is hard to accept.

I’m supporting Work With Me because I think that employers and policies need to improve. Just because I’m in a wheelchair, doesn’t mean that I can’t do the job as well as any other person.

Be part of making change happen. Find out more about Work With Me and share the campaign on your social media networks using #WorkWithMe.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people.

As a disabled person, I had to persevere through rejection

Fiona is a 27-year-old who has a very rare bone condition which affects her left leg and hands. It causes cartilage swelling around her bones which restricts her movement.

She went through a difficult journey to find employment, facing challenging attitudes and uncomfortable interviews. After she decided to take an unexpected career turn, she now works as the Disability Specialist at DisabledHolidays.com.

Working in the travel industry has been an unexpected (although fantastic!) career path for me. I completed my Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in Primary Education in 2013 and then graduated with a Masters in Inclusive and Special Needs Education at the University of Cambridge in 2014.

Unsurprisingly, I expected a career as a Primary School Teacher, however, my search for a teaching job was not easy as I had many unexpected obstacles to overcome. It was tricky to find a part-time job which I needed because of my disability, but the most difficult obstacle was working out how to boost my confidence following job rejections.

Although I’m aware that non-disabled people can have their confidence lowered after job rejections, I believe that rejection can be even more difficult for disabled people. When telling people I had experienced another job rejection they sometimes responded with the question “Did you ask for feedback?”, I answered, “yes – I was told I did not appear very confident”.

My two main frustrations were firstly realising that a potential employer would never admit if they had discriminated and secondly, even if I did not appear the most confident candidate, I was actually very confident in front of a class. It is not easy standing up in front of a class of children, who have never seen someone with my disability, and attempt to divert their attention back to the learning objectives. In an ideal teaching interview, I would provide Disability Awareness Training.

Jumping in at the deep end!

Whilst persevering in my search for a part-time teaching job I was supply teaching. I felt like I was jumping in at the deep end here. I had just qualified as a teacher, moved to a new city and was travelling through rush hour every day to teach an unknown class, at an unknown school for the day.Fiona smiles on a sunny day by the sea

After a challenging two years of supply teaching, with children being curious about my disability, I started running Disability Awareness Workshops in schools.

It turned out that the job rejections were a blessing in disguise. I’m now teaching children what I believe should be integral to our curriculum – helping pupils to put themselves in other people’s shoes and understand what it means to respect people with a disability.

What I learnt through this challenging experience of day-to-day supply teaching was that although job rejections highlighted my disability in a negative way, I now see my disability only as a positive when educating children. Every time I teach a lesson, I believe my positive attitude despite my circumstances, provides an education in itself. Not only do pupils learn how to respect people with disabilities, they also learn how to empathise and begin to live with a more broad perspective on life.

Overcoming the ‘elephant in the room’ during an interview

You might be wondering how I managed to regain confidence after job rejections.

I felt reassured after reading various blogs and websites that I was not the only disabled person who senses an elephant in the room during an interview because employers do not ask about your disability. You shouldn’t have to feel the pressure to mention your disability in an interview, however I found that the ‘elephant in the room’ became such a distraction I had to mention it.

As I explained my disability however, I felt like I was using valuable interview time which should be used to explain what values I will bring to the role. I even became unsure about whether I was making the right decision to tick the ‘equal opportunity’ box on the application forms. Sometimes I wondered whether I was just ticking this box for “workplace statistics”.

I was in such a dilemma every time I applied for a job – my disability doesn’t define me. It shouldn’t be, and isn’t, relevant to how I would perform in the job so I surely don’t need to mention it. At the same time, my disability does need some consideration as the employer might be wondering if it will affect my performance at work and I need to be sure the job is suitable for me.

A woman in a wheelchair smiles on holiday
Fiona made a career change from teaching to travel

From teaching to travel

After realising I needed a change from teaching, I decided I wanted a job to help disabled people overcome obstacles in society. I was offered a job as a Disability Specialist at DisabledHolidays.com – the UK’s largest accessible holiday specialist.

As someone who loves to travel and believes that everyone is entitled to a good quality of life, I feel privileged to be able to work for this incredible company. Needless to say, it came without the interview obstacles I faced in teaching!

Our accessible travel experts take away any anxieties disabled people might have about going on holiday in the UK or abroad. We support customers at every stage of their holiday including booking, preparing to go, travelling, holidaying and coming home. Some of the support we offer includes guaranteed accessible accommodation, mobility equipment hire, airport assistance, adapted travel and much more.

It is important to remember that although overcoming barriers to employment is a difficult journey, employers who cannot see the unique assets you bring to the workplace do not deserve to have you.

More than a third of disabled people don’t think they will be hired because of their impairment or condition. And two in five disabled people don’t feel confident about their chances of getting a job in the next six months. 

We’re campaigning with Virgin Media to support more disabled people to get into and stay in work. Find out more about the Work With Me campaign. 

How it feels to experience endless harassment, just because you look different

Chris has dwarfism and experiences regular harassment. For Hate Crime Awareness Week, read his blog about the effect this had on him and why he’s keen to change attitudes.

A lot of people still think it’s socially acceptable to mock and effectively dehumanise people with dwarfism. For me, the physical side doesn’t get me down, it’s the attitudes that other people have towards it. There’s still a big stigma around dwarfism and the way we’re portrayed as freaks.

Experiencing harassment at work

I worked at a local pub for a few years. At first, I mostly did night shifts and of course people are drinking, and I was specifically targeted. I’ve had people run up behind me and try to pick me up, people patting me on the head, talking to me randomly about really personal and inappropriate things. People even take photos or film me, purely just to portray me as being different.

It got to a point where I had a breakdown and told my family and my managers at work about it. They were very understanding and agreed that I should do more day shifts instead. It’s a lot better. It’s nice to be able to just get on with your job without constantly feeling paranoid.

Chris arms folded, in front of a garden

The effect of endless harassment

Endless harassment can create paranoia. You just constantly feel paranoid if there’s someone behind you or if someone’s got their phone out, are they going to take a photo of me? And it’s the principle behind it – that they’re going to share it on social media as a joke.

Because I’ve been experiencing it for a long time it can be difficult when I’m in certain environments not to be too self-conscious. For some people, it can lead to depression and even suicide.

Comments and insults can be more damaging than physical assault, certainly for me – it’s just that concept of feeling excluded from society. It also affects my confidence when it comes to working and dating.

Changing attitudes

Through animation, I re-created some of the worst things that I’ve personally experienced. I hope it will raise awareness and change perceptions. I want to put this kind of harassment on the same grounds of nonacceptance that racism is.

I also want to challenge the dehumanising ideas about what disabled people shouldn’t and shouldn’t do. I think education is key to changing attitudes. One day I hope I can walk down the street and nobody cares about my height.

If you have a story that you’d like to share, get in touch with Scope’s stories team.

Why you should run the Royal Parks Half – from someone who’s done it!

When keen runner Chris lost his leg in a motorbike accident he was determined to keep running. Last year he ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon for Scope and in this blog, he tells us why it’s such an amazing experience.

Getting back into running was a long journey. One of the first books I read after the amputation was Chris Moon’s autobiography. It got me excited about the possibility of running again!

The training does takes longer but don’t let that stop you. Get in touch with other people with a similar impairment and find out what’s possible. I learned that the right prosthetic makes all the difference. The first time I tried a pylon prosthetic I was dubious but we went to the running track, fitted the leg and I broke my para-athlete 400 meter record within about 10 minutes!

The Royal Parks is such a beautiful route

Last year I did the Royal Parks for Scope. I love those parks and used to train in them when I worked in Central London. It was good to go back. Despite losing my leg, I haven’t changed inside. I’m still the same person, life goes on and it can be as enjoyable. It’s just a new normal. I like to challenge myself and I’m always thinking “what can I take on next?”

It really is a beautiful run and the autumn weather was perfect – a beautiful, still, chilly morning with glorious sun rising over the trees. It took a while to get going because of the number of runners but once I got going, I relaxed and settled into a nice rhythm past Buckingham Palace. As well as the parks, you pass so many amazing London landmarks. They were familiar to me from years working in Central London offices and running at lunchtimes. Memories flooded back.

All the support spurs you on

With my right leg doing all the work I find uphill gradients take their toll so I eased up a little. Then I spotted the Scope supporters at their cheer spot and exchange shouts with them which spurred me on! I had my name printed on my vest and get lots of personal encouragement. At the halfway point, I saw that I had three minutes in hand, so I was feeling pretty good!

Just after 10 miles a runner suddenly brakes in front of me and I lose my footing. I almost save myself but eventually lose it and fall heavily on my right knee and forearm. Many hands lift me to my feet – I think I’m okay and I walk for about a minute, testing my body. There are lots of concerned spectators and runners who call to me. The camaraderie is great.

It’s less than a straight mile to the finish. I push myself and enjoy the cheering of the crowds for the last few hundred metres to the finish banner. And there is my wife, Denise, with that big smile, just past the finish line.

We called in at the Scope tent to see our friend Nicola Gale in the events team and then it was time to tackle the journey home to a long, hot bath and an even longer nap. Thanks to everyone’s support I raised £668 for Scope, beating my fundraising target of £300 and I beat my time target of 2 hours too! It was an amazing experience. If you’re thinking about doing it, don’t hesitate to sign up with Scope!

13.1 miles. 4 Royal Parks. 1 Team Scope. Get your Royal Parks 2018 place with Scope today.

My message to employers: disability is not a weakness

Azar lives in London and wants to work in the financial markets as a currency trader. He’s well on his way, with a 2:1 in business management, but he feels that attitudes need to change if he’s going to be successful.

Past job interviews didn’t go well – employers would focus on his impairment which made him feel uncomfortable and lose confidence. He’s supporting our Work With Me campaign to ensure that employers see beyond disability and focus on his strengths.

I have cerebral palsy which affects my right side and movement. It’s not immediately noticeable but there are small things that could make a big difference for me in the workplace. For example, I can’t type, so I use software programmes where I speak and it automatically writes down what I’m saying.

I found it really hard looking for work. I always tried to hide my impairment but during interviews employers would ask “Do you have a disability? How will you be able to do the job?” which made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to answer it.

I felt like the odds were stacked against me

Getting rejected again and again, you feel like it’s because of your impairment and that made me want to give up. I couldn’t explain cerebral palsy confidently and it made me feel like it was more of a weakness than I strength. I had all the skills but I felt like I was being judged. It seemed like employers were thinking there will be other people who aren’t disabled who can do the job better.

Work With Me

There’s a lack of awareness and understanding. I feel like employers don’t know how to adapt to disabled people’s needs, they just don’t think about it. Companies should be open about starting conversations in a way that’s not off putting. Their attitude should be “If you have an impairment we’re going to provide you the support you need to prosper in this role.”

A million disabled people can and want to work, but they’re not being given the opportunities. I think campaigns like Work With Me can have an impact by helping more disabled people get in to work and show what they can do. Work With Me can also educate employers about what they can do to improve and show them that it’s not about disability, it’s about competency.

Scope storyteller, Azar, holds up a placard which says #WorkWithMe
Azar is supporting Scope and Virgin Media’s new employment campaign, Work With Me

My advice to others

Knowing that there’s a million disabled people who, like me, want to work but aren’t being given the chance, makes me feel so frustrated. It makes me more determined to prove to employers that disability isn’t a weakness. My advice to other disabled people looking for work is use your strengths and show employers that disability doesn’t define you – you can defy the odds.

I feel more confident taking about my impairment now and what I need to prosper in a company. I feel more sure of myself and my skills. To all the employers who are put off by disability I want to say: don’t judge me by my impairment, judge me on my skills and my experience, look at my track record. Cerebral palsy is not a weakness and with the right adjustments I can succeed.

Be part of making change happen. Find out more about Work With Me and share the campaign on your social media networks using #WorkWithMe.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people.

I was told “We don’t have any jobs for people like you”

Marie is a college tutor from Milton Keynes. Although her current job is ideal, she’s experienced barriers and negative attitudes in the past, including the time she was told ‘not to bother’ working. She passionately believes that everyone should be given a chance and is supporting our Work With Me campaign to make that a reality.

I’ve got osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones. It means my bones can break easily so I use wheelchair, I can’t stand or walk. The condition can make me very tired and there are nights when I can’t sleep at all so it would be difficult to do a typical 9 to 5 job.

My current employer is understanding of my needs and the job I have is so flexible. I’m able to work from home which suits me perfectly. If I can’t pick up work on a certain day, they’ll email it across or agree a different time for me to collect it. But it hasn’t always been so easy.

“We don’t have anything for people like you”

When I finished my degree in Health and Social Care in 2011 I didn’t have a lot of luck finding a job. I went to the Job Centre for support and their attitude was pretty much “Why do you want to work? We don’t have anything for people like you.” There was no help or aspiration.

Being told not to bother working it made me feel angry and upset. I’d spent so many years studying, I’d put everything into my degree, I’d worked in the past and I wanted to progress. It made me feel worthless, like I couldn’t contribute towards society like anyone else. It was frustrating.

I decided not to put that I was disabled on my CV because I felt like I wouldn’t get an interview. I often managed to get interviews but when I turned up I could tell by people’s reactions that I wasn’t going to get that job. I think it was largely because they didn’t understand my impairment and didn’t want to take the chance.

If you’re disabled, it can be difficult to progress in your career too. I’ve had many different jobs and at times I felt like I was being treated like a child because employers didn’t allow me to use my skills and knowledge. I ended up leaving one job. If people aren’t going to accept me for who I am and what I can do, why stay?

The things that people say to you never go away. There have been times where bad attitudes have made me feel like “What’s the point in working?” I just wanted to find an employer who would give me a chance, like anyone else would be given a chance.

A disabled woman, Marie, holds up a placard which says #WorkWithMe
Marie supports Scope and Virgin Media’s new employment campaign, Work With Me

Work With Me

Knowing that there’s a million disabled people out there who want to work but are being denied the opportunity, it makes me angry because everybody should be given an opportunity. We all want to contribute to society.

I think a lot of employers don’t want to hire a disabled person because they don’t understand disability and they just want the ‘perfect’ person. So, the way to change negative attitudes is for those of us who are disabled to prove them wrong. To show that we can do it, and it doesn’t matter if we use a wheelchair or we’re visually impaired – with the right support, it doesn’t affect your ability to work.

My advice to employers is just give someone a chance and think about what they can do, not what they can’t do. When I got my current job, the feedback was really positive. The interviewers said that I was confident, I clearly knew the subject and I had all the skills. Why can’t all employers be like this?

People shouldn’t be put into a box. Some people can’t work, but that’s not the reality for many disabled people. That’s why I’m supporting Work With Me. I think this campaign is going to open people’s eyes. Unless you see stories out there, people won’t know what’s possible.

Please join me and help change the future of employment for disabled people.

Be part of making change happen. Find out more about Work With Me and share the campaign on your social media networks using #WorkWithMe.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people.

Don’t focus on my impairment, ask me what I can bring to the role

After graduating from university, Lauren embarked on a long and difficult journey to find a job.  In support of our new campaign, Work With Me, she spoke to us about the barriers she faced and gives some advice to disabled people who are still searching for a job.

When I graduated with a good degree and lots of volunteering experience, I thought I would find a job pretty quickly. Instead, I applied for over 250 jobs in a variety of roles but I only got interviews about 5% of the time. I said that I was visually impaired on my applications and my CV. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and I wanted to be open from the start.

Scope’s new research found that when applying for jobs only 51% of disabled applications result in an interview compared with 69% for non-disabled applicants. So it’s not just me. When I did get interviews, they didn’t ask the questions I expected.  They were more focused on my impairment than what I could bring to the role. I feel like people underestimated what I could do because I was blind.

Again, Scope’s research shows that this feeling is shared by many disabled people. Over a third (37%) of respondents who don’t feel confident in getting a job believe employers won’t hire them because of their impairment or condition. Towards the end of my job hunt I wanted to give up. I just didn’t think I was ever going to get a job. I knew I could do it but by the end it I was like “Can I?”

Eventually I was given a chance, and my employer was supportive right from the start. I want to see that happen for more disabled people. Latest Government figures show there are one million disabled people in the UK who can and want to work but are currently unemployed. It’s really unfair.

Change is possible

Disabled people face barriers left, right and centre. I want to contribute just as much as anyone else – and I can.  Having the right equipment ensures that I can do my job as well as my sighted colleagues and that’s provided through Access to Work. It doesn’t cost my employer anything.

Attitudes need to change. Employers often focus on limitations rather than the unique advantages that disabled employees can bring. For example, we’re incredible problem solvers because we have to be. All we want is to be given a chance. That’s why I’m supporting Scope and Virgin Media’s new campaign – Work With Me. I hope you will join me.

Be part of making change happen. Find out more about Work With Me and share the campaign on your social media networks using #WorkWithMe.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people.