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.
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.
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.