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.
Rosie and Glen were both bullied at school because of their impairments. In this blog they talk about how they moved forward with their lives and want to spread awareness about the bullying many disabled people face.
“Being bullied made me determined to raise awareness about invisible disabilities”.
Being dyspraxic meant at school I always stood out like a sore thumb compared to others.
From the way I walk and move in a clumsy uncoordinated way which was different to others, always falling or bumping into others or other things.
To it’s made me socially anxious and struggle to maintain friendships. I always had and probably will have different interests to people my own age. I’ve always been seen as disorganised, chaotic, messy and a bit all over the place.
Being so different made me an easy target for being at the receiving end of some awful bullying. Words can have such an impact on your life and how you see and perceive yourself. It made me lose what little confidence I had to begin with and really struggle with my mental health and I would hear the words of what people were saying constantly. I thought I must really be stupid as it was constantly being said to me.
I put a lot of the bullying due to lack of awareness to what dyspraxia is, the fact that dyspraxia is invisible to the eye and negative assumptions of what I could or couldn’t achieve. As an adult I still struggle with anxiety and will never be a naturally confident person.
But my experiences made me decide that nobody should have to go through what myself or my family had been through and I was determined that more awareness needed to be raised about issues invisible to the eye.
The bullying I experienced has taught me the power of words and why I choose mine so carefully and not make judgements and assumptions about others.
I work as a learning support as a college and know the value of time, patience and empathy can have on students who may be struggling. I have also been able to prove the people wrong who said I wouldn’t achieve anything.
Words have the power to encourage, destroy, make someone loose confidence in themselves or make someone feel hopeful. We can all try and help people feel hopeful.
“I’m still a little bit shy and probably always will be, but I’m far more positive now”.
I first went to a mainstream school, but it didn’t go well. The teachers didn’t know how to help, and I was bullied by other kids because of my sight loss. So I was removed very quickly, and transferred to a school for the visually impaired that my parents discovered.
Of course, my confidence had been shattered, so I was very shy. Which led to some of the kids at my new school bullying me as well. Not because of my sight, as they were in the same boat, but because they realised they could wind me up easily.
However, I made good friends, and the teachers were extremely supportive, so my confidence gradually improved over the years. And I even became friends with the kids who had teased me at first. Partly because I was being more successful than them, but I also got to learn more about them, which helped me understand their behaviour and put it into context. We learnt a lot from each other.
So things turned out well in the end. I came away with great friends, fond memories and good results, and got myself a degree and a job. I’m still a little bit shy today, and probably always will be, but I’m far more positive and confident than I would have been if I hadn’t moved schools when I did.
ChildLine is a free, confidential support service for children and young people. Their staff speak to thousands of young people every day – you are not alone. Phone 0800 11 11 or visit the ChildLine website.
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.
Emily Davison, also known as Fashioneyesta, is a Master’s Degree Student, Journalist, Writer, YouTuber and Blogger. She also happens to be visually impaired and works with a Guide Dog. Emily’s goal is to change perceptions of disability with her writing and love for making videos.
At 4pm today, Emily is doing a Facebook Live video Q and A. She’ll be talking and answering questions about fashion and beauty, writing, vlogging, attitudes and more. Here’s a little preview.
As a fashion blogger, I get a lot of comments about my appearance
People will say “you’re very well dressed for a blind person.” As if anyone with a visual impairment – simply because they lack sight – cannot have a conception of style, beauty or looking good, which is of course not true.
Style is a form of expression and it depends on passion and imagination and not on your level of vision. As a visually impaired person I appreciate clothes from the fabrics and embroidery used, to the outline of the garment and how it makes me feel when I wear it. I interact with style based on a number of different senses.
There are many different visually impaired people, who appreciate clothes for their shape, quality and attention to detail. After all, fashion is a creative outlet and is not exclusive to one set of individuals.
Guest post from Elin Williams, a student from north Wales, who is visually impaired. In this post for our End the Awkward campaign, she talks about two different types of awkwardness she’s encountered.
Scope’s research shows that two-thirds of people feel awkward around disability, so when Emily Davison aka Fashioneyesta asked me to join in with Scope’s End the Awkward campaign, I couldn’t wait to get involved and share my own cringey moments…
‘Are you blind, love?’
A few years ago I was travelling alone on a train. I hadn’t long been travelling independently, and was still getting used to using my cane on a regular basis. Growing up, I always felt that the cane made me stand out and was reluctant to use it for fear of not looking ‘normal’.
So there I was. Along came the food and drinks trolley, and I plucked up the nerve to say ‘excuse me’ to flag the trolley down. I think this was the first time I’d ever done this – not being able to make eye contact or see people’s facial expressions has always made me nervous of situations like this.
I asked the man pulling the trolley: ‘Do you have any drinks on this trolley?’
My inquiry was met with the scornful reply: ‘Ha! Are you blind, love?’
‘Well, yes,’ I said, lifting my folded cane from the seat next to me to show him.
The deathly silence that enveloped the passengers nearby let me know this encounter hadn’t gone unnoticed. I obviously couldn’t see how red he went, but considering the tremor in his voice, and how his hand shook when he dropped my change, I think he was a little embarrassed.
But he’d embarrassed me too. His smart-arse attitude made me feel so small and stupid.
A better experience
Only about a month ago, I and two other visually impaired friends had just got off a train and were standing outside the station, figuring out whether to get a taxi or to walk home. I had my guide dog Jazzy with me, while both my mates were using canes.
A young guy came up to us and quite smugly said: ‘Did you have fun hiking today, guys?’
‘Those are some funky looking hiking sticks you have there,’ he elaborated, going on to ask us where exactly we’d been hiking, in Cambridgeshire, where there are no mountains…
It finally dawned on us that the guy had mistaken the canes for hiking sticks! We explained that we hadn’t been hiking, that we were blind and that they were our canes, whilst trying not to laugh along with his mates who’d witnessed his blunder.
Pointing to Jazzy, I added: ‘Yeah, she’s my hiking dog. I ride her up the mountains…!’
The poor guy was pretty embarrassed and very apologetic, but we reassured him that we weren’t offended.
It’s attitudes that make things awkward
From my experience, it’s much better to laugh at yourself and with others rather than get stressed out or touchy about silly mistakes.
What makes it awkward is when the perpetrator can’t laugh along with you, because they’re too mortified at having possibly offended you to see the funny side. It makes it much more awkward than if they’d just share the joke.
End the Awkward is a fantastic stepping-stone towards dispelling the taboo that surrounds disability, but I think it’s also important to remember that it starts with us as disabled people.
If you’re uncomfortable about your impairment and don’t know how to talk about it – and laugh about it – you can’t make others feel comfortable addressing it either.
Gemma is a Corporate Office Administrator at the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC). She’s backing the #EndTheAwkward campaign and here she talks about what frustrates her about people’s attitudes to her visual impairment.
I have decided to write this blog to raise awareness of disabilities, especially visual impairment (VI), as I am VI and have a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosia (RP).
I find it staggering that there is still so much ignorance from people when it comes to them interacting with individuals with a visual impairment. I don’t want this to be a negative blog – I guess I am just venting at the moment. I just want this message to come across loud and clear, and I don’t wish to cause offence to anyone, I am not talking about society as a whole.
If I do not have my guide dog or a cane with me the most annoying thing someone can say when I tell them I am VI is “Oh wow you don’t look blind”. How is a blind person supposed to look? Could someone tell me please? Yet on the other hand when I do have my guide dog Ida with me people can treat me like I must be incapable because I can’t see.
Once, I was waiting on a pavement and a man grabbed my arm and pushed me across the road! He thought he was helping. If I had wanted help I would ask for it!
My impairment is just a small part of who I am
People often ask me if I ever had the chance to have ‘normal sight’ would I? My answer is always no.
I am me, and my visual impairment is just a small part of who I am. Being visually impaired has made me who I am today, so why would I want to change that? I am proud of my achievements and even though I know I will lose my sight completely in the near future I am grateful for today.
I also get asked how I cope with day to day living, being married, having a 10-year-old son, and how they cope with my visual impairment.
I just give them a look as if to say ‘are you really asking me that question?’
I ‘cope’ just like everybody else, I go to work and provide for my family, we go out, have fun and spend as much time together as we can! It’s all pretty ‘normal’, and boring just like every other family in the world. We just make some adaptions to enable us to live life to the full. My husband, son and extended family are extremely supportive and I could not ask for a better family.
I encourage other people with a visual impairment to grab life with both hands, be grateful for every day. Just because you have a disability, no matter what it is; don’t ever let it hold you back. There is so much support out there to help you along the way.
Guest post from Emily Davison, a writer, fashion blogger, English Literature student and YouTuber. She also happens to be visually impaired and works with a guide dog.
Do you ever face those moments in your day where something cringe-worthy happens to you? Do you find yourself thinking how wonderful it would be if the ground would swallow you up?
In life I find that there have been many obstacles that I have had to face. But, one thing that never seems to vanish are the questions I get due to my disability. Some of them are the most awkward and frustrating moments I can recollect. Some make me want to recoil in sheer mortification.
Recently I created a video on my YouTube channel after reading an article by a young women in a wheelchair about the top ten sayings and questions that she gets due to her disability. It inspired me to relate my own version about visually impairments. Scope invited me to discuss my views on these misconceptions right here on the Scope blog.
1. “Won’t glasses help?”
I get this a lot when first meeting people and after what seems to be an eternal age of hearing it, I feel that it is time to set the record straight:
I am not a martyr. If I can improve my life in any way – I do.
But, alas the problem lies not in the eye but in the optic nerve and for me, as with many people with sight loss, glasses do not help. In short, if glasses did help me I would certainly be wearing them.
2. “Are you training that guide dog?”
There seems to be a misconception surrounding guide dog owners and the way that they mobilise in society.
Having switched from using a long cane to a guide dog, my walking speed and posture has changed an awful lot and I now walk in a confident manner and with purpose. If a person with a guide dog walks confidently and ‘not like the stereotypical blind person’ this does not mean they must be a guide dog trainer!
3. “How long have you been blind?”
One of the biggest stereotypes around sight loss is that everyone who uses a long cane or a guide dog must have no vision whatsoever. One person with a guide dog may be fully blind, another may have some remaining vision like myself. I would always advise that when you discuss the topic of sight loss with a guide dog owner or long cane user that you use the term ‘visually impaired’ as it a more accurate representation of sight loss.
4. “You’re so normal!”
This comment, in my opinion, appears to imply that people with sight loss or other disabilities are less than ‘normal’.
Everyone is different. There is no such thing as a normal person. Disability is one small part of a person and should not be used to classify their place society.
5. “But you’re looking straight at me?”
Different individuals have different levels of vision, one person may be able to read print, whilst another may be able to see color. Some people with sight loss may be able to give you eye contact, or at least use their hearing to look in the direction of where your voice is coming from. Never presume that sight loss is all in black and white, because there are many different shades in the spectrum!
6. “She’s blind! I’ve got a chance to pull her!”
This is one of the more uncouth sayings I get in social situations such as the pub or a restaurant.
Some people think that my sight loss will increase their chances to ‘pull’. In the past this has shattered my confidence and made me recoil from dating situations. My sight loss should not be used as an advantage for other people to exploit. Disability as a whole is something that is misunderstood when it comes to dating situations and that is why I praise Scope for including dating as a key aspect of their End The Awkward campaign.
7. “I don’t know how you do it!”
As a writer, my thesis on life is to experience as much of the world and people within it as possible. Meet new people, experience different cultures and live for every second. Time affects us all, disabled people included, and I believe that it is imperative to design your life in the way you wish and to gain autonomy over yourself. The comment of ‘I don’t know how you do it’ suggests that every disabled person is an isolated person afraid to live their life.
Never let any part of yourself hold you back, you are in charge of your disability, it is not in charge of you.
8. “You’re so trendy! You don’t look blind!”
I am still shocked by the amount of people who pass this comment with a look of incredulity on their face about how my dress sense amazes them.
Having sight loss does not have to affect a person’s relationship to fashion or style. Style is a form of expression and it depends on passion and imagination and not on your level of vision. As a visually impaired person I appreciate clothes from the fabrics and embroidery used, to the outline of the garment and how it makes me feel when I wear it. I interact with style based on a number of different senses. There are many different visually impaired people, who appreciate clothes for their shape, quality and attention to detail.
After all, fashion is a creative outlet and is not exclusive to one set of individuals.
9. “How does your guide dog know the bus numbers?”
Whenever I hear this comment I want to laugh until my sides are sore. Instead, I simply bite down hard on my tongue to keep in in place and politely inform the individual that a guide dog can only do certain things. Guide dogs do not have the power to talk or read, they follow instructions from the owner and help them to mobilise and get on and off public transport. The owner has to have full knowledge of the route they intend to take and the dog will act as the car.
10. “She’s so pretty! It’s such a shame she’s disabled!”
This is occasionally followed by the slightly more mumbled comment of “what a waste”. When I hear this my tongue takes on a life of its own and sets the world to right! My appearance is not ruined by the fact that my eyes do not work in the same manner as the majority.
I speak to everyone who reads this and considers themselves disabled. Your disability is not a shame and as so long as you are happy in the skin you are in, never allow anyone to convince you that it is!
You can read more on my thoughts and opinions on the topic of disability, style and identity by following me on the links below. Everyone is welcome on my social campaign to rid the world of its misconceptions of not just sight loss but disability in general. Come and join me, have your say and let’s make a change for good!