When I was applying for graduate jobs I clearly remember filling in one of the application forms that asked me: do you consider yourself to have a disability? There was a box to tick if you did. I had no idea why they wanted to know and my immediate assumption was that if I ticked the box, they wouldn't want me.
I turned to my mother for advice; she said: 'you don't consider yourself to have a disability so don't tick it'. And that was true - I didn't consider myself to be disabled; it wasn't a label I used. Being in a wheelchair had rarely prevented me from doing the things that I wanted to do. However I can't hide my disability from an interviewer and I was concerned that if I didn't tick the box they would view me as dishonest. I ticked the box.
And here we are, 20 years later, with students having the same concerns about openness. In our recent GreatWithDisability.com survey over three quarters of respondents said that they were concerned about being open about their disability during the recruitment process. The greatest concern was, not surprisingly, being discriminated against. This was closely followed by being perceived as a 'hassle' due to needing support or a change to the usual process that other, non-disabled, candidates didn't require.
The reason that this is significant is because as long as these individuals are fearful of being open they will continue to find it difficult to find employment. Their fear will either prevent them from applying for a job or they will apply and, as a result of not being open, will not get the support they require that allows them to show the strengths and skills that the employer is looking for.
Although the survey found that over three quarters of those who responded were concerned about being open, it also found that over half could see the benefits of being so. The biggest perceived benefits were being able to be honest with the employer from the start of the relationship and obtaining the support that they required. It is clear that whilst there is a lot of fear about openness, these individuals do desperately want to be open and believe that it the right thing to do.
So how do you encourage these individuals to overcome their concerns and be open about their disability? Employers are by far the best placed to do this. They need to let disabled graduates know that they are wanted and that they are still wanted even if they have a disability. Employers need to talk about issues such as the support they can offer both during the recruitment process and once someone has joined the organisation, about their inclusive culture and their Disability Staff Networks. Most importantly they need to share the personal stories of their employees who have been open about their disability during the recruitment process, who were successful in obtaining employment and who continue to enjoy a successful career within the organisation. The profiles such as those on www.greatwithdisability.com are excellent examples of where organisations have done just this.
In the last decade there has been a 265% increase in the number of students on campus who receive the disabled students' allowance. In 2014, 10.7% of graduates in the UK had a disability and yet a very small proportion are successful in finding employment. Unless this issue of anxiety over openness is addressed, it will continue to be difficult for these talented people to find employment. Not only is this a criminal waste of their talent, employers are also missing out on individuals who could make a difference to their organisation.
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