Guest blog by LSE alumnus Edward Howlin:
My name is Edward and I have a disability. I never used to be able to say that – as a person with a ‘non-visible’ disability I have never had anyone stop and stare at me on the street, or had awkward conversations with people unsure how to broach my disability with me. In many ways I still feel a bit like a fraud calling myself disabled, yet I know now that these thoughts and feelings are manifestations of my disability that I live with, day in, day out.
I was diagnosed with severe Dyspraxia and Dyslexia whilst I was at my first year at university. Having come from a boarding school that was somewhat less than academically focused it seemed like everyone had some form of Dyslexia, and this was understood simplistically as a person who writes a bit funny and is a bad speller. However, the Dyspraxia was an unknown. Even to this day I tell people I’m severely Dyspraxic and they hear Dyslexic – and as much as I have tried my work version of MS Word still refuses to believe it is a real word – the red underline of shame continues to blight my existence when I need to talk about my disability.
Dyspraxia comes about due to your brain forming in a different way than ‘normal’. To put it in its simplistic terms I literally process the world in a ‘different’ way than most people. There was always a voice in the back of my head telling me that this ‘difference’ was a bad thing, and I should try to minimise it. After all, the animal that stands out from the crowd gets eaten by the lion. However, since starting work, I have come to understand that having a disability is not a weight around my neck, but something that is both accepted and valued in the work place.
Of course nothing in life is fully gold plated, and there are days when I do feel that perhaps people don’t ‘get’ me, but I see it as my responsibility to communicate this to my colleagues and they would, and do, ‘bend over backwards’ to accommodate my requirements. Of course this isn’t always ideal, but I try to put myself in their place – as a person with a non-visable disability, unless I explicitly tell someone, they probably wouldn’t realise. As with most things in life, communication is key.
Finding the right employer
Finding the right employer is also key. I approached the graduate market with a great LSE degree and the clichéd wish to make a difference, coming face-to-face with the awfulness that is the numerical and verbal reasoning brick wall. Thankfully I knew what I wanted to do – I wanted to make a difference to peoples’ lives in a challenging and rewarding workplace that I felt would support diversity and I wanted to join the Civil Service Fast Stream.
Not to sound like a sales pitch from PR, but the Civil Service Fast Stream provides fantastic opportunities for disabled employees. I can say this because I was rejected the first time I applied. In what was best described as an act of utter foolishness I decided the best option for me when I applied was to not declare my disability. It wasn’t. Having only been diagnosed at university, I was still coming to terms with my disability and how it affected me, and I took the approach that I had got this far in life without seeing myself as ‘disabled’ then I’d be damned if I ‘cop out’ and start calling myself it now. I managed to acquit myself well, and with practice and by developing coping strategies I managed to pass the numerical and verbal reasoning exercises. Only the assessment centre stood between me and a dream job working in the Civil Service Fast Stream.
Unfortunately, not declaring my disability resulted in my application being rejected at this final hurdle. What had let me down wasn’t the group exercises, which I performed admirably in, but rather the written policy exercise. Although I pride myself on a strong and effective reading comprehension (feel free to disagree after this post!) unfortunately, in the artificial construct that is the assessment centre, without my extra time allowing for the different way that I think, I was unable to complete the exercise on time. I was devastated, as I knew I had the ability and acumen inside of me to pass and excel within the Fast Stream but my stubbornness and ignorance on how employees treat applicants had stopped me getting my dream job.
Thankfully, through the hard work and dedication of Viki Chinn (careers consultant for disabled students) at LSE Careers, who helped me to both accept and better understand my disability, I was able to find the motivation and acceptance to re-apply to the Fast Stream for the next year with my full declared disability and, having been successful on the Fast Steam, I am currently seeking promotion to a senior leadership position.
Disability and the workplace
Within the workplace, I can say categorically that I have never seen any form of discrimination (which in my opinion is what I call the ‘hidden fear’ that disabled people are privately concerned about). Within the Civil Service diversity is encouraged, and managers and the organisation go out of their way to accommodate any access needs. Just like within the communities we aim to represent, there are disabled individuals in every directorate, performing their jobs with their required workplace adjustments.
Employers can request a workplace assessment, which will look at what, if any, adjustments need to be made to ensure the employee can perform their job to their best of their ability. There is no stigma associated with this, and the full cost is incorporated within the organisation. Concerned potential employees have asked me if they had to pay for their own adjustments – this is never the case within the Civil Service, and should never be the case within other organisations.
If I could do it all again, my advice to my younger self is that there is support and people willing and able to assist disabled students into the workplace of their dreams. LSE Careers was an absolutely vital resource for me, with their employees going above and beyond to help me in what was one of my lowest points in my life. Because of my inbuilt stubbornness I chose not to engage with the careers department until late in my time at LSE – I truly believe that if I had engaged early with their fantastic colleagues earlier I could have saved myself a large amount of anguish and stress. Please don’t make the same mistakes I did!
LSE Careers has a dedicated Careers Consultant, Viki Chinn, whose focus is on the transition from education to employment for students who have a disability or a neurodiverse condition. You can find more information for students with disabilities on the LSE Careers website, and please get in touch (we offer longer, flexible appointments) if you’d like support with anything including recruitment process, disclosure, reasonable adjustments, legal issues and other disability careers issues.