Guest blog by LSE alumna Melissa Patel who describes her experiences throughout her job search and observations on how some organisations address disability in the workplace:

Before starting to apply for internships at the end of 2014, I had not really considered how my disability would affect my applications. Furthermore, I had not thought about whether or not to disclose and I did not realise the extra challenges my disability would give me throughout the recruitment process.

Up until university, I had always been advised by my primary school, secondary school, and college to ensure that I talk to the disability service in my next level of education so that they could support me where necessary. However for a job application, the decision was completely up to me whether I wanted to tell my prospective employer. The nature of my disability is physical one and can be seen as soon as I meet anybody face-to-face. This fact, and because I knew I would require some adjustments in the recruitment process, led me to disclose my disability and adjustments to the three companies that I applied to. I am now going to take the opportunity to share three very different approaches that my prospective employers had.

Employer 1

My main adjustment that I required was to have a face-to-face interview as opposed to a telephone one as I experience pain in my arm if I hold the ‘phone for too long. After contacting the recruitment team and explaining the reason behind my request, I received the following response:

Unfortunately we are unable to facilitate your request as we do require this interview to occur over the phone to be fair to all candidates. We would advise perhaps using the loudspeaker function or a hands free set if at all possible.’

 I was surprised and disheartened by this response as an employers that described themselves as ‘inclusive’ had not considered that a ‘phone interview was not fair to all candidates as I would be struggling when trying to answer their questions over the ‘phone. However, LSE Careers very kindly let me use one of their rooms and their landline loudspeaker ‘phones. I was successful at this stage and invited to an assessment centre. Here, the assessor decided, without asking if I was happy with it, to say in front of the group: ‘Because of your disability, you can have extra time in this long written task – would you like to sit in another room away from the other candidates?’ I had been told that at an assessment centre no candidate should know whether any other candidate had any adjustments so I was shocked when the recruiter did this but continued with the assessment centre without letting it bother me too much.

Result: No offer.

Employer 2

Before the assessment centre, candidates were asked to send an email if they had a disability or required any adjustments. I responded with a brief description of my disability and the extra time adjustment for written tasks. I did not hear back for a week and therefore emailed again. After this, to grant the request, I was asked to provide evidence (a note from my doctor, stating that my disability does in fact impair my performance). I complied but was surprised that the company requested such a detailed/official account of my disability and felt as though I was being accused of lying.

Result: No offer

It’s not all bad news..! Employer 3 (my current employer)

After disclosing my disability on this application, I was contacted shortly after by a focal point who worked with me throughout the recruitment process to see if I needed any adjustments. I requested a face-to-face interview instead of a 90-minute telephone interview and unlike Employer 1, the company was happy to conduct a face-to-face interview and even came to LSE to do it. 10 days after the interview, I was told I had been successful and was offered the internship. I also accepted their job offer after I completed my assessed internship.

Before starting both my internship and my full-time job in September 2016, I was called by a HR representative and asked if I required any adjustments in the work place. They were incredibly accommodating and gave me a lighter laptop and the option to logon from my personal laptop at home remotely so that I didn’t have to carry my work laptop to and from the office. I am very much the type of person that does not like to cause a fuss and at no point did I feel that I was being a nuisance or difficult. They wanted to ensure that I had all the tools I needed in order for me to perform at my best and my team supported me. I am also very lucky to be in an environment where the people around me respect me and do not see my disability as an issue.

Conclusion

To conclude, I want to share a few tips to anyone applying for roles with a disability:

  1. First, disclosure is a very personal decision and there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing whether to disclose.
  2. If you require any adjustments during the recruitment process or perhaps in the work place – don’t suffer in silence. It would be good to disclose as your employer can then help you perform at your best.
  3. If your employer does not help you or acts in a way that you don’t feel is correct – this would be a good time for you to assess and ask yourself whether the company would be a good fit for you. Although at the time I was unhappy about the way I treated by the first two employers, I am now very happy that I did not join their companies. If they are unable to help me with a small request, how can I expect them to respect me as an employee if I joined their company?
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