Natasha Valladares studied Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at LSE and took part in the Change100 programme in 2015, working at Leonard Cheshire Disability as a Policy and Campaigns Assistant. Change100 brings together the UK’s top employers and talented disabled students and graduates to offer three months of paid work experience – applications are open until 25 January.

Natasha is now a Graduate Management Trainee at Lewisham Council as part of the NGDP local government graduate scheme.

natasha-valladares

Did you enjoy your placement? What have been the highlights of being involved in Change100?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my placement, it’s been so much more than I expected. I’ve learned so much, both about the sector and myself. Change100 is fantastic in providing disabled students this opportunity and I know I’m certainly more confident and have gained lots of experience that will be really useful when applying for future jobs. My manager has been incredible, as has the entire team I worked within. I’ve been given the chance to really try everything and have developed my skills an incredible amount over just three months.

The peer-learning days are also really useful, and complemented my placement really well by giving sessions on various techniques for things like setting goals and managing disability at work just when I needed that sort of advice.

I think the best part for me was working in the office and realising there were lots of other disabled people at all different levels within the company who weren’t there on a scheme, but were full-time, permanent employees – that was incredibly motivating.

What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself?

Having only been diagnosed since I started university with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to work, which was devastating as I’d always done part-time and summer jobs and really enjoyed applying myself.

When I applied for Change100 I didn’t even apply to any other internships as I was worried about employers only seeing my crutch and not really seeing me. Now […] I feel so much more confident, because it’s clear to me that I do have a lot to offer and with the adjustments provided by Leonard Cheshire I’ve done the entire placement, full-time, with no need for sickness absence.

What skills have you learned or development during the programme?

I’ve been given so much more responsibility than I expected, and treated as a proper and useful member of the team. I’ve been at external meetings, produced briefings and reports and been to the Houses of Parliament quite often as part of my role. I’ve been able to get a taste of several departments inside the organisation as well as my home one, and have really gotten a huge breadth of experience, as well as honing very specialised skills.

Knowing how much I’ve learned definitely [made me] more confident about putting myself forward for more roles after university, and as I said already, the knowledge that I’m more than capable of working full-time with the right adjustments has been a real boost.

What are your top tips for others managing disabilities in the workplace?

I think it’s difficult as it really depends on your condition, your employer and your confidence. As I walk with a crutch, some of the task of disclosing is done for me, but with invisible disabilities – and things like the ‘what’ behind the crutch – it can be difficult knowing when and how much to share. But I really would recommend letting at least your manager know – it only has to be how your condition affects you at work, not necessarily what it is – so you can benefit from the appropriate adjustments.

For me, having the ability to review my adjustments was crucial because it was my first job since I was diagnosed and I wasn’t sure what I needed. Keeping the conversation with my manager open enabled me to [adapt] my adjustments until they were perfect for me, and also for us both to be really comfortable with my disability.

If disclosing your disability to your manager, any tips on how to do it?

When we started Change100 we were given a great form asking us to consider workplace tasks, and what obstacles would arise doing them with our condition. This helped me to work out what I was likely to need. For example, you could look at your job description and assess what would be problematic and how you would solve that problem. Then when you disclose you can lay out the problems and solutions (and not even need to mention the specific disability if you’d rather not) thereby giving your manager something clear and tangible to work with that doesn’t necessitate lots of awkward questions.

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