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Disability Disclosure: Advice and support

by Tahira Majothi on December 6, 2010

Recently I ran a workshop on Disability disclosure with Rebecca Ralton from Remploy.

The turnout was low, I was a little disappointed but it highlighted the sensitivities of running a workshop such as this, considering the varying degrees of support needed for just one difficulty or disability, whether seen or unseen, let alone multiple disabilities.

I’m often asked questions by students and graduates on what to put on CVs and how to prepare for an interview. In the case of international students, I face questions on UK recruitment practices, but throw in a physical or learning difficulty and people may well feel anxious about jobseeking e.g. people with dyslexia unable to put things in order or unable to spot errors on applications, or people with stammers worried about how to answer questions under interview and assessment conditions to people with autistic traits e.g. Asperger’s Syndrome being unable to read facial expressions.

I recently attended a briefing by an organisation called TalkCoach, they help to raise awareness of communication difficulties. At the briefing they explained that 10% of the population had communication difficulties, these could develop over the years or be acquired as a result of a brain injury. One example they gave was of a student with Aspergers who talked at people, giving them fact after fact, he thought this was how people conversed, he was unable to recognise when other people were bored, or were trying to join in to make it a two-way conversation.

The thinking therefore behind this workshop was to address any concerns about job seeking, and disclosing disability as well as to make students and graduates aware of their rights in the workplace under the new Equality Act. Let’s start by looking at the post university destinations of disabled graduates.

Earlier this year the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS) released a report entitled ‘What happens next? A report on the First Destinations of Disabled Graduates in 2007/08. The report’s key findings concluded:

  • The overall numbers of unemployed disabled and non disabled graduates both increased, perhaps an indicator of the recession, but unemployment was slightly higher for disabled graduates.
  • There were only slight differences in the number of employed non disabled and disabled graduates, but an increase in the numbers of disabled graduates classed as self employed
  • Experiences of disabled graduates seemed to vary depending on their disabilities. Graduates with ‘hidden’ disabilities and specific learning difficulties (spLD) seemed to fare better then people with other disabilities. They were found to have similar numbers of graduate level jobs or similar levels of unemployment when compared to non disabled graduates.
  • Similar numbers of disabled and non disabled graduates entered management and administration positions, earned similar graduate entry level salaries and similar numbers entered further study.
  • In terms of occupations disabled graduates tended to work predominantly within Health and Social work, Education, Arts, Entertainment and Recreation and Retail but seemed less inclined to choose financial or insurance occupations.
  • However graduates with mental health issues, wheelchair users and those with multiple disabilities had much higher levels of unemployment and when working found it harder to secure graduate level positions, perhaps an indication of the perceptions people (consciously or subconsciously) hold towards people with clearly visible physical disabilities?

Just picking up on the last bullet point, a recent BBC survey (Access all Areas) focused on attitudes towards Disability. They canvassed people of mixed ages and socio-economic groups. The survey found that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds were less likely to feel sympathy for disabled people and a few felt people with disabilities were work shy or doubted that their disabilities were even genuine. Paradoxically the majority of people agreed that the Government should make funds available for disabled people to live independently and to access work.

It’s little wonder people with learning difficulties or disabilities (when faced with an uphill challenge to change people’s prejudices) should feel so concerned about disclosing a disability.

If you have any such concerns, read on to find out your rights under the new Equality Act

The new Equality Act aims to address these concerns and build on the work of the earlier Disability Discrimination Act to strengthen the rights of people with difficulties or disabilities during the recruitment stages as well as in the workplace.

This means that you should not be treated unfairly if you have to use the Equality Act if you feel that your rights have not been met, similarly you cannot be victimised because you have chosen to go to a Tribunal or support someone else whose needs have not been met under the new Act.

In terms of application forms, equal opportunity questions are in principle, for the eyes of HR staff only, to check the diversity (or not) of applications and to help them look at what groups are under presented within their organisation. Therefore the equality questions are usually separated from the rest of your application before it is passed over to the people doing the short listing.

Under the Equality Act, the types of questions recruiters can put to you about your health, have been limited. You can only be asked about your disability/difficulty in some of the following circumstances:

  • To check you can carry out essential tasks necessary for the role
  • To monitor applications to check diversity and legal requirements
  • To check whether they need to provide reasonable adjustments at an interview such as holding the interview on the ground floor, or providing an interpreter etc
  • To check whether you can take part in the assessments

The full list and guidelines are available on the DirectGov website. You should also be aware that an employer cannot discriminate against you if it is found that they can make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you in the workplace, the key issue is what is classed as a reasonable adjustment?

This is a very new Act with no significant case law having been tested at an Employment Tribunal as yet. If you feel that you have been asked unfair questions, contact the Human Rights and Equality Commission for help.

Here are Rebecca Ralton’s (Remploy) tips on successful applications and interviews:

  • Know your qualities and abilities, soft skills are equally as important as qualifications to many managers.


  • Understand the recruitment process – there are generic rules around CV’s and interviewing.


  • Research your sector to understand market trends and where job opportunities are likely to arise. Good recruitment agencies will help you with this as will the University Careers Service


  • Manage your expectations – have a long and short term plan. Be prepared to take a job that may not be your 1st choice; it is better to be in work, paid or voluntary, than not.


  • If you have a disability or health condition find out about your rights. Under the Equality act an employer is not allowed to ask about disabilities during the recruitment process however there are some exceptions. If you have a disability concentrate on your skills but be comfortable in asking for any reasonable adjustments you may need at interview or in work. For further information look at the ACAS website: www.acas.org.uk


  • Remploy can help graduates with disabilities to find work and support them once they are in work. For more information please look at the website: www.remploy.co.uk or call the Manchester branch on 0161 834 1043

All great tips, and I would echo Rebecca’s key point, know your rights!

Here are some of my tips:

  • Remember your unique selling point (USP), what skills and attributes have you developed whilst living with a disability e.g. creativity, empathy, resilience, time management, communication, organisational skills, managing self etc.
  • I’m sure you can think of famous people with disabilities, people such as Politicians Ed Balls and David Blunkett, Stephen Fry, Tom Cruise, Albert Einstein, and comedians Robin Williams and Richard Pryor and so on. Some have found that their disabilities have helped not hindered their careers, such as comedian Josh Blue. Josh has Cerebral Palsy and has used his USP to carve out a career as a comedian. Josh Blue, Comedian.
  • It might be worth disclosing disability to build up trust with your employer. I had a query from a student with epilepsy who was worried about disclosing. I asked her to weigh up the pros and cons, what were to happen if she had a fit, and her employer did not know of her condition? I suggested perhaps she should consider this an opportunity to show how well she copes with fits and to produce guidelines for colleagues, so that they are aware of what to do.
  • If you are appointed, request a meeting with a HR representative as well as your Line Manager to draw up a detailed plan with your support needs so that you have someone to talk to and they can make reasonable adjustments.

If for instance, you have Dyslexia and are asked to take down minutes of team meetings, this may faze you, but speaking to your Manager can make clear what strategies you use or have used in the past to complete your work, and what you can do and what you may need support with.


  • It is also worthwhile visiting your local Disability Adviser at the Jobcentre to find out more about available support such as the Access to Work scheme so you in turn can make a potential employer aware of the support they can access.
  • Keep an eye out for companies that actively encourage applications from underrepresented groups such as people with disabilities or are actively supportive of people with disabilities, look out for the ‘Two Ticks’ symbol.
  • A lot of online applications will also ask you for details of a disability or learning difficulty, which may mean that extra time can be given to you or extra support, if this is not in place consider raising it with HR.
  • If you are invited to interview and have disclosed a disability, make sure you contact HR two days before your interview to confirm that any support or reasonable adjustments will be in place for you on the interview date, rather than be caught out on the day.

If you consider yourself to have a disability or learning difficulty and wish to know whether or how to disclose disabilities on CVs, applications or at interview, please book in for an appointment with myself or one of the other Careers consultants here at Salford.

Useful websites:

EmployABILITY (Graduate Schemes & work advice and support)

Remploy (Graduate Schemes & work advice and support)

Shaw Trust (Graduate Schemes & work advice and support)

SKILL National Bureau for Students with Disabilities

ACAS Organisation aimed at resolving employment disputes

Equality and Human Rights Commission – Your rights under the new Equality Act

Salford University Disability Advice Team (Student Life)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Aly January 3, 2011 at 8:39 am

I found your article really intersting reading. As a person with an unseen disability I am constantly frustrated at the focus employers and media place on a persons disability.

I believe that a massive mindset change is required. Many disabled people have skills, qualities and experience which organisations can benefit from.

Focus should always be on what the person CAN DO, and put reasonable adjustments in place to cover what they can’t do.

Are many employers hesitant about employing disabled people through fear (of the unknown) rather than embracing change and appointing the best person for the job?

In reality there are many organisations unaware that they are already employing disabled people – those who have chosen not to declare (for whatever reason) and those that do not realise that their medical condition falls within the DDA.

Reply

Jobs January 7, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I totally agree with you, I don’t think we are doing enough when it comes to disability, I very big change in mindset or mental attitude is necessary

Reply

Tahira Majothi January 10, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Hello there,

Thank you very much for your comments. Aly, in response to the question you posed, I would like to answer that by firstly revisiting the AGCAS report on the destinations of disabled graduates.

As you can see from the full report there are not huge differences in the numbers of disabled and non disabled graduates who class themselves as unemployed, and there was also very little difference in terms of the types of job roles they progressed on to.

There were optimistic trends such as an increase in numbers of disabled people becoming self employed, however it was clearly evident that destinations differed greatly based on the specific disability. People with physical or ‘seen’ disabilities tended to struggle the most when it came to jobseeking, perhaps an indication of the prejudice or ‘fear of the unknown’ (on the part of employers?), this was certainly in tune with the findings of the BBC Access all areas report of public perceptions of people with disabilities.

I do also agree with your comment Jobs, we do need a change in mindset, but similarly, it is imperative that people with disabilities know their rights, anticipate possible questions or concerns employers have and think about how best to demonstrate employability, what skills have been accumulated and what coping strategies have been employed successfully?

The secret to successful applications and interviews is to prepare fully and practice, perhaps book in to see a Careers Adviser for a mock interview?

Remember employers tend to be impressed by confident, enthusiastic and self aware individuals.

Reply

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