DH co-editor, Srin recounts some thoughts and experiences from several years ago when he was finishing his studies and moving into – what was for him – the unknown world of employment as a trainee lawyer in the City of London.
At some time during my second year of university, I felt a sense of dread that in the not too distant future I would be leaving the somewhat comfortable environment of university and would need to enter the real world of work and earn a living.
To compound this fear of the unknown, I did not have a clue of what I wanted to do with myself. Even though I really enjoyed what I learnt as part of my genetics undergraduate degree program, I knew very early on that a career in scientific research was just not for me. But I also knew that had to do something that could keep my easily bored mind occupied with enough to do!
Many careers are completely impractical for a person with my disability to pursue as the reality of my disability is that I have very little physical strength. Careers where one needs only a functioning mind and an ability to communicate are few and far between. After much time being spent in careers offices, recruitment fairs and talking to people from various professions, I ended up setting my sights on a legal career in the City at one of the big commercial law firms.
Unlike going to school or university, there wasn’t (and probably there isn’t still) any well-worn path for a disabled person to follow, when it came to entering the work place. The high unemployment rate for those with disabilities is an unfortunate testament to that. It also quickly dawns upon you early on (whether rightly or wrongly so) that convincing an employer to employ you over a fellow able bodied candidate is not going to be an easy task. I lost count of the number of times I was in a world of doubt, asking myself why on earth anyone would give a disabled guy like me a job!
But just because something is not easy, does not mean it cannot be done; and in actual fact done in the one of the most fiercely competitive and demanding environments. Law firms in the City of London vary in the number of places they offer each year to new graduate recruits, ranging from a few to perhaps somewhere around 120-130 at the very largest firms. Suffice to say, battling my way in competition with tens of thousands of other very well qualified graduates for one of a relative handful of places required much hard work, perseverance and plenty of bloody mindedness!
Working through this, and my experiences of successfully obtaining a job on a mainstream graduate recruitment programme as a trainee lawyer, is a very long story that would probably be best covered in another article (or even a book, I have so much that I could write about the last five years!) one day in the future.
Once I got the offer of the job, the next big challenge was getting the help I needed. Before starting my job, I organised the necessary special arrangements with my employer. In terms of physical adjustments, this involved installing automatic doors and height adjustable tables. Other arrangements included getting permission for my personal assistant to be on site or ensuring that one of the many secretaries in the office was assigned to give me a hand with things such as getting folders of shelves or finding documents etc.
While it was rarely used, there was always the option of seeking assistance from a UK Government programme called Access to Work, which helps employers fund the reasonable adjustments that are need to accommodate the employment of disabled person.
Physical adjustments aside, I also had to adapt to finding personal working practices that worked for me. For a document heavy profession like law, it was important to ensure as much as possible was scanned. I did as much as could by email, since taking notes by hand was very difficult. Generally, being proactive was really important as well as being creative and flexible when problems arose. The only other important thing I can think of from personal experience was that I ensured that I was as open and honest with my employer about the help I needed as early as possible.
I learnt very early on that it is much easier to get the help in place at the beginning of a job rather than in the middle of trying to complete a task, where you may be kicking yourself that you did not ask for the assistance you needed earlier.
Like with going from school to university, making the next transition to work brings up a whole new host of difficulties that are unique to each individual and their particular disability. I have only touched briefly on a couple of issues that arose but for some who read this, it is likely that assistance at work is just one of many other problems faced in addition to things such as finding accommodation, transport, organising support workers etc. Therefore, drop me a message if you would like more information on how I dealt with some of these other issues or have any other thoughts or experiences related to employment.
By Srin Madipalli