If you’re a student with a disability I’m sure you’re keen for it not to define you and you may feel that it won’t impact on your future plans at all. However, the short Q&A below might be helpful in underlining some of the things you may need to think about. Remember the careers service is here to help you!
1. I’ve got a long term health condition but that isn’t a disability is it?
The Equality Act 2010 defines you as “disabled” if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. So if, for example, you have ME or a degenerative condition, dyslexia or depression, a visual impairment or cancer you are protected by the legislation.
2. But I don’t have to disclose my disability to an employer if I don’t want to do I?
Unless you’re asked a specific question about your health you can choose whether you mention you disability to an employer and at what stage of the recruitment process you make a disclosure.
Sometimes it makes sense to let the prospective employer know early on. This could apply if, for example, you might need extra time for reading in an assessment centre, or if extra help navigating the building at interview would be useful.
Sometimes, you might want to mention your condition during an interview, perhaps to explain gaps in your work history or to demonstrate your resilience.
Students often say to me that they want to get an interview on their own merits and not because they’ve mentioned their disability. I understand this sentiment, but I can assure you that whilst you might get an interview under a guaranteed interview scheme, you will only ever get a job offer if you’re the right person for it. So why not help the employer to level the playing field by disclosing?
If you chose not to disclose during the application process, then think carefully about telling the employer about your disability at the point of job offer. If you fail to say anything and then your disability causes you to struggle with an aspect of the job, you may find that your employer is unsympathetic, or even, in extreme circumstances, that disciplinary proceedings are instituted against you.
3. But some employers are prejudiced against disabled applicants aren’t they?
I would love to say that there is no discrimination in the workplace and that everyone can be confident of being treated fairly whether or not they have a disability. However, the reality is that some employers are anxious about recruiting a disabled employee, particularly if they don’t understand the condition or are nervous about the costs of reasonable adjustments. So, it’s important to explain how you experience life with your condition to reassure the recruiter that you can do the job. Be clear about any adjustments you will actually require. The fact that you’re studying effectively for your degree shows your intellectual capacity is excellent. Take control of how your disability is perceived by articulating it in a positive way.
4. I am having a tough time with depression so should I wait until I’m better to think about career planning?
It’s true that we wouldn’t want to add any extra pressure if you’re struggling with depression or other mental health challenges. At Warwick the careers team works very closely with the mental wellbeing team to ensure students are appropriately supported. It may be that sharing your concerns about your future with a careers consultant could reduce your anxiety. Our conversations are confidential (except in extreme circumstances), we’re very happy to explore ways of boosting your self-confidence, identifying your strengths and we can encourage you to get involved in activities to help you reach your goals. We can do all this while taking into account your mental health condition. In my experience everyone’s mental health fluctuates throughout their lives, so waiting until you’re “better” to think about your life after university isn’t really necessary. However, I should also point out that at Warwick we offer careers support for life after graduation. If you do need to delay your career planning, for any reason, we’ll still be available when the time’s right for you.
5. But I get very tired all the time so I don’t think I can manage a graduate level job.
If your health condition makes you very tired, consider exploring which sectors might accommodate this. For example might flexible work arrangements or part time working be a possibility?
Perhaps you have to manage hospital appointments alongside work or need to avoid a long hours culture? Careers consultants can help you identify opportunities that would enable you to work without damaging your health.
I hope these points have encouraged you to think about how your disability might impact on career planning and to reassure you that the careers consultants are experienced in supporting students as individuals. We will never label you!