In the UK there are 1.3 million disabled people who want to work but are currently not. Disabled people around the UK face barriers throughout the recruitment process and in the workplace. That’s why Support to Work, Scope’s digital employment service, funded by Virgin Media, is so important. To support 1 million disabled people with the confidence and skills to get into and stay in work by the end of 2020, we need to not only raise money to fund this vital service but also understand why it’s needed.
So read on to hear the story of service user Charles, who shares his experiences of being supported into work.
My name’s Charles, I’m 24 years old, and severely sight-impaired/blind. I still have about ten percent of my vision remaining. I would describe myself as disabled, because I do see the barriers all the time with what I can and I can’t do compared to a non-disabled person. But when it comes to it, I don’t play on the fact that I’m blind. I just am blind.
I graduated with a first class honours degree in digital marketing and social media. I had fifteen interviews and they were all over the place. Some of the interviews were very ‘interesting’. One of which I turned up and had my guide dog, Carlo, with me. One of the people who met me said “Oh, you know, the conference room where the interview’s being held is upstairs. I’ll have to find one downstairs.” They were panicking. I said “It’s fine. I can climb stairs. There’s nothing wrong with my legs, it’s my eyes that don’t work so well.” When these sorts of things happened, I wanted to cringe so much.
I felt that it was a lack of understanding. At a lot of my interviews, I felt compelled to reassure the interviewer that my visual impairment would never restrict me in my work. I even had a guide dog refusal at one of my interviews because someone in the office was allergic. Sometimes I wouldn’t take Carlo and use my white cane instead – it was a deliberate decision to see if it affected my success rate at interviews. I thought I’d maybe get on to a level playing field. With Carlo, it was like, “right, I’m blind. Where shall we start?” I thought it was putting people off from the word go. I wanted people to see my personality before the fact I was blind.
A lot of people I’d spoken to in the past weren’t really understanding of how it felt to be knocked back and the barriers I was facing with being disabled. So when I saw Scope’s Support To Work service being advertised on Facebook, I was really interested straight away as I knew they would understand where I was coming from.
I applied and within a couple of days, someone contacted me and introduced me to my employment advisor, Zaid. We scheduled a phone call once a week and I sent my CV, cover letters and a rough guide on what jobs I was applying for, just to see what he thought.
Zaid was really thorough and came back to me straight away saying “your CV’s really good, but I’d tweak this, this and this”. At that point I was willing to try anything to see if it worked and it definitely helped me. We also talked about my interviewing technique which was where I was not being successful. Forming a professional relationship with Zaid really helped me and helped him advise me.
I had an interview with a software company called i-Nexus as a Digital Marketing and Campaign Executive. I remember on the day of the interview my-would-be boss was not at all fazed with the fact I walked in with my guide dog, Carlo.
I was bit more blunt in this interview. I said, “I’ve had lots of people turn me down, and I think slightly because I’m disabled, slightly because I’m fresh out of uni and haven’t got a wealth of experience, but I’m eager to learn. I’ve got this, this and this attribute, and I’m really looking for that one person that has the confidence to take that chance on me and see me flourish because of it.”
I think that’s what she loved about me as she said I came across as someone who is determined and inspirational – and that’s the sort of person she really wanted in her team to keep everyone motivated and happy. It was just completely open and honest from the word go and that’s what really helped us at that stage. I was delighted to receive a call saying I’d been successful in getting the job.
I’m now three months into the role and we’ve had absolutely no problems. My boss says “I forget. Except for the dog being a very big reminder, I forget you’re blind.” I think because I work as hard and can do things just as quick and as easily as anyone else, my boss sees that and I’ve never let my disability stop me from doing anything.
My workplace had never worked with a blind person or guide dog in the office and because of that, they now think they’d be more confident with approaching someone with a similar disability, or any sort of disability really.
I’d like to hope every disabled person would be given the time of day to talk about their disability. I’m quite open and honest about mine. I know some people are a bit more private, which is completely understandable. But I also think more open conversations makes everyone a lot happier in the workplace.
I suppose I consider myself to have a disability, but it’s not what defines me. Now, I’m just the guy that brings his dog to work. I feel like the lucky one really.