The struggle to secure a job
My name is Mei Lin Yap, I’m 29 years old and I am a young woman and I think of myself more “Like” than “Unlike” everyone else. I am a citizen just like any other!
Oh, and by the way I have Down Syndrome. I have been in the workforce for 11 and a half years but many people with disabilities are not as “lucky” as me.
FACT: 66% of people with disabilities are unemployed
I am one of the 33% with a disability who has a career and I want to change people’s perceptions on hiring someone with a disability because I struggled, and found it very difficult to secure a job, a paid job, a permanent job.
There is a huge hurdle for people with disabilities to find employment and sadly, for many people, this may never happen. People with disabilities tend to take a role that is unpaid, an internship for a period of time or an offer to volunteer in the workplace in order to try and gain necessary skills.
I applied online for multiple roles, but it didn’t transpire into anything meaningful. Imagine not having the courage to come face-to-face with an employer because of the fear of rejection….. Welcome to my world and the world of many others. This is a reality for many people with disabilities seen and unseen.
During the time that I was looking for work, I had no sense of purpose, no routine. I felt isolated and derailed and without supports in place it is an uphill struggle to get a job.
I eventually overcame the fear of rejection because of an event that was held in May 2015. This event was hosted by Bank of Ireland at a special breakfast briefing in the House of Lords with a number of companies in attendance. This event had been set up with the intention of encouraging businesses to be more open-minded about employing someone with a disability.
If it were not for these kinds of events, many people might still be unemployed, including me. It is really comforting to see initiatives such as Open Doors which sees 14 private sector companies coming together to promote more diverse and inclusive work environments.
Hired – What happened next?
My own connections eventually led me to work in 3 jobs.
I got a job as a Clerical Officer in a Dublin hospital, a Lecturer in Trinity College Dublin and now I am very happy to be employed in a permanent job as a HR Assistant in Cpl. My job in Cpl is very clearly defined, I belong to a team and I work in an environment that allows me to reach my full potential.
Like a lot of others, I have had some positive and some negative experiences in employment and this was mainly because I felt that I wasn’t being supported properly. I also felt overwhelmed by being thrown into the deep end and not knowing what the employer expected of me. I feared that I wasn’t treated like every other employee. These feelings may have been caused for several reasons in my opinion:
- In the beginning the employer does not know how best to support a person with a disability and is not sure how to set out a programme of work because they just don’t know the limitations of the disability, seen/unseen, inherited or acquired.
- It may be due to the lack of understanding on the part of the employee as to what is required of them. This could be because there has not been an open discussion. An employer may be afraid of having this discussion as they are unsure what the individual is capable of or how their disability could impact what is expected of them.
- Sometimes it can be a lack of accountability in organisations where everyone assumes someone else will include the person with the disability, but no buddy is assigned. Being included at breaks, on nights out or other activities is so important to feel accepted and included for anyone regardless of the disability. However it’s so important not to be smothered or mothered, it is the workplace after all!
My personal experiences to date have prompted me to summarise “The do’s and don’ts of hiring someone with a disability” from my perspective.
Here are my tips for putting good supports in place to ensure any new hire with a disability reaches their full potential.
- Assign a point of contact to the individual to address any questions they may have in relation to their job or contract and set out a clear onboarding process, so the individual knows who they are meeting and when.
- Ask the individual if they need any physical supports to do their job e.g. Is the chair/desk appropriate, any special requirements for the screen or any requirements for a uniform etc.
- Assign a buddy to support the new starter. The buddy should be someone who the individual can confide in and ask any questions about the organisation or role. Sometimes people with disabilities find it hard to socialise, and the buddy can play an important role to ensure they feel included (but again, not smothered or mothered!).
- Clarify what is expected of the new starter – set out the employer’s expectations from the individual, both in terms of their role and the expected behaviours, for example dress code, time keeping, phone use etc. – what is acceptable/viable and what is not and why.
- Give honest and timely feedback on performance. This is very important for personal development. Feedback forms are a good idea so that the individual can bring this home (and discuss with family members if needed).
- Don’t leave contact to the last minute about the onboarding process, a person with a disability can be nervous and anxious about starting. They want to be assured all is in place and what the schedule is in case they may need an explanation, assistance or need to make a request.
- Don’t wait for the individual to start to ask them if they need supports put in place to do their job. This can lead to the individual feeling like a nuisance and as time goes on they may not make the request at all and struggle.
- Don’t overload the individual with their duties, try to break down the job into “Bite size” pieces. Some people with an intellectual disability may not have good verbal skills and may be reluctant to ask for instructions to be repeated. So, keep sentences short and instructions clear. Put yourself into the shoes of the individual with the disability, how/what would you think might be difficult about the duties? Does the individual need a mentor? Would role play help?
- Don’t treat a person with a disability any differently to any other member of the team. Make sure that the duties and the activities do not let the disability define or isolate the individual. For an individual with a disability, equality is extremely important.
- Don’t assume someone else is looking out for the person, inviting them for tea breaks etc.
- Don’t avoid giving honest constructive feedback.
As I said at the beginning, this is my perspective on hiring someone with a disability.
People with a disability bring different skill sets, unique perspectives, passion, positivity and goodwill to an organisation. They know what it is like to struggle and are willing to work hard but may need some additional supports. Employers should understand that it may take a bit longer for the individual to adjust but Employers should focus on the ability rather than the disability.
Hiring a person with disability supports diversity and inclusion.
Planning is key to success, the right facilities, a buddy system, explanation of the job and timely introductions.
I am aware that when we (people with disabilities) dream big and others dream big for us (providing real opportunities), then we can achieve our full potential.
I urge every employer to focus on the ability and not the disability.