Finding a new job when you have a disability

Are you someone with a disability and currently looking for a new job? Are you someone who is looking for the next step in their career?

I have heard of so many people with disabilities struggling to find work that they feel is suitable for them, or feel they are not being given a fair chance because they have a disability. To be honest, I have been one of them in the past, and I will likely be one of them again in the future.

However, there are lots of things that you can do to get to where you want to be (if you still want to, and are able to carry on working). There are plenty of people with varying degrees of disability who still enjoy very fulfilling careers.

There is no getting around it, looking for a new job is really hard work for anyone, and this is made even more challenging when you have a disability. It can be especially frustrating as a large proportion of employers have very outdated views and a lot of misconceptions about disability and employment of disabled people, with many fearing that disabled employees may be less reliable, less competent (wrongly so) and often fear that there will be increased absence (again wrongly so).

For someone with a disability, we have our own anxieties about looking for a new job. I was recently in this position myself. Having been settled with my current employer who is absolutely amazing about my MS, I was so frightened about having to look for a new job. The types of thoughts racing through my mind

  • what job can I do?
  • should I disclose my disability?
  • if I do disclose my disability, will it be used or perceived in a positive/negative way?
  • is the two ticks scheme genuine?
  • what will I do if I feel very unwell or my disability is obvious on the day of the interview?
  • will the new employer be accommodating?
  • will they give me the same reasonable adjustments as I currently have?

These are just a few of the anxieties that raced through my mind. Bearing in mind that I have been diagnosed with MS for quite a few years now and am pretty confident in sharing it with people.

I retrained from being a secondary school teacher (as this did not suit my needs at all and made me very unwell) into a role where I am sat down for most of the day and spend more time in meetings than anything else. Many of you might be at the stage where you are wondering what jobs you can do at all, like I was, when your current role is no longer suitable. Well – before you consider jumping ship and looking for a new job to start with, make sure that you have considered what reasonable adjustments your current work place could be making for you. Don’t forget that these can be things like

  • flexible working times
  • fewer shifts/days/less contracted hours
  • more frequent breaks
  • office nearer to the bathroom
  • ability to work from home a certain portion of the week
  • adaptations to your work space
  • ability to go to hospital appointments no questions asked
  • adjusted sick leave for disability related absences

If you have exhausted these options, or you are looking for new employment for other reasons, then carry on reading!!

Since retraining in my current role, people ask me how I got my job. To be honest, there is no getting away from the fact that (a) I find it very challenging even now to maintain the job I do having MS and (b) it was really challenging getting the job in the first place

When I was looking for a way out of teaching, I spoke to an occupational health specialist who made some recommendations about the types of roles I could go for. When I was browsing I seemed to come across more jobs that I felt I couldn’t do than those that I could. This in itself was really demotivating especially when I was already feeling at one of my lowest points.

When I came to apply for roles that I knew I could do (given reasonable adjustments), I also found that employers didn’t always look beyond my disability which I felt either prevented me from getting an interview, or prevented me from getting past the interview stage. This was especially frustrating (and I am sure you will feel the same) when you know you are capable of something given half the chance (or just an equal one) to demonstrate it.

In the end, I did manage to get a job – in fact it has led to the role that I currently do now  so all of the hard work and determination/tenacity paid off in the end. In all honesty, I think that the knock backs and rejections have been beneficial and have contributed to who I am today.

I understand that taking rejection can be really hard for anyone, especially when you have a disability. I hope that these following useful tips will be able to help you in your job searching.

Advisory: Oh and before you carry on reading – I would just like to add that I am not an expert in this. I am just passing on some of my own experiences. If you have any personal concerns, please go and seek professional advice from a careers advisor, an occupational therapist, your MS nurse or a disability advisor at your local job centre.

Think realistically of what you can and cannot do (with adaptations/reasonable adjustments)

Especially when you are first diagnosed with a chronic illness it is easy to get really stuck on the negatives rather than the positives. This means that when looking for a job you might find it harder to think about what you can do (with adjustments in place if needed) and may begin on a downward spiral worrying about all of the things that you cannot do. I found it really useful to spend some time with a disability advisor and an occupational therapist to help me see what aspects of my working life were manageable and what wasn’t, and the types of things I needed in my career to make it work for me. This might help you think about the types of roles you might want to apply for, but also the types of reasonable adjustments you might want to ask for in the future.

Who are you?

Similarly to the thinking positively about what you can do rather than what you can’t – remember that you are more than just your illness! Think of all of your other skills, experiences and talents that could be transferrable to other roles – are you reliable/responsible? Are you organised? Do you have exceptional communication skills? Can you lead people? Solve problems? What interests you?  It is so easy when you have a chronic illness to be all consumed by it and reference everything back to it. Over the past few years, I have tried to remember that I am so much more than MS, and this has really helped when it has come to looking for jobs.

Make sure you are ready

I remember when I went for one of my first interviews after I was diagnosed with MS and one of the questions was ‘what is one of your proudest achievements’. As I was feeling quite low, my mind was full of the fact I had MS and I was feeling like a failure, I could not think of anything that I felt I had achieved, so really struggled to answer this question. Looking back – I was probably not ready to be out there on the job market. I had quit my teaching job at the time and was not in the position to not have a job so I needed to be searching, applying and attending interviews. This is such a stressful and pressured process for anyone, even without a chronic illness. At the time of my diagnosis, I was struggling to think positively about myself which probably came across in my applications and interviews. Also, fatigue was such a factor in my ability to complete all of the work involved!

When I was looking for a job recently I had to do so on top of my full time role… this was a mammoth challenge. The time I would normally spend resting and trying to recover was spent filled with applications and preparing for interviews.

I would absolutely recommend that you make sure you are ready physically and mentally for a job hunt. Try and get all of your support network around you to be aware, and rally the team to make sure they can take up the slack. If you are working, perhaps take some time off (annual leave) to update your CV, fill out forms or gather things you need for application forms.

Make use of the services available to you

Careers advisors and occupational therapists can be a fantastic support when you are looking for a new job. There are disability advisors at most job centres who can offer support with application forms, CVs and interview practice.

A lot of MS organisations also offer help and support for employability (including searching, preparing for an interview and talking to your new employer about MS and reasonable adjustments). Your MS nurses are also an incredibly valuable tool – don’t forget to use them!

Scope is a disability charity in the UK which also offers a range of services for people with disabilities looking for employment including telephone and online support.

Look for disability friendly employers

Whilst you are job searching, you might have come across some employers that market themselves as ‘Two-Ticks’ employers or ‘Disability Confident’. In the UK there is a governmental scheme for employers to recruit disabled people for their talent, skills and abilities. With this scheme, if a disabled person fulfils all of the essential criteria set out in the specification, they will automatically qualify for an interview.

Also, the Disability Forum is an organisation that makes it rewarding for employers to employ disabled people.

Even in those instances though, there is no real way of identifying a truly disabled friendly organisation…

Decide if and when you need to/want to declare your disability

I have several views on whether you should tell a potential or new employer about your disability. These are my own views, and I accept that many people have different views to this.

From my own experience (including those with Disability Confident recognition), I would personally choose not tell a potential employer at any stage during the recruitment process that I have a disability. I may choose to tell relevant people if I was offered the job and it had been confirmed in writing (including occupational health and direct line manager) – this has always proved useful as then I am able to have reasonable adjustments put in place. Over time, I have also told my team members, but I have done so once they know me for ‘me’.

During the recruitment however, I would like a potential employer to assess me against all other candidates equally based on my skills and abilities and not leave myself open to prejudice or discrimination.  I personally try not to disclose anything that would come under the ‘Protected Characteristics’ – in the UK these are religion, gender, disability, marital status, pregnancy, sexuality, or gender reassignment.  I do not answer any questions that would lead me to disclose anything about any of those areas either. The main reason for this is that if I am not successful, I can be confident that it had nothing to do with my MS, and was based on my performance or personality/abilities etc. alone.

This is of course entirely my own experience and it has been challenging using this method when dealing with the more physical aspects of MS. If you have concerns about discrimination or how to tell your employer that you have MS, consider talking to your MS Nurse about where to go for support, contact the Disability Advisor at your local job centre, and remember that the MS Society have some great resources to help!


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