In recent years employers have become much more positive about applications from graduates with disabilities. The law requires that employers treat disabled people fairly both during the recruitment process and in employment.
Research looking at how graduates got on in 2005 showed many successes. Six months after leaving university only 8.9% were unemployed; 22.7% were in professional employment compared with slightly more - 25.7% of able-bodied graduates (See What Happens Next? A report on the First Destinations of 2005 Graduates with Disabilities, AGCAS, 2007). Three and a half years later a follow-up study of 2005 university-leavers by the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed 4.7% of graduates with disabilities were unemployed, compared with 2.5% of other graduates.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 prohibits all employers except the armed forces from treating people with disabilities less favourably than anyone else.
The law defines disability as a physical or mental impairment with a substantial, long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out day-to-day activities. This covers many different sorts of impairments - from sight and hearing impairments to dyslexia, severe asthma and HIV diagnosis.
There is a get-out clause if a disability genuinely prevents someone from doing a job, but employers must make reasonable adjustments. These might include, for instance, a physical modification to equipment or the work environment, allowing flexible working hours, or, in the case of job applicants, giving more time to complete a recruitment test.
Some government funding is available to employers to pay for alterations to the workplace and equipment to enable a disabled person to be employed.
When seeking work options, you should be ready to apply for all opportunities that suit your interests and qualifications. However, you may want to look out for employers who signal a positive attitude to disability.
- They may state a commitment to diversity and equal opportunities in their recruitment literature and on their website.
- Their adverts may carry the two ticks symbol which guarantees an interview to all applicants with disabilities who fulfil the minimum qualifications for the job.
- They may be members of the Employers' Forum on Disability, or advertise with disability organisations and websites.
- Their recruitment and application documentation may encourage applicants to disclose a disability.
- Their application forms may be offered in alternative formats.
When you are chasing a job it is crucial to produce a top quality application. You need to show you have the attributes the employer is asking for and are enthusiastic to work for them. This is vital whether or not an employer appears to be positive about disability. Your university careers service is available to check what you have written and offer advice.
One disadvantage some students face is that a disability may limit your opportunities to experience part-time jobs and extra-curricular activities. This could leave you short of examples of when you performed skills that an employer is asking for. While a student, you need to seek out opportunities for useful experience wherever possible.
When to disclose?
An important question facing job-hunters with disabilities is whether and at what stage to say you have an impairment. You will need fully to disclose disabilities that affect the job you would be doing. If a disability is neither visible nor relevant, such as some mental illnesses, you have more leeway.
If you are going to make a disclosure, telling employers about your disability straight away will show that you are confident about it. On the other hand you may be concerned that early disclosure may lay you open to discrimination before you have had a chance to impress as a candidate.
At whatever stage you disclose an impairment you should do so in a positive way supporting your suitability for the role you are seeking. Opportunities to do so include:
- On application forms, it may be relevant to refer to your disability when answering questions designed to draw out examples of personal skills and qualities.
- Application forms may also contain a question about disability and health which must be answered accurately.
- If you are called to interview having not disclosed a disability, you may want to let the employer know about it so that they can make arrangements to ensure you are not at a disadvantage, as required by law.
- The interview itself offers a further opportunity for disclosure; you may need to discuss the practicalities of performing the role with a disability. However, you must try to avoid the interview becoming sidetracked away from your strengths as a candidate.
For further consideration of the issues concerning disclosure of disability, refer to SKILL's information sheet Disclosing your Disability. SKILL (National Bureau for Students with Disabilities) is a good source of information on a range of issues concerning disability.