[Scope's Head of Policy, Campaigns and Public Affairs, James Taylor, sits on a sofa with Scope storyteller, Shani Dhanda.]
James: Many disabled people continue to face barriers getting into work and staying in work. I think the fact that employers still think that disabled people are too risky to hire shows how much work we have to do to tackle some of the challenges disabled people face today.
Text on screen with voiceover: Shani is an experienced events manager and disability rights advocate from Birmingham. Shani tells us of her experience when looking for and staying in work.
[Return to shot of James and Shani on sofa]
James: Tell me how you started out in your career.
Shani: So, when I went to college I was around the age of 16 and I was applying for part-time jobs. I wanted to be like my friends, I wanted my freedom and independence and I wanted my own money.
When I was leaving secondary school, you know you get your careers advisor and the advice I was given was really poor. It was really negative and I was just looked at as a person with a disability and not my skills or what I even wanted to do or become. I left that appointment with that careers advisor really disheartened and really uncertain of how my future was going to be. It was really sort of my first taste of the journey to come.
James: So what advice would you give to your younger self?
Shani: See what's out there. Do get different advice but you don't have to listen to it and take it on. If I did I wouldn't be where I am now and I wouldn't have achieved the things that I have.
James: The next big thing is the interview stage, so you put your application in. What's your experience been of applying for jobs and then interviews?
Shani: I used to disclose on my covering letter that I had disability. I soon learnt that I needed to take that off.
James: And did you think that was the reason? The fact you were writing your condition on your form or CV?
Shani: I didn't at first but when it was drawing to the hundred mark, I was like, this is ridiculous. Why aren't people giving me an opportunity for interview? So I did a little experiment. I took it off and I was invited for interview straight away! I wanted to let people know who they were going to meet but not that my disability is everything about me. I have fantastic skills that I could give to that organisation.
James: And what advice would you give to disabled people that perhaps are worried about going for an interview or worried that their condition is going to be brought up or, you know like you said, the elephant in the room?
Shani: I think you really have to own you condition and own how you want to speak about it. If you're not comfortable, you don't have to. If you are open and honest about it and you have that discussion from the start from when you're being interviewed or from the recruitment process, I think it's only going to help if you are offered a job and to help you settle in that employment.
I think it sort of helps you continue that conversation with different people in the organisation. HR departments are a great starting place if you don't know who to talk to. They can help with all of that.
James: Because you don't have to say it in an interview, do you? You don't have to be "I'm here, I'm disabled, I'm a great person for this organisation", if you don't feel comfortable disclosing it to the person on the other side of the table. You can speak to the HR manager or the other officers in the organisation.
Shani: Absolutely and in my situation my disability has nothing to do with my job and I'm glad it's seen separately. Yes, it's part of me, but it's one small part of me and there's lots more to me than just that.
James: So when you started out at work did you know what adjustments you might want or need?
Shani: It was actually the employer that recommended I have an ergonomic desk assessment. From that report, they recommended I needed a footstool, a smaller keyboard and a bespoke chair made for my size. It sounds crazy but I didn't know what I needed but I couldn't live without those things now. They really do make the world of difference.
Whilst we're experts in our conditions and how they affect us daily, we're not always experts in what technology there is out there that can help us or small changes that can easily be made. Some people know what kind of adjustments they need, some people may not need any, it's just about exploring what policies the workplace might already have, speaking again to different departments like HR.
There's lots of different services like Access to Work so you can call on them and get any assessments that you might need. Just educate your employer as well if they may not have done this before, they might not know the process, so you might have to actually educate them on it. But in my experience, it's all been pretty positive and the employers have learnt a lot from me and the things that I've been able to educate them on.
So, use the services that are out there and definitely call upon them when you need them. You might need them a few years after your employment, you might not need them straight away, but they are there and they are a service for us to use.
You can get support and advice on employment by visiting Scope's website at scope.org.uk/work