My name’s Matt. I have Spina Bifida and use a wheelchair in my daily life.
I’d been out of regular employment for a few years but kept myself active and busy volunteering regularly in sport-related roles. This included being a coach, mentor and referee – as well as occasional tutoring roles with newly qualified coaches.
But as time went by, I started to feel that roles in the sports industry were drying up for me, and my interests had developed toward inclusive education and the charity sector.
I started looking for work but was unsure about my experience. I had been employed outside of the sports sector in the past, but only on short-term contracts.
I thought carefully about skills I had, and I quickly realised my experience volunteering and the commitment I had shown, was something that might make me stand out from other applicants.
As I looked back at all the volunteering I’d done, I noticed that I’d also gained quite a lot of office and IT skills whilst volunteering on committees. I realised that I already had the experience needed for more office and digital-based roles.
So when I saw a job advert with Scope, as a Parent Adviser on their new Navigate service, I was keen to apply.
My lived experience of disability helped me secure a job
The Parent Adviser role would be supporting parents whose children have received a diagnosis within the last year - or started on a pathway to potential diagnosis - of any form of disability or impairment.
As well as my volunteering experience, I quickly realised my own lived experience of disability was actually a valuable skill I could bring to the role. So I applied and was thrilled to be offered the job!
I started in early 2019 as one of the Parent Advisers based in Cardiff, supporting parents over the phone and online, across England and Wales.
Volunteering gave me transferable skills
Looking back over my volunteering roles, I realised just how much confidence I’d gained through the coaching and mentoring I’d done. And how that experience had led to a voluntary internship with the BBC (as a radio sports reporter), giving me the confidence I’d need to talk to parents.
It’s now clear to me that volunteering gave me so many skills I’ve been able to transfer to the workplace. Even just travelling around the country, when competing in sports, gave me the confidence to travel independently and simply catch a train to work every day.
When I was looking for work, I didn’t think my academic qualifications were really going to make me stand out in the jobs market, and I couldn’t help but feel my wheelchair was likely to (and probably did), put some employers off.
I was so lucky to get the opportunities I did in sport, and am proud that I was committed enough to do the volunteering required to progress in that world. But I never realised, until now, how volunteering would give so many advantages and skills for my future.
My experience through volunteering has helped me overcome so many challenges, and I would advise anyone looking for the edge that might just get employers to look past your disability, to use any volunteering opportunity you can to make it happen.
If you're looking for volunteering opportunities, Scope is a great place to start.