Two and a half years ago I was happily going about my business studying engineering at the University of Bristol and revising for the end of my second year exams. One day I noticed a slight fuzziness in my left hand eye and got it checked out at the Optometrist who confirmed I had dropped 3 levels on the eye chart in the space of a week. Later that week I suffered a catastrophic visual failure in my left eye which then transferred to my right eye in the proceeding week rendering me registered blind over the period of roughly a month.
I very much describe that month as my Apollo 13 moment – two oxygen tanks exploded on Apollo 13 and as the craft struggled to get back to earth someone said to mission control in Houston “this could be the worst day in NASA’s history”. Mission control retorted “if we get these three astronauts back to earth, this will be the best day in NASA’s history”. This was what it was like for me at the time; the situation could have gone either way for me.
I wanted to get back to university immediately to help with my rehabilitation and started third year in a very limited capacity. Primarily I was thinking that I needed to get my life back on track but secondarily I was thinking about what life was going to be like for me after university in terms of employment. The visual nature of engineering meant it was now out of the question and my attention turned to the world of finance where my skills could be transferred over relatively easily. I started seeing statistics whilst applying for internships that summer such as 9/10 employers don’t think they could host a visually impaired person at work and 10% of graduate leaving university declare themselves as having a disability yet only less than 2% of those find meaningful employment two years after graduating. This indicated to me that there were huge barriers of entry to the graduate job market for disabled candidates entering it and I started realising those barriers as soon as I embarked on the milk round.
The two main barriers of entry I faced were becoming bogged down in the application process with extra time requests, reasonable adjustments requests and liaising with HR; many city employers hired on a rolling basis and by the time I had sorted adjustments, the spaces for internships had already been filled. Another barrier to entry that transcends disabilities was confidence, and I felt the worry on a phone interview, first round interview or assessment centre about disclosing my disability took away from my performance on the day.
Facing these barriers I went to my Universities careers officer and asked what there was out there in terms of help and I was pointed towards employability. Just looking at their website it was clear concise and had a toolkit for applying to city jobs. The corporate brands on the employability website instantly gave the organisation the credibility to me as a candidate and the homogenous application forms made the process of applying for multiple firms efficient and easy.
I applied to the financial regulator; the FSA and Employability communicated with HR regarding my adjustments and replaced the proposed group exercise at the assessment centre. It taught me that any assessment that might pose problems can be worked around and other ways of assessing can be brought in to mean you are fully assessed like all fellow candidates. Employability continued to work with me during my internship at the FSA to do with my setup at work and helped me with all of my reasonable work place adjustments, they visited me during the summer program to make sure everything was going well. Having an organisation that assisted me with sorting out the disability side of applying for graduate positions gave me the confidence to perform on the job and felt that I didn’t have to give my disability any attention as Employability had the expertise and experience to point me In the right direction should I have faced any difficulty at work. The time that Employability members spent with me strategizing on getting round obstacles made me feel that they had invested in me and really wanted to do well and I am currently moving into my second rotation on the FACE graduate program.
At EmployAbility we work with disabled university students and graduates to ease the transition from education into employment. To take advantage of these opportunities, the first step is to register with us. You can also contact us with any specific queries.