For many disabled and chronically ill job-hunters, the dreaded thought of whether to tick that box to say you’re disabled is something that can be positively nauseating. I’ve been there: my mouse hovered over the form, toying with the idea, wondering whether it’ll scupper my chances of any sort of interview or acknowledgement of my application. The technical term for letting your current – or potential – employees know of your disability is called ‘disclosure’ – and the stats say that we’re very bad at it. When I took the plunge and left my teaching career, I wanted a clean slate. I’d given teaching a good go, and I liked it: but I knew I had to be reasonable and consider the toll my workload was having on my health.
At that point, teaching was all I ever really knew: shaking the security of all I’d ever known was intimidating, disabled or otherwise. There was a teacher at my school who was incredibly supportive of me throughout my school life, and – amidst the panic of exams and wondering what it was I wanted to do with my life – he offered me some sage advice: “If people don’t want you for who you are, they’re not worth your time”. During the flurry of job applications, these words began to resonate: perhaps it was time I stopped hovering the cursor over the ‘do you have a disability?’ tick-box. I eventually decided I should click it. I deserved to be honest with myself, and to be open to any potential employees. A few weeks later, I heard back from one of my applications; I bagged myself an interview, and I was thrilled.
The morning of the interview started in the way most of my mornings start: I strapped on my splint, something I wear almost daily on my wrist affected by cerebral palsy. Little did I know then, that this would be the first step in bringing my whole, true self to the workplace. I stepped into the interview room, splinted arm outstretched, and was met with the “what have you done to your wrist?” question. This was my chance. “I have a form of cerebral palsy so this splint keeps my wrist from misbehaving, basically!” My interviewers broke into a smile, and ushered me to sit down. And we got on with the interview.
Fast forward 18 months and I’m in the same role, with some of the same wonderful interviewees who provide me endless support every single working day. I know not everyone is as fortunate as I have been, but I will never regret taking that first, intimidating step of telling my employer about my disabilities. There’s no legal requirement to ‘disclose’, but without that knowledge, employers aren’t able to provide the reasonable adjustments that can truly help you to excel, and will allow you to be your true, authentic self, disabled or otherwise.
I’ll leave you with this reminder: “If people don’t want you for who you are, they’re not worth your time”.
About Heather Lacey…
Heather began advocating for disability rights through her blog, nosuperhero.co.uk providing an honest and open look at disability through her own lived experience. Her writing aims to raise awareness of disability and the ways it affects other aspects of a person’s life. Using her own experiences of cerebral palsy, Scheuermann’s kyphosis – a form of spinal curvature – and fatigue, Heather writes about the many elements of her life.
Her other passions include gin, guinea pigs, books and recipes.