Applying for any position can be nerve wracking. You want to highlight your strengths, what you can bring to the role and why and employer should choose you above all your competitors.
Imagine then, that you have a disability, a hidden disorder or a mental health issue. Do you declare this in your application or does this put you at risk of being treated differently or even worse, your application rejected?
74% of people with disabilities don’t use a wheelchair or anything else that might visually signal their impairment to the outside world.
For those with so-called invisible impairments, such as depression, chronic pain, dyslexia or epilepsy, it can be much harder for employers and colleagues to identify their struggles and how to support them.
The 2010 Equality Act requires employers to make “reasonable adjustments” in order to remove barriers to work but many people don’t class themselves as disabled and are reluctant to put a tick in the box for many personal reasons.
We asked one of the graduates on the Welsh Financial Services Graduate programme to share their experience about working with dyslexia and ask; is it best to be open with employers?
Have you always been open about your dyslexia and why?
I was diagnosed with dyslexia fairly late in my childhood, I was in year 8 at school. Since my diagnosis my parents and I have been open about dyslexia. It was important to be open in the first instance because we needed to find the best support for me as possible. I had been falling behind my friends at school and was put into classes where people were misbehaving and had no interest in learning. By being open with my parents and teachers at this early stage I was able to get help through one to one tutoring sessions at school. I began to learn things in different ways that were more suitable for me and I believe this type of tutoring allowed me to progress through school, higher education and university. Year on year my results have improved, even now as I study for my MSc.
How has it affected you in the past (at school/Uni/previous jobs)?
I felt the effects of dyslexia whilst at university as I needed to put in more hours than others reading articles and books. However, during university I was reassessed and re-diagnosed which meant I was given computer software on my laptop that assisted me during reading and writing. This software was a huge help because it meant that I could listen to audio versions of an article instead of reading them and the software also corrected misspelt words in my essays which meant I could do more work in less time.
How have the employers on the graduate programme supported you?
Managers on the graduate programme have been helpful. During the first rotation my managers looked at possible amendments that could make my day-to-day role easier but unfortunately, my employer wouldn’t pay for any supportive software. Rowena and Annette of the Graduate Programme were very supportive and directed me to apply for a government grant which meant I could have specialist software installed on my work computer which I’ve kept since rotating.
My second manager was even more supportive and allowed me to attend personal tutoring sessions at university during the working day. This not only helped with the challenges of my Master’s degree but also benefited my approach to work. My managers have not been afraid to set me work tasks and have commented that they believe dyslexia hasn’t stopped me in any way, instead it has taught them ways to approach in and tackle challenges in different ways.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest challenge that I have had to overcome is falling behind friends in school and my parents thinking I would never academically get beyond my GCSEs. It wasn’t until I was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia that I understood why. The diagnosis gave me opportunities to adapt my learning styles and begin to improve my skills and abilities.
Through personal tutoring, using supportive software and understanding how to use dyslexia to my advantage, I was able to complete my undergraduate degree with a 1st class Honours which was a great achievement. This proved that by taking a different approach to learning and being open about dyslexia, I was able to undertake and complete my bachelor’s degree, and now have to opportunity and confidence to complete a Masters.
Do you think employers are generally good at adapting to people who may need additional support whether this be physical challenges or mental health?
I found that one organisation did not have a culture that supports employees to be open about dyslexia and that there wasn’t really awareness around the office about it and its implications. I think its likely people who had dyslexia or other hidden difficulties may have kept it to themselves.
My experience with the employer that did not want to pay for any additional equipment as I was only on a 6-month placement was not very encouraging and this attitude could affect the openness of other people in the office. However, once I was given the grant by an external supplier, my manager was supportive in getting the software on to my computer as fast as possible and I had access to it within a week.
Although I finally had the software on my computer at this point I was 3 months into my first rotation which considering I was open from the interview stage is a long process. I think employers could look at improving these time frames as it would benefit the employee and the business.
A starting point would be to give employees awareness training about the “hidden” things people may be dealing with to break the stigma and for HR teams to have support plans in place, so people aren’t made to feel like an inconvenience.
What advice would you give to someone writing an application who may need additional support?
When writing an application, it is best to be open and honest; explain what you struggle with and why. This detail is important as it will allow people to understand how they can help. It could also be worth highlighting what your strengths are and give solutions by saying what the easiest way to work is for you. This can open up new opportunities as there may be more suitable roles and responsibilities that suit your skills.
Do you think it is best that people are open with employers about their “hidden difficulties?” Whether this be dyslexia or mental health, epilepsy, ADHD or any other condition.
Personally, I feel that being open to employers about hidden difficulties is important. This is because unless they know, they cannot help you to fully excel in your role. Being open to employers about hidden difficulties can help you find and be positioned in a role that best suits your skills. Additionally, your honesty allows you to raise awareness and teach new ways of thinking and learning rather than employers simply adapting your workstation or responsibilities. This can benefit all parties in the long run.
On the other hand, being open with employers can be hard for people who fear that employers will overlook them during the recruitment process. When I began working I was one of these individuals, but I soon began to struggle carrying out my role to my full potential. When I found the courage to approach my manager she was overwhelmed that I had come to her as this was something that the company had never been involved with and she was more than happy to help.
Fortunately, I was able to help educate my manager and the company about awareness and how to adapt to individuals with hidden difficulties. Thus, from there on I have now looked to be as open as I can in order to help improve what I call “my way of thinking and learning” rather than staying silent and struggling within at work.
If you are affected by an invisible difficulty and worry about whether to be open and honest with your employer or colleagues, we would encourage you to do so. Don’t be afraid to speak out and get the support you require from your employer. The employers of the Welsh Graduate Programme are committed to ensuring all our graduates exceed in their roles and will endeavour to provide any special measures required.
If you want to find out more about the programme, or if you are a financial services businesses interested in joining the consortium, contact the Project Team on 07495 352911 or email WFSGP@callcentrewales.co.uk
The project is partly funded by the European Social Fund.