Seasonal work and disability dilemmas
How does seasonal work relate to those with disabilities? Take inspiration from the expert advice and personal experiences shared by our guest blogger, careers advisor Danielle Warr:
Applying for seasonal work can be both exciting and terrifying. There is a wealth of opportunities available in a range of different industries including hospitality, events, retail, and travel. They all have the benefit of providing the right people with the right skill set experiences that will propel them forwards in their career pathways. What if, however, you have the skills necessary to excel in these industries and the willingness to try seasonal work but there is something out of your control preventing you from taking that leap and submitting your CV?
There are currently nearly 3.8 million people in the UK who consider themselves to have a disability and employable*. That is approximately 5% of the total estimated population. Whether you have a disability yourself or not I can almost guarantee you have, or you will know somebody, work with somebody or employ somebody who does. This is why I feel it is so important that a better understanding of what it means to be disabled in the workplace is reached.
Many of the barriers facing the 368,000 unemployed disabled people living in the UK is not an unwillingness to work as is often claimed in social settings or by the media, it is a lack of consideration and fear. I myself am blind, I have vision in my left eye, enough that I can navigate around the town I live in, catch a bus to work and provide CEIAG services to my clients. I even typed out this blog post!
The problem is a lack of knowledge
Despite my ease with the situation there is a stigma that comes from announcing to people that I am blind. “But you can see?” is a frequent response to my declaration. I don’t criticise or blame them for this reaction, it is merely a lack of knowledge on their part. I explain that the term blind is applied liberally, that there is a cut-off point and, if your level of vision falls below that, then you are deemed to be blind. It feels like a tutorial, one I’m happy to give, but there are many others who don’t feel this way. Some can feel uncomfortable discussing it, can become defensive or want to avoid the situation entirely.
Let us imagine that your CV is looking fabulous, you’ve listed all your provable skills, your various achievements and your contact details are spelt correctly and now you’ve landed yourself an interview, Congratulations! As a disabled person you now have the dilemma of whether to make the employer aware before the interview or not. If you do, the concern is that your disability will overshadow anything else they know about you, that your health condition will be at the forefront of their minds instead of the £500,000 of income you generated for your last employer, or the six satisfaction awards you received for outstanding customer service.
If you don’t declare your disability then the employer can’t adjust the application process to make it possible for you to attend the interview, like holding the interview on the ground floor, or in the morning when you have enough energy (or spoons – google spoon theory) to be at your best. Some disabilities are invisible and the choice to declare is entirely at the discretion of the individual. Some, like my own, are more obvious and can’t be hidden so in my situation it is better to be up front.
When discussing a disability during the application process, it can seem to many like an interrogation. “What can’t you do?” and “Why can’t you do it?”. You often see frowns and concerned looks on the faces of the panel as they sit there mentally working through the job role, the locations and the clients from their point of view; where are the steps, where transport might be needed to get to a meeting, when using a laptop instead of desktop is the only option. Recruiters’ minds are working at 100 miles an hour and as a disabled applicant it can be a challenge to stop this process.
I used to approach this point of the interview with almost a resigned anticipation, it would come up, it had to be mentioned, otherwise the panel are left with their 1001 questions and their own answers which aren’t necessarily correct or realistic. I have learnt quite recently, since I began working as a career advisor, that employers aren’t looking for a diagnosis, they don’t need a complete medical history, they need reassurance. I have lived with my disability my entire life, I know where my strengths are and where I may struggle.
I also know the kind of help I need and the situations where I may need support and the numerous other occasions that I won’t. My role in the discussion is to provide the recruiter with enough information about my condition to ease their minds rather than confuse with medical jargon. It is also an opportunity to illustrate the minor changes or reasonable adjustments necessary for me to be able to do the job and bring to the company all those skills, achievements and experiences outlined on my CV that got their attention in the first place.
There’s nothing wrong with a swap
Now that I have your attention, it would be a good idea to mention that people have developed many skills and acquired knowledge and experience that unlikely would have been developed if not for the disability. I have a very flexible approach to my work – if I can’t do my own task A, but my colleague Brian is struggling with his task B, then I’m happy to swap, fostering a collaborative approach in the workplace, accomplishing both tasks to a better standard, which also keeps the bosses happy.
I have developed problem-solving skills too – if I can’t achieve it one way I’ll do it another, adapting to situations designed for sighted people (like getting on a bus), has provided many opportunities to work around obstacles and barriers and come out stronger. In more general terms there are disabled people who must take a myriad of medications every day, attend outpatient appointments and monitor their health condition regularly, which all takes commitment and organisation and requires attention to detail. If these skills are applied to one area of their lives isn’t it reasonable to assume they could be applied to others or to the workplace?
As discussed earlier, 5% of the UK population consider themselves to be disabled and employable, that number increases to 11% when you include all disabled people including those who are not active in the labour market. The nature of seasonal work means that you’ll likely be customer facing, you’ll serve people in wheelchairs, people who are deaf, or like me are blind. You’ll interact with people with autism, with learning difficulties or invisible disabilities that affect their lives in so many unnoticed ways. It would only take a moment to consider their struggles and show a little empathy. Smile, say hello, don’t be afraid to speak to them, we don’t bite! They, or rather we just want to be treated like everybody else, to be recognised for more than our disabilities, as people enjoying your event, browsing your store or seated in your restaurant.
It’s the little things that make a world of difference to any experience, like taking a chair away without needing to be asked, sliding the large print menu into the pile you carry to the table, or offering to retrieve something from another aisle. This good practice will also serve you well and enhance your own experience while in seasonal work. So, don’t be afraid to submit that CV, apply for the seasonal work that could make the difference in your career progression and create a workforce that mirrors the variation and diversity in the population. Make the most of the opportunity to explore the variations and opportunities within seasonal work, engage, interact and learn!
Disability statistics – Office of National Statistics 8th Aug 2018.
Population statistic –Office of National Statistics 28th June 2018
Danielle Warr graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a postgraduate diploma in Career Guidance in December 2017. She has over five years experience working with pupils and students in FE and HE and a keen interest in helping adults outside of education and employment gain a foothold onto their desired career pathways.
Visit Danielle’s social media account at www.facebook.com/careermentorsupport