Having the interview over Google Hangout also made me more confident because I didn’t feel like my wheelchair was ‘distracting.’
Yes! In our experience, video-chat is an equalizer. Another equalizer is building
a relationship. Four of my significant working opportunities have been the result of relationships, where I have gotten to know the employer. Liv and I like to draw parallels between job-hunting and dating, when you’re putting yourself out there on a dating app like you would in a job application, you want people to take the time to get to know you before they pass judgment. Building a relationship with an employer, which then turns into employment, is much less daunting. More employers should be willing to build relationships with our community. Everyone who knows me knows that my disability doesn’t prohibit me from workplace success - provided there is an accessible environment.
I have a bit more experience applying for jobs cold, without people knowing me. When I was job-hunting, I applied for 25 roles. Many places don’t reply, but I think that’s normal, whether or not you have a disability. I got a few job interviews, but I knew
most of those roles were not a good fit after the interviews (not necessarily because of my disability). But the best ‘cold’ interview I had was one where I didn’t mention my disability in the application. However, once I got an interview, I thought, ‘OK, this is when I can ask about accessibility.’ I did the interview, and I clicked with the employer, then at the second interview, I thought about accessibility logistics such as car parks and office access.
I’ve had positive experiences going for jobs without a relationship being present first, but I have had awkward moments. I always consider that the interview may not represent what it is like to actually work in the place.
I feel grateful that my first job, fresh from university, was in the disability media sector because it meant I didn’t have to worry about the disability stuff as much. There were quite a few disabled people at that workplace, and when the wheelchair technician came in, he’d tinker with everyone’s chairs on the same day. It was lovely to know that work events and spaces would be accessible because many of us were disabled! At a ‘mainstream’ corporate company out of the disability sector, you’re less sure. I went to a work Christmas party while working for a ‘mainstream’ company, and the venue wasn’t accessible - I had to be carried up the stairs! After that, they were a lot more aware of having events at venues that are wheelchair accessible. But I enjoyed working in a disability sector role because it removed that worry and meant I was surrounded by people who understood my experience, in a way that non-disabled colleagues couldn’t. But, it’s also important we don’t pigeonhole disabled people to only ever work in the disability sector.
I also think that working outside of the sector, you’re often the person people come to as an advisor for disability, just because you’re the only disabled person in the office.
Yes! Sometimes, in both the disability and mainstream sectors, you can feel like you’re filling a “quota” of the number of disabled people they need. Disability is a strength, but I don’t want to solely be in a position because I am disabled. As a journalist in mainstream media, I feel like I am making a difference in my current job.
ON BARRIERS TO EMPLOYMENT
We need to remember too that everyone’s experience of disability is different. For
example, I can drive, which is a privilege in my work experience, and makes it easier for
me to get to work. I live a 7-minute drive to my office, whereas taking the bus would
take much longer and be more complicated. For many disabled people, not driving is a
barrier, so remote working is such a valuable option.
Another barrier is the lack of visibility of disabled people in everyday workplaces, it’s
a bit of a unicorn. You know, day-to-day, most non-disabled people won’t see or interact
with a person with a disability, and often when they do, they act really weird! They’re
blown away if they see you on the street, the sheer fact that disabled people aren’t the
norm in working environments is part of the problem. It means the consideration of
disabled people isn’t the norm and nobody is prepared to deal with it, because they’ve
never had to. The easy out is just to turn you away.
I’ve learnt it’s best to start working with organizations you know have a robust, broad
diversity and inclusion policy. I always research organizations I work with to see “what’s
their stance on disability”. If they had nothing, I knew it might be a 50/50 shot, but if
they did have a robust policy, I’d call them out on it in my discussions and interviews
with them. I’d say, “You have this policy, so I can help you live up to it.”
ON DISABLED PEOPLE AS LEADERS
People have narrow viewpoints about what disabled people can do in the workplace.
I often had to articulate to people that I wanted to go to university, not just work in a
desk job. To some people, this was unexpected. Often it feels like people think that
because I am disabled, I shouldn’t be ambitious - and I really rebel against that.
Yeah! We need more disabled people as leaders, I am proud to be in a position
where I can influence my workplace. I will soon be giving a presentation about disability
narrative framing to our editorial staff. It’s important to advance my career and be of
influence so I can make space for others and serve others. Training the journalists about
disability in the media and practical things, like accessible interviewing, is my way
of ensuring we do better for future generations of disabled people and put an end to
How cool that you might lead the change where we end the term “wheelchairbound” or “suffers from”!
I know, right! I think it totally makes a difference to non-disabled people to be
around disabled colleagues. Often, it’s about everyday conversations. For example,
there’s a burger joint down the road from our office, but I can’t get inside. My nondisabled colleagues were super surprised by this and started recognizing a lack of
access in a new way. Conversations like that really increase awareness, which I think is
important and makes people think differently about disability issues. I think we bring a
different perspective, which makes workplaces better.
ON HOPES FOR THE FUTURE
Working from home is also something that can really make workplaces better and
more accessible, Covid-19 illuminated this, but disabled people already knew it was
true! I think it’s also crucial that people are flexible on sick-leave, because you might
have someone really great, but needs to take time off due to chronic illness. I think
there’s a notion that people would take advantage of this, but studies have indicated that
companies who offer flexible sick leave, have noticed the amount of sick leave that’s
Also, when you think about it, people with pre-existing conditions face more
prejudice than the average employee, who could get sick at any time. At any point, a
person can get an illness, this would be dealt with by the employer at the time, but
knowledge of a pre-existing condition often prevents the employer from giving a person
with a chronic illness a shot.
This also comes back to having a robust diversity and inclusion policy. People’s
perception of inclusion differs from workplace to workplace. Disability is very rare in
these policies - it’s generally left off the list. There needs to be more intentional inclusion
of disability and accessibility in these policies, which speaks to workplace flexibility and
accessibility provisions - because the provisions we offer disabled people also benefit
new mums and older people. In the first instance, policies need to be clear, they want
to be accessible, and here’s how they’re going to do it. Ultimately, we need to educate
people to understand that employing disabled people is not scary, and we need to
ensure attitudes shift, to understand this. We do that by ensuring we make ourselves
visible. Fear is a huge reason we’re prevented from moving forward; we can use social
media tools to break that down.
Yes! Also, a lot of it is ignorance! My friends have told me that I’m the first disabled
person they’ve known or been friends with! One friend said to me, “When I first met
you, I didn’t know what to do - I thought, ‘do I hug her?’.” She was telling me all of this,
and I was like, this is so funny! We must break down that ignorance. We don’t need to
prove our abilities, but we need to make sure that people understand that disability does
not remove our capacity to participate in a full life.
Yes. I also think that when we break down any ignorance and fear, we allow
people to break free and start thinking independently from the centuries of negative
connotations that have plagued the disabled experience.
O: Yes, and by doing that, we make sure that every person feels that they can be part
of the workforce. There are always some doubts, but I think both mine and Rebecca’s
will for the future is to help ensure every disabled person feels like opportunities are
open to them in the workforce, to the same degree as they are to non-disabled people.
And not be bound by other people’s negative stereotypes of disability.