Disabled students say employers have ‘no idea’ about disability

14 January 2016

Group of six Change100 participantsTalented disabled students from some of the UK's leading universities say job hunting is often hampered by employers’ lack of knowledge of disability.

Interview-based evidence from over fifty Change100 students (a paid internship programme with major companies set up by Leonard Cheshire Disability) said until finding support in schemes such as Change100, few had had good experiences in the workplace.

Selbi, an undergraduate at London School of Economics (LSE) who had a summer paid placement through Change100, said:

‘I once had to quit a job with a small retailer because despite having told my boss I would need regular bathroom breaks owing to kidney disease, I was often the only one on duty and couldn’t leave the shop. I was so embarrassed to ask that I got very ill and had to quit.’

Natasha, who is also at LSE, said: 

‘Your confidence is really rocked when employers don’t understand you could be good at a job but just need reasonable adjustments — such as a larger screen, flexible work hours or a different chair to make a difference to your work.’  

The Change100 programme, which has run since 2014, supports talented university students with a disability or a long term health condition to find paid placements over the summer.

The programme offers participants workshops on time-management, practicalities of the first weeks, and how to disclose a disability with an employer.  

Applications for this year close on 31 January 2016. You can apply online on the Change100 page.   

Businesses involved in hiring students in 2015 include: BBC, Lloyds, DFID, Tate Galleries, Taylor Wimpey, Thomson Reuters, Wall to Wall and SABMiller.

The student views come on the back of recent research carried out in October 2015 by research consultancy, ComRes for Leonard Cheshire Disability.

The study found that 77% of young disabled people (18-24) said they felt sharing information about their disability with a potential employer would affect the outcome of gaining employment.

‘Having a programme like Change100 is really helpful,’ said Natasha.

‘It allows you to apply to enter the job market knowing the disabled side of things is already understood by employers, so you are taken on the basis of your skills and talent.

‘It takes the pressure off having to explain anything.’

Victoria Passant, Change100 programme manager, said:

‘You don’t have to disclose anything at all at work or when looking for a job, but it can be helpful for your employer to know if you have a disability, so they can support you.

‘You can even just ask for adjustments, rather than explain everything. It is in an employer’s best interests to give you a work environment which helps you thrive and do your best work.’ 

Helena Ely, Head of Production at Wall to Wall productions, said:

‘Being involved in Change100 has been a great experience and I would encourage other employers to join the scheme.  

‘The standard of candidates is very high and the support given both to the interns and employers throughout the process is excellent.’

You can watch an animated film by award-winning artist Martin Pickles entitled ‘No idea’ featuring undergraduate Natasha talking about her experience of being disabled in the workplace.

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Notes for editors

Leonard Cheshire Disability is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of services for disabled people. Our services include high-quality care and community support together with innovative projects supporting disabled people into education, employment and entrepreneurship. Worldwide, our global alliance of Cheshire partners supports disabled people into education and employment, and works in more than 50 countries. With over 7,500 staff, the charity supports over 7,000 disabled people in the UK. 

Change100 is a paid placement national program set up in 2014 to support talented disabled undergraduates get summer work experience with companies across the UK.  It also aims to support businesses have a truly inclusive workforce, where every person is able to contribute economically and participate in society.