Role models

Disability isn’t a barrier to a brilliant career. Our Change100 role models Tom, Toby and Geetha share their stories.

1. Tom Eats, International Research and Development Manager, Pearson

Tom has hearing and visual impairments and balance problems as a result of having measles as a young child. Having completed a degree in Geography and African and Asian studies at the University of Sussex, he wasn’t sure what lay ahead for his future career.

‘At university I didn’t really have any aspirations other than just to see if I could get through it. For a long time I perceived my future as being unemployed, living in council housing, with little support and no friends, because of the communication difficulties I had. It just seemed very bleak.

‘But I’ve been able to prove myself wrong. One of the challenges for people with disabilities is that they assume it’s going to be a huge inconvenience for the people they’re working with. But that has not been my experience. People have been providing me with support and advice — I wouldn’t be where I am without them.

‘At the same time, I wouldn’t be where I am without me either. It’s important to keep trying things yourself, keep giving things a go.  People have all sorts of strengths and weaknesses but people with disabilities just have more unusual strengths and more unusual weaknesses. It’s important to learn to trust yourself.

‘I’d still like to change the world. I’m currently doing an MA in Education & International Development at the Institute of Education, which Pearson are funding.

‘I think Change100 is a great idea because it allows employers to get access to the range of talents that they need. And it enables people with disabilities to get access to the right arenas to test out their talents, build up their confidence and define their future.’

2. Toby Mildon, Project Manager, BBC Future Media

Toby uses a wheelchair after living with spinal muscular atrophy since birth. After completing a marketing degree at the University of Derby, Toby wasn’t sure of what to expect for his future and the challenges he may have to face.

‘I didn’t think I would ever end up working for the BBC. It’s quite a tough place to get into but I have been here for the last five years and my career has taken lots of interesting twists and turns.

‘There are a lot of inspiring people at the BBC who are disabled. I look at those people in the public light and think to myself, “Well if they can do it, why can’t I?”

‘I have received quite a few challenges — for example, when I was in consulting and one of my clients banned me from their offices because I was deemed to be a fire risk. I think a lot of overcoming challenges is down to mind-set, so I just don’t let other people or circumstances get me down. I have got a great circle of friends and family around me who are very supportive and encouraging and I’ve had to do a lot myself in order to have the career and job I’ve wanted.

‘People with disabilities face a lot of additional obstacles in their life. Just don’t let those obstacles get in the way and whenever there is a challenge just keep on pushing through and persevering.

‘Graduates face challenges anyway, so to have a disability on top makes things twice as hard. Any scheme like Change100 is a great thing to help disabled people into work.’

3. Geetha Shamanna, Credit Analyst, American Express

Geetha Shamanna works for American Express as a German-speaking credit analyst. After completing her degree at Bangalore University, she worked as a technical writer before travelling to Europe to learn German. On her return to India, she worked as a translator before moving to the UK.

Geetha is blind, but that has not stopped her from embracing the challenge of travelling and working in different countries.

‘I enjoy adventure and I like uncertainty. Living in different places and moving to new places is a challenge, it’s especially hard to get used to things, particularly if you are not able to see. There have been times when I have told myself I wouldn’t do it again, but I’ve always done it again.

‘There’s a huge challenge as a blind person to convince employers that you can do what is expected of you and there are lots of issues to overcome, mostly accessibility issues. There is very little mainstream awareness about what blind people can do.

‘Before we moved to the new building in Brighton, my team leader would bring me to the new premises for an hour each day for a week so I could orientate myself around the building. By the time we actually moved, I knew where things were and some of my colleagues would ask me for advice as I knew the place better than they did.

‘I think Change100 is a great idea because being at university is very different from being in a work environment and you get to experience that whilst you are still studying and still at university. This kind of exposure could also help them to concentrate on specific areas that they find themselves lacking in once they go back to university.

‘Whenever I took a risk I always looked at the worst thing that could happen if it didn’t work out. What are the consequences if you fail? The worst thing that could happen would be that I would go back and find myself another job.

‘It has definitely been worth it, taking all the risks that I have taken, I would do it all again if I got another chance.’