Although we now live in a time when people with all manner of disabilities enjoy greater equality than ever before, most would agree that there is still a long way to go until every person with physical and mental difficulties is on a level playing field when it comes to having access to good jobs and getting the chance to truly excel in the workplace.
However, dedicating just a few hours towards doing a little research into your rights and opportunities as a disabled employee – as well as investing in helpful equipment such as folding mobility scooters – will allow you to reach new heights at work. In this article, we hope to simplify things by answering some of the questions most frequently asked by wheelchair users and other disabled people who are either entering the workforce for the first time or considering returning to work after a prolonged absence.
What jobs could I do?
These days, employers do have an obligation to ensure the working conditions they provide are as comfortable as possible for all disabled employees, and you should bear this in mind if you ever have any doubts over going for a job because of worries about your workplace’s ability to accommodate your disability.
Depending on the severity of your mobility limitations, there are clearly some jobs that it may be difficult for you to take on – specifically, roles that involve a large amount of heavy lifting and certain other ‘manual labour’ tasks could prove to be excessively problematic for both you and your employer to work around.
Other than particularly labour-intensive jobs, however, the world of work is your oyster! Finding employment in a ‘traditional’ office setting probably remains the easiest and most popular way for wheelchair users and others with disabilities to get themselves into the workplace and, once you have found a position you can settle into and enjoy, there is no limit to how far you can go with it.
Nevertheless, you shouldn’t have to restrict yourself to sitting behind a desk if there is another industry that appeals to you more. From teaching and the arts to politics and medicine, you will find that almost all types of work in both the public and private sectors have people at the very top of their professions who have not allowed their physical or mental conditions to hold them back from achieving great things – and, whatever career path you choose, this could also be the case for you.
How can I find a job?
Once you have decided what kind of role you would like – or even if you haven’t got that far yet and would rather just browse what’s out there – the job hunting and application process is much the same for disabled individuals as it is for anyone else. In fact, it could be argued that those living with a disability now have even more tools at their disposal to help them find their perfect job, as several recruitment agencies and job boards have been set up in recent years that are specifically designed to match suitable candidates with disabled-friendly employers.
There are plenty of excellent online resources that you can delve into when looking for that ideal role, ranging from all the usual sites (e.g. Monster and CV-Library) to the specialist disability portals, such as Disability Jobsite and Evenbreak. Whichever route you choose to go down, though, always remember that your condition should never be a barrier to getting an interview; and, if you do reach that stage, your interviewers’ only concern will be whether you have the right skills to do the job they want to fill, not whether you are in a wheelchair or in any way ‘different’ from their other employees.
What should I ask employers?
Although, as we have already discussed, all employers are legally bound to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees at their workplaces, you will inevitably find that some companies and organisations are well-equipped to meet your needs from the outset, whilst others may require some help themselves to get up to speed with their accessibility obligations. To ensure you don’t get any nasty surprises on the first day at your new job, remember to ask your future employers a few relevant questions about their current set-up so that any potential issues can be sorted out before you even get started in your role.
It can be easy to get excited and carried away when we receive a job offer, but it is also important to keep a clear head and think about the working conditions that will await you once you’re on the payroll. Some examples of the kind of thing you may want to be clear about prior to signing your contract include:
- Are there disabled parking spaces close to the workplace?
- What are the disabled toilet facilities like?
- Will you offer paid disability leave if I need to attend medical appointments relating to my condition?
Can I go back to my old job?
If you previously held a job but an accident or illness has left you with a disability, you may be worried about not being able to go back to your former role. The good news, however, is that your employer is legally bound to keep your position open for you if there is any prospect of your returning to work after becoming disabled – and the onus is on them, not you, to make reasonable adjustments that will ensure you can still do your job to the best of your ability.
Even with this being the case, however, some people will clearly still be anxious about re-entering the workplace after being away from it for months, or maybe even years. If you think you fall into this category, you will be pleased to hear that there is plenty of help at hand; as well as seeking reassurance from whoever heads up HR at your place of work, you may find it useful getting in touch with an occupational therapist. These highly trained professionals are experts at giving advice on how disabled people can comfortably reintegrate back into their old jobs and will also be able to recommend steps that your employer can take to make your workstation as suited to your needs as possible.
As with many things in life, the worst part about going back to work is often all the worrying you will do before you even get there! Once you’ve taken the initial leap and got your first day out of the way, you will most likely be much more relaxed and wondering why you were ever feeling anxious.