Information for students with disabilities

Information for students with disabilities

Looking for work is rarely an easy process for anyone. If you have a disability, you may face other issues as well as those faced by other job seekers and many students ask whether they should tell an employer that they are disabled. You may:

  • have a disability that you could not hide at an interview
  • feel unhappy about putting details on your application form
  • have an unseen disability or a disability which has no effect on your ability to do the job
  • feel that there is no need to tell a potential employer in this instance

The Equality Act 2010 aims to protect disabled people and prevent disability discrimination.  It provides legal rights for disabled people in the areas of:

  • employment
  • education
  • access to goods, services and facilities including larger private clubs and land based transport services
  • buying and renting land or property
  • functions of public bodies, for example the issuing of licences

Citizens Advice and ACAS have useful information on the Act.

There is no clear-cut answer as to whether or not you should tell an employer that you are disabled so you must use your own judgement as the Law does not say that you have to disclose a disability although there are clear advantages of doing so.

The following information should help you make an informed choice regarding your situation:

Disclosing a disability

Deciding whether or not to disclose your disability to a prospective employer is a decision most students with a disability have to make at some time. If is often difficult to know when and how this information should be conveyed. The decisions you make about these issues will be personal to you and there are likely to be positives and negatives connected with each choice.

Reasons for disclosure

  • Many employers are committed to employing disabled people – look out for the Employment Service ‘two ticks’ symbol on job ad
  • Employment is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – if you declare your disability and feel you have been discriminated against during the application process, you can take your case to an Industrial Tribunal
  • You can take the opportunity to describe your disability in a positive light and may be able to use it to provide evidence of the competencies employers seek eg. flexibility, creative problem solving, negotiation etc
  • Many application forms ask direct questions about disability and health – if you give false information and an employer finds out then you could risk losing your job
  • There are financial schemes available like the Employment Service ‘Access to Work Scheme’ that you can apply to for help with specialist equipment and extra transport costs if needed
  • You may feel more comfortable knowing that you have been open and not kept anything back from the employer

Reasons against disclosure

  • You may feel that you will be discriminated against and rejected by employers with pre-set ideas about the effects of disability
  • You may feel you do not wish to discuss your disability with a stranger
  • You may feel your disability has nothing to do with your ability to do the job
  • You may feel that an employer will not view your application objectively and will focus on your disability rather than your abilities
  • You may feel an employer will be concerned about the implications of your disability in terms of requiring additional time off through illness, specialist equipment etc

How and when to disclose

You need to decide if you are happy to disclose at the outset i.e. when you complete a CV or application form, or whether you would prefer to see how your applications go and disclose at or prior to an interview.

Employers will be very interested in the skills that you can offer them. Living with your health issue or disability may in fact have given you extremely well honed skills in areas which are highly rated by employers such as: flexibility, time management, communication and negotiation. You will have to decide whether you wish to use examples related to your disability in a positive way to highlight these skills or prefer to concentrate on non disability related areas.

There are several possible times to disclose your health or disability to a potential employer:

  • Covering letter – you could mention your health or disability in the letter accompanying your CV in a positive manner,  making sure you highlight any particular achievements eg. successful past employment or voluntary work
  • Application - there may be a section on the form that asks about any serious health conditions or disabilities. As mentioned above you need to decide whether you are happy for your disability to feature here. Remember however that, for example, it is much more of an achievement to get a degree in three years if you have ME, than if you don’t.
  • Pre-interview – if you are invited for an interview and need practical support, you will need to get in contact with the employer in advance to enable them to make suitable arrangements. This may be a good time to instigate a brief discussion around your disability.
  • Interview - it may be that you will not be able to conceal your disability at an interview. In any interview you need to be relaxed and present yourself in a positive manner and this is particularly important if you feel the interviewer has little experience of your particular disability and is feeling anxious because of this. You may need to take the initiative in acknowledging this and introduce what you feel are the relevant issues in this context.

Disclosing dyslexia

You have the right not to be treated less favorably in employment if you have dyslexia which has a substantial and long-term adverse affect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.  Employers are obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you manage your work as a result of the effects of dyslexia.  Dyslexia does not always influence a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.  Dyslexic people can often reduce the impact of dyslexia if they are able to do things their way.  In some cases, people have coping strategies which cease to work in certain circumstances, eg where someone is placed under stress.  This possibility should be taken into account when assessing the likely affects of dyslexia.

Reasons for disclosure

  • As previously mentioned, if you have dyslexia you may be protected by the law in employment including the recruitment process. However, you are only covered when you disclose to the employer you are dyslexic. Always bear in mind the strength of your dyslexia when making this decision.
  • Positive employers – many employers focus on a person’s ability to do their job rather than the nature of their health or disability. Some organisations have an Equal Opportunities Policy which commits them to employing without prejudice.
    • Jobcentre Plus ‘two ticks’ symbol guarantees an interview to all disabled applicants who fulfil the minimum requirements of the job.
    • Employers Forum on Disability – a leading employer membership organisation focusing on developing best practice on disability.  Check if the organisation you are applying to is a member of the forum.
  • You can market your dyslexia positively and take control of the situation.
  • You may be eligible for funding through the Access to Work initiative to cover extra costs at work, such as specialist equipment
  • Employers are not allowed to ask any job applicant about their health or disability until the person has been offered a job.  Medical questionnaires are often used once a job offer has been made. If you give false information and the employer finds out there could be implications in the future.
  • Are there health and safety implications?  This is generally unlikely in the case of dyslexia.
  • The employer is prepared, which can be very useful during the recruitment process. For example, if you are likely to encounter written tests, extra time could be offered (usually 25%). Some tests such as multiple choice and psychometric tests may have to be waived if you find the visual tracking and sequencing skills required very difficult. It you have memory problems, remembering what the question was while you are considering the options can prove difficult for some. You could be putting yourself at a distinct disadvantage if you don’t inform the recruiter.

Reasons against disclosing dyslexia

  • The fear of potential discrimination or rejection by employers or the uncertainty of the recruiter’s reaction to dyslexia.
  • Labelling – will employers see your dyslexia as the most important factors about you or make assumptions about you?
  • Dyslexia is not relevant to your ability to do the job and hence your application.

When is it a good time to disclose dyslexia?

If you are going to disclose your dyslexia, carefully consider the timing. Once again, you need to consider your own circumstances before deciding the best time to disclose.

  • Application Form – bear in mind an application form or CV is often the first contact you will have with an employer so consider how positive the employer is to dyslexia before disclosing. Consider the strength of your dyslexia and whether you need to reveal it at this stage. Use the supporting statement or competence-based questions to highlight any strengths or positive consequences of your dyslexia. For example, in a skills section of an application form you could include:

‘Having dyslexia has taught me to develop innovative organisational and time management skills to assist with my short term memory recall and forward planning.’

  • Equal Opportunities monitoring forms – these are not usually used to judge your application and are often detached before reaching the selectors. They usually include questions about your ethnic background, gender, age, disabilities and are used to monitor the range of applicants.
  • CV and covering letter – the covering letter is a good place to raise any extra issues relevant to your application but do not centre the letter on the issue. For example, in a covering letter for a teaching post you could include:

‘In addition to the skills and qualities that I have already outlined, my own experiences of dyslexia will enable me to empathise with dyslexic pupils as well as providing students with a positive role model.’

  • Interview – your opportunity to demonstrate that you meet the job criteria focusing on your abilities, knowledge, and experience. The employer has called you for an interview because from the information you have provided on your application form or CV they like what they see. An interview allows you to expand on the beneficial effects your dyslexia has had on your life, in a two-way conversation. It provides a means for the employer to understand your dyslexia and allay any concerns.
  • Assessment Centres – written exercises or psychometric tests are often used in graduate recruitment and sometimes for industrial placements or summer internships. Depending on the strength of your dyslexia it is often a very good idea to inform the employer beforehand if you have not already done so. Extra time is often allowed (usually 25%) and you may be able to take the tests in a different room. Tell the employer well in advance of the interview so they can make the necessary arrangements.
  • At a later stage – if you have mild dyslexia you may decide to disclose your dyslexia when you have been offered the job or when you start working. If you leave it until you have worked with the organisation for a few months, during this period you have the opportunity to show your worth. This should be done in an upbeat and unapologetic manner eg ‘I have had a few dyslexic difficulties – x, y and z and my suggested strategy for support is a, b and c.’ This is both positive and proactive.

The above information is taken from Loughborough University lboro.ac.uk

Disclosing dyspraxia and other conditions

The above principles concerning disclosure of dyslexia could also apply to Dyspraxia and other neurological conditions that result in a variety of neurodivergent thinking styles like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome, Tourettes Syndrome and others.

Disclosing mental health difficulties

According to the Mental Health Foundation, on average one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in the course of a year and a recent Health and Safety Executive Stress and Health at Work Study (SHAW) found that one in five of all working individuals thought their job was very or extremely stressful.

Mind, the leading mental health charity in England and Wales gives the following guidelines on disclosure:

If you are not asked specifically about your mental health problem (i.e. on the application form or during an interview), then you are not obliged by law to disclose it. However, if you are asked specifically about your health, or about a gap in your employment history, and you do not disclose, then you can be dismissed for deliberately withholding information concerning your mental health history, if found out at a later date.

If at the time of applying for the job no questions concerning mental health arose, and you chose not to disclose, yet at a later date, within a one year period, difficulties occurred as a result of the mental health problem, the employer could dismiss you with appropriate notice.

However, if the problem only comes to light after a year of continuous service, then the employer cannot simply dismiss you on the grounds of failure to disclose. If s/he does then you can make a claim for unfair dismissal. The employer will either need to justify dismissal on the grounds of capability or conduct, where the disability affects job performance, or on the basis of some other substantial reason.

Reasons for disclosure

  • You do not have to worry about being ‘found out’, or explaining visits to a doctor, or possible side effects of any medication
  • You might receive support, understanding, and even counselling
  • If an employer did take you on in full knowledge of your medical history, and any major difficulties did arise as a result of your mental health problem, it would be expected that your employer would find it more difficult to dismiss you without first discussing the issue with you and offering reasonable assistance.
  • Before offering you the job, the employer would have had to consider your suitability in the light of your mental health problems and provide adequate back up and support. In fact, employers may be held liable if pressure at work can be shown to be responsible for employees’ illnesses, as shown by the case Walker v Northumberland County Council 1995.  You would be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act provided that your mental health problem fell within the definition of ‘disability’.

Reasons against disclosure

  • Disclosing could result in discrimination, due to lack of awareness of mental health issues on the employer’s part.
  • If a mental health problem recurs or becomes more severe, and starts to cause you difficulties at work before you have been employed for one year in continuous service, then it will be easier for your employer to dismiss you with the appropriate notice. But you might have a case under the Disability Discrimination Act, and this is not affected by any time restriction i.e. it could apply if you had been employed for less than a year.
  • If you are accepted for a job on condition that you pass a medical, and you and your GP are asked specifically about your mental health on a questionnaire, then it is possible that your employer could discriminate against you, on return of the form.
  • However, if you disclose at an interview, you have the opportunity to justify and explain why your mental health problem would not prevent you from carrying out the job efficiently, and maybe even make you a more tolerant and understanding employee.

What can you be asked during the recruitment process?

When you are applying for a job, employers may ask for details of your health or whether you have a disability. The Equality Act 2010 places some limits on questions an employer can ask about your health or disability.

Questions you can be asked when applying for jobs

There are limits on the health or disability-related enquiries employers can make during the recruitment process. These limits apply up to the point where you are offered a job or placed in a pool of people to be offered a job.

Before you are offered a job or placed in a pool of successful people, you can only be asked about your health or disability:

  • to help the person recruiting to find out whether you can take part in an assessment
  • to help them decide whether they need to make reasonable adjustments for you to a selection process, like an interview or test
  • to help them decide whether you can carry out a task that is an essential part of the work
  • to help them to monitor diversity among people applying for their jobs
  • if they want to know you are disabled because they want to increase the number of disabled people they employ
  • if they want to know you are disabled because it is a requirement of the job that you have a disability
  • for the purposes of national security checks

You may be asked whether you have a health condition or disability on an application form or in an interview. You then need to think about whether the question is one that is allowed to be asked at that stage of recruitment.

What to do if the question is not allowed

If you are asked a question that you think is not allowed under the Equality Act 2010, you can tell the employer. Or you can tell the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).  The EHRC can then carry out an investigation or take other appropriate action.

Questions you can be asked once you are offered a job

Once the person makes you an offer, which may depend upon you meeting certain health standards, they can make other enquiries about health or disability. For example, the person might need to know about your disability so they can decide whether reasonable adjustments would enable you to do the job.

Employers can also make enquiries if you are successful and placed in a pool to be offered a job when one becomes available. However, the employer must not use information about your disability to discriminate against you because you are disabled.

If you are successful with your job application and you are then asked questions about health or disability, you should be honest in your answers. Remember, if you sign a false declaration saying you don’t have a disability when you are disabled, this may have negative consequences later on

What to do if you think you have been treated unfairly

If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly in the recruitment process because of your disability, you can make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal. A complaint must be logged within three months of the date on which you were treated unfairly. The Employment Tribunal can:

  • decide whether your treatment was against the law
  • recommend whether the employer should take certain action, for example, offer to employ you or change its policy
  • order the employer to pay you compensation

Only you can decide to disclose

If you do decide to disclose, you might like to work out a strategy in advance, about how and when you will disclose, how much and to whom, in order to keep some control of the process.  It might also be worthwhile obtaining a supportive letter from your psychiatrist or other mental health professional, stating your ability to work.

Top Tips

  • Be very positive about your skills and abilities – don’t allow room for doubts in the mind of the interviewer
  • Try to anticipate the interviewer’s anxieties and address these
  • Provide factual information related to your ability to do the job but not complicated medical terminology – you know what your health situation or disability means and how it affects you, others may not
  • Be prepared for the interviewer to ask you questions about your disability
  • Be prepared to make suggestions about what adjustments you would need to carry out the job effectively
  • Give positive examples of how you have met your challenges in the past
  • Demonstrate that your disability has not limited your personal achievements, study or work performance
  • Take along any useful literature about funding or sources of information an employer could follow up if you feel this would be useful
  • Don’t let your health or disability become the focus of the interview
  • Don’t assume that an employer will view you in a negative way

Remember

Job seeking can be a frustrating business for everyone and sometimes it is tempting to use the interview as a chance to air past grievances. Employers will want you to be positive and enthusiastic so concentrate on achievement and skills. If you time the declaration of your disability this will give you more control over the way it is seen by the employer.

Using the Careers & Employability Service

If you have disability and needs reasonable adjustments to be made to attend any appointments/drop-insmasterclasses, please contact the Careers & Employability Centre - email: careers@cardiff.ac.uk or tel: (029) 2087 4844 to help us meet your needs. Careers & Employability will be moving to 51a Park Place in early September.

Related links

  • ACAS
  • Action for Blind People - helps blind and partially sighted people access a wide range of jobs and career development opportunities, offering employment training, advice and practical support in finding and retaining a job, self-employment and work experience
  • Action on Hearing Loss - employment advisers offer job preparation and provide access to employer contacts and work experience opportunities
  • Association of Disabled Professionals - membership organisation for disabled people who are or aim to be professionally employed
  • Blind in Business - is a charity that operates across the UK helping blind and partially sighted students into work through training and employment services
  • Citizens Advice
  • Deaf-UK Jobs – a group which advertises job vacancies which are deaf-related
  • EmployAbility - advice for disabled people on internships, graduate roles and scholarships with links to relevant sources for advice and support and run internships and graduate programmes for large international and UK employers – these are often posted to our Jobs board 
  • Jobcentre Plus – if you need extra employment support because of a disability you can be referred to a Disability Employment Adviser (DEA)
  • Key 4 Learning - provides skills, resources and information to promote understanding of hidden conditions such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Differences and Autistic Spectrum Disorders and gives some guidelines on disclosure
  • MIND - provides information and advice through a network of Mind associations. Mind Workplace provides training and consultancy for employers on mental health, enhancing productivity by improving business practices
  • National Autistic Society - have employment consultants who can support people with autism and Asperger syndrome who are seeking employment
  • RNIB - Royal National Institute for the Blind provide advice and support on choosing a career, links to jobs sources for students and graduates
  • Shaw Trust - a national charity who assist graduates with a disability to find employment and apply for jobs. They have strong links with employers and can assist with arranging Access to Work assessments and other means of support
  • Youreable - offering help and advice on issues such as employment, motoring, equipment, money and much more