There’s no denying that looking for a job can be difficult, even more so for people with a mental, physical or genetic disability.
But there are things you can do to get to where you want to be, and there are plenty of people who are proof of that. One of those people is our colleague Craig.
He works as an Assistant Director in a program team. His role is to make sure young job seekers are safe and not taken advantage of while they take part in a work preparation program.
He also lives with a physical disability that effects his sight and relies on his trusty guide dog to help him move around safely.
“I have retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, which is the leading cause of blindness in young people. It’s a degenerative genetic condition that affects the retina,” Craig says.
“I have a guide dog to assist me with daily mobility. He’ll lead me to pre-determined locations and I trust him to keep me alive - and from walking onto roads, falling down stairs, or any other hazard I might not notice.”
Day to day Craig could be working on a range of tasks and is making a real difference in the community.
“I could be analysing data to see if a business is misusing the program, responding to a tip-off about inappropriate behaviour, conducting an investigation or briefing the Minister,” he says.
Pride comes from a job well done
Throughout his career, Craig has achieved a lot and is proud of what he has accomplished.
“I’ve had a pretty interesting career for a boring public servant. In my current role, I’ve developed a best practice framework to protect young job seekers from harm and exploitation,” he says.
“Sure, I didn’t land a stricken airliner and save the lives of hundreds of people, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.”
There’s no denying that looking for a job can be difficult for everyone. But trying to find the right job can also be tricky for someone living with a disability.
“Initially for me, it was about finding a job that I felt I could do. I’m blind, so I can’t be a pilot. But, my family always reminded me that blind people have good jobs too, like lawyers, teachers and public servants.”
When Craig started looking for work he faced the usual challenges. But he also had to overcome perceptions that employers might have about hiring someone with a disability.
“The biggest challenge was other people’s perceptions about what I could do. I was lucky that the first job I got after 50 applications, the person interviewing me had a blind father," he says.
“She knew through her own experience that people with disabilities are capable of contributing just as much as anyone else. That, and some really good answers to her questions got me the job.”
Confidence comes with time
Craig says now he lets his work speak for itself, with a little help from his open and friendly outlook.
“I’ve always done my very best to prove I can do it just as well as anyone else. I’ve demonstrated that I’m really good at my job,” he says.
“I also make sure I’m friendly and open with people about my disability, doing my best to demystify their preconceptions and raise awareness.”
The advice Craig would give to job seekers looking for work or going to interviews is to be positive and don’t try to hide anything.
“Be positive. Seriously, employers don’t want to hear about how hard it is or what you can’t do.
“They want to hear about what you can do. How you with your unique perspective and experience from a lifetime of living with your disability, can overcome all sorts of challenges put in front of you.
“Make sure you sell yourself and everything you can bring to their organisation. And remember, the number one thing every employer wants is knowing how you’re going to make their life easier.”
Modify your workspace, not yourself
“Be upfront and matter-of-fact about your disability. At the same time, don’t bang on too much. Deal with it quickly and move on,” he says.
Craig’s employers were able to modify his workspace with help from Job Access.
“With support from the Job Access scheme, my employer purchased screen reading software for me that helps me use a computer to do my job,” he says.
“I’m also working with our HR area to raise awareness of the sorts of things they need to consider to make our workplace more inclusive for everyone.”
Communicating with a colleague who has a disability can seem daunting to some, but it’s important to remember to treat each person with respect.
Craig’s advice about working with colleagues is to remember that people with disabilities are still people!
“For most of them, their biggest disability is how they’re treated,” he says.
“Don’t assume you know what they need. Treat them with respect. Ask them if they need your help, and let them tell you what they need and how they need you to assist if they do.”
Images: Department of Education, Skills, and Employment