My Story: The Disability Café
Almost a year ago now, back in October 2013, I attended ‘Getting In’, an event for first and second-year undergraduates with disabilities or long-term health conditions who were interested in a career in investment banking. I’d never attended an event specifically for disabled students before, and I didn’t really know what to expect. As it turned out, though, it was a fantastic experience – I learnt a lot about if, when and how it was best to disclose your disability when making an application, got to speak to a number of graduate recruiters and executives with disabilities from the leading investment banks, and took part in a number of workshops aimed at teaching employability skills. After I left, I added a number of the firm reps and executives I’d met on Linkedin – they were only too happy to accept my invitations. I also added the event’s co-organiser and director of My Plus Consulting, Helen Cooke.
Two months later, in December 2013, I attended ‘Open to Law’, a similar event for disabled students interested in a career in commercial law, also run by Helen. Once again, I networked with firm representatives, executives and graduate recruiters, learnt a lot about disclosure and the legal application process, and took part in a mock interview session to increase my employability. While networking during the lunch break, I was rather surprised when Helen approached me in person and asked me if I was interested in getting involved with some of her work. She told me that my adding her on Linkedin had shown her I had determination and ambition, and that I was just the sort of person she needed to speak up for disability among graduates, as well as provide insight to graduate recruiters. I readily accepted, of course; and the next month I was attending a listening exercise with a graduate recruiter at Sainsbury’s.
Fast-forward eight months, and I’m now a regular attendee at the Graduate Recruiter’s Disability Café Club, another initiative of Helen’s and run by her consultancy firm, My Plus Consulting. I take part in discussions with grad recruiters and diversity specialists from law firms, banks, energy companies and universities, among others, giving them my perspective as a disabled undergraduate and providing insights they might not otherwise be hearing. I’m also a member of the Advisory Board for Great With Disability, a fantastic website Helen runs, launched in 2013 to provide useful and practical advice to students as they apply for graduate and school leaver opportunities. It also profiles companies who are ‘great with disability’, along with their opportunities.
So, why am I telling you all this? Because a lot still needs to be done to raise awareness of disabilities and long-term health conditions, especially hidden disabilities. Disabled people exist in every cross-section of society – we’re male and female, white and BME, straight and LGBT, religious and non-religious, old, young and middle aged. Chances are, a large proportion of Diversity Jobs readers are disabled themselves, or know somebody who is. ‘Getting In’ and ‘Open to Law’ are both running again this year, in October and December respectively. So if you’ve got a disability, and you’re interested, sign up! To apply to either event you need to have a disability, be in your first or second year at university, have the appropriate academics (mitigating circumstances are taken into consideration) and to demonstrate why you want to attend. Or, if you (or someone you know) are disabled and in Year 12, you can also sign up for ‘Great Opportunities’. There’s really nothing stopping you, and there’s nothing to lose, so why not come along? Who knows – you might be just the sort of person the firms are looking for!