COVID-19 has transformed the way we learn and work, and as a disabled graduate (I’m partially deaf and wear a hearing aid) I was worried about what this meant for my access to work and further training. As my first month of virtual working draws to a close, I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned and hopefully ease any fears you may have too.
Create your work/study space
Create a dedicated workspace (if you haven’t already), as this will help you to identify any technical barriers you need to address. Then talk to Student Services (or your manager if you’re in employment/on placement) about any equipment you need. The Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) may help fund this.
If you'd like guidance on inclusive support and funding, do contact the Disability and Dyslexia Support Team for advice. If you're on placement or in employment, talk to your manager about applying for Access to Work funding.
Reasonable adjustments in virtual recruitment
Although the world may feel paused locally, recruitment for placements and graduate schemes is still steaming ahead in many sectors. So, it’s important to be aware of new online recruitment processes, and to consider what reasonable adjustments you might need to compete for opportunities equally. For example, if video interviews are part of the process, what platform is the most accessible for you? What length of video interview is appropriate for your condition?
Talking openly with employers about reasonable adjustments for online interviews and assessments is really important. This touches on disability disclosure – a big topic that we will be blogging about separately. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you need to ensure the ‘recruitment playing field’ is level.
On Day 1 of remote working I was intimidated by the technology, but I now realise that job hunting and learning in the virtual world is really compatible with my additional needs. Thanks to LinkedIn Learning courses, I quickly developed confidence in this new way of learning.
Do fully explore settings and tools: Microsoft Teams’ live caption facility helps me to follow dialogue easily, and (with colleagues’ consent) recording training/meetings means I can refer to content at my own pace.
Technology also means that individuals managing conditions such as chronic fatigue have greater opportunity to bring energy to work/study, without a draining commute.
Adjusting to the virtual world
I now know my condition means I need to work and learn differently online. In my first week of lockdown I embraced webinar training as much as I could, but this led to headaches and tinnitus. I soon realised high-volume online listening was simply too much for me to manage.
You need to take time to find a new work-life-study balance. Don’t run full tilt into virtual learning, ease into it gently and take regular breaks. Notice when you are feeling tired, unable to focus, experience anxiety, etc. Identifying these patterns can help you to realistically plan a manageable work/study (or job-hunting) schedule. It can also help you to identify reasonable adjustments or strategies for online interviews and assessments. Then put alerts in your phone to remind yourself to take a healthy step away from the keyboard.
Communication is key
Virtual learning and job hunting can be a lonely experience, so talking through what you need is crucial. If you’d like to discuss disability disclosure, reasonable adjustments, or practice video interviews, email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a phone or video chat, or access our Online Chat with an Adviser, Monday to Friday 11am to 2pm.
The wider Student Services Team is also here to support you virtually. Yes, the COVID landscape is worrying, but the shift to remote learning and virtual selection offers real advantages for disabled students and candidates. Utilise the unique skills you have acquired through disability to be resilient in your job search and learning online, and to compete equally for opportunities.
By Khrieu Healey, Employability & Careers Adviser