Expert chat with Mencap: Disability and work

Our work and disability experts, Sarah and HazelFinding work when you have a physical or learning disability can be tricky. Experts Sarah and Hazel from the charity Mencap talk to us about how to go about it, and your workplace rights.

Jen: I'd love to work, but right now I have chronic pain syndrome and I end up spending a lot of time in bed and/or in pain and not really able to concentrate. I don't know if I'm ever going to get better (although I hope I will), but I'd like a career in academia - is that at all likely or should I be aiming my sights much lower?

Hazel: Jen please do not set your sights any lower - your ambition is fantastic and there are certainly ways to get you there.

Sarah: I can understand it must be frustrating if being faced with severe pain on a regular basis. However, academic settings tend to be understanding of additional needs especially if you have skills to offer in this field. It might be worth exploring these ideas with local institutions such as colleges or unis or talking to a careers advisor about it. If there's a way that reasonable adjustments could be made to make the prospect of working more likely this is something that you might be able to get help with via 'access to work schemes' that aim to make employment more accessible to those with disability.

Jen: What is and isn't classed as "reasonable adjustment" when it comes to employers?

Sarah: Great question Jen. There all kinds of adjustments that may be classed as a reasonable adjustment that may differ depending on your health need. It might include permitted time out of work, flexible working hours, mental support, equipment, adjusted responsibilities and increased supervisions for example.

Sarah: Most employers are required to make reasonable adjustments i.e. to access - if it's not possible for some reason it may be worth exploring homeworking or finding an alternative base to work at. Are there any adjustments you think would be helpful for you?

Jen: I'm a wheelchair user, so building access is a big one for me.

Hazel: There are a range of jobs in your field of interest that, as Sarah said, you may be able to do remotely to avoid problems. However, building access is exactly what constitutes a reasonable adjustment and I would urge you to challenge rejections you may get based on that.

Sarah: The citizens advice bureau may be able to offer more specific advice on challenging the legal implications of physical access

Hazel: In our experience as soon as an employer has opened the door to people with disabilities - they don't look back!

Rich: I have mental health problems and although I try not to let it affect my work, currently it seems to be getting to that point (I'm burning myself out). I've realised that I really need to start therapy but obviously I may have to take time out of work to do it. I would make up the hours, but can they penalise me in any way for it?

Sarah: Most employers have a medical appointments policy whereby arrangements can be made to meet the needs of any condition you may have.

Sarah: It's more likely that people will take it positively if you deal with it proactively rather than being seen to let things spiral.

Hazel: Being honest and positive about your condition and the ways to overcome difficulties, and of course involving your manager in this as much as you feel comfortable with, can help them to understand you and avoid such problems.

Hazel: As you have touched on, sometimes your mental health can affect your work and unless it is discussed, it can be misconstrued as a fall in the quality of your work. I would encourage you to discuss it as much as you feel comfortable. Getting treatment is a fantastically positive step, I wish you the best of luck with your recovery and your role. I hope those links can help

Tamsin: I've just been offered a job working with people suffering from eating disorders and I have to complete an occupational health form. Do I mention my mental health issues and could that affect me getting the job?

Sarah: Congratulations on your job offer! How far are you along your recovery journey?

Tamsin: Thanks! Well I'm currently a nursing student and I'm starting my first CBT session tomorrow

Sarah: Well done on starting treatment, it's a really positive step. Many people who study in the field of mental health also suffer from a mental health illness at some point so this isn't uncommon.

Tamsin: But would it affect me getting the job? I worked at this place a few months ago as a student nurse and loved it but obviously they didn't know much about me and now they've offered me a job, they need more of an insight, which scares me.

Sarah: If you feel elements of the job might be really tough then be mindful of triggers and be sure to put your own health first :)

Hazel: Absolutely, you have done fantastically to get a job offer and they obviously want you on board, it's a case of doing all you can with the support available to make sure you are great in that role for a long time.

Sarah: Exactly :) Would fully agree. These places are good at spotting this kind of thing so you're much better off being honest and getting that support. Having the empathy you can offer is always really valuable in these roles.

Jen: Is there a guide to good companies to work for as a disabled person?

Hazel: With any new role, programmes like 'Work Choice' are delivered nationwide to people who are looking for work, and also those in new or existing roles to help them in that job, and to offer support to the employer on how to help their staff as best they can!

Sarah: In mental health there's something called 'mindful employers', which is worth checking out. There is also a scheme called 'positive about disabled people' commonly referred to as the 'two tick scheme' and if you meet the minimum essential requirement you're guaranteed to get an interview :) Here's an article on that has a bit more on disability and work.

Hazel: If you are interested in the conscious of an individual company you are interested in working for, have a look on their websites for 'Corporate Social Responsibility' to see whether they have mentioned a stance on employing people with difficulties.

Sarah: Finally, the Equality and Human Rights Commission often has useful info too.

Next Steps

  • Visit Mencap's advice pages for information about learning disabilities and the support available. Call on 0808 808 1111.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.



Updated on 29-Sep-2015