Diverse Talent Showcase

Disability Confident LogoIn celebration of International Day of Disabled People, we thought we would highlight some of the many very talented disabled people, who have sought support from us.

These short pen portraits highlight the fact that regardless of impairment, with appropriate and accessible information as well as ongoing peer support, the barriers to effective participation by disabled people can be removed!

Anyway, we hope you enjoy reading the stories and that it serves to remind you that there is a huge pool of talented people out there who are just waiting to be discovered.  If you are an employer and need support to become Disability Confident, please get in touch as we will be happy to assist.

Ben’s DiverseTalent

Our first DiverseTalent showcase is from Ben…

“My name is Ben. I grew up in Oxfordshire and Yorkshire, and I’ve just graduated from Wolfson College, Cambridge with a 2.1 in philosophy. At the moment, I’m looking for work in the film and television industries, preferably as a writer.

I have wanted to be a storyteller since I was nine years old, and used to make up stories to tell my brother when we got bored on walking holidays in Cumbria and the Dales. This slowly turned into a desire to make films, and I made my first film on my eleventh birthday.

I’ve been writing and making films on a steady basis since then, practicing a number of different genres and styles in both personal short films and professional projects; my personal films included an animated documentary on the beginning of the dinosaurs (the animation styles changed throughout, becoming more sophisticated as the dinosaurs evolved), a silent horror film and a romantic comedy about cat murder.

I also worked on professional projects from the age of 13, making corporate and promotional videos, filming and distributing plays and making music videos. While taking my A levels, I simultaneously completed a National Diploma in Media: Moving Image, gaining a distinction in each unit and winning an award at my sixth-form college for being the best student on the course.

I have been struggling with anxiety and depression for several years.  This made it difficult to find employment for the two years I spent between school and university, and made it difficult for me to both complete my studies and, crucially, participate in the sort of extracurricular activities and societies that would help me find employment afterwards. Finding the right medical and therapeutic treatments has helped me immensely, but nevertheless I found it difficult to break through the constraints of my condition to perform well.

Still, I have made my anxiety and depression more manageable, earned a solid degree from a good university, and am currently looking for further employment. It has been a long and difficult process that has involved me applying to a number of different job types in various sectors. However, this process is easier, and I have received a better response, when I have been applying for jobs and internships in the television, film and related media industries. My passion for these types of jobs makes it easier to create quality applications at a greater pace. Therefore, I would advise other talented people who have issues similar to myself to keep applying for jobs you have a passion for (even if, as in my case, it’s in conjunction with other job applications) and it will make the process a lot easier.”

Debbie’s DiverseTalent

And now to introduce Debbie, who was referred to us for support with finding work.  Despite her considerable marketing skills and obvious DiverseTalent, Debbie has faced many challenges since losing her sight:

“I lost my sight during the pregnancy with my daughter through Diabetic Retinopathy.  As you can all imagine this was a huge shock for both myself and my family. We had to make many changes to our lives, but the biggest difference for me was going out and about. Simple things that most sighted people take for granted had become very difficult. Going shopping, taking my daughter to school and going out with friends had all become very challenging, even with the aid of a white cane.

I decided that I should apply for a Guide Dog and following a wait of over 2 years I was partnered with my wonderful Black Labrador Mary. She quickly transformed my life, giving me mobility and independence. I became more confident with her help and decided that I wanted to give something back for all that the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association had done to help transform my life.  So, I became a volunteer with the charity. This was the turning point for me.

After some research, I found out that the area I live, Salisbury in Wiltshire, did not have a support group.  So, I decided that I would start a group of my own. That was back in 2012. To promote the new group, I organised a sponsored dog walk to take place in the centre of the city with over 45 dog owners and their four legged friends taking part.  We raised over £2,000.  I had never organised any events before, but enjoyed the whole experience.  This lit the touch paper and became the first of many events from Dinner and Dances, Pamper Nights and Live Music Festivals I have planned, organised and hosted them all.

In 2014, I was asked to be the Face of Guide Dogs and featured in the charity’s, ” My First Christmas” multimedia campaign, which culminated in myself and my guide dog Mary starring on ITV’s ” This Morning” with Phillip and Holly to discuss how a guide dog can transform a blind or partially sighted person’s life. The campaign raised over £620,000 and has been the highest fundraising campaign ever run by Guide Dogs as a charity.

The Salisbury & District Guide Dogs now has over 20 active volunteers (who I manage), 6 working guide dogs and a huge following in our community. I have been able to motivate our team to raise over £25,000 to successfully name 5 guide dog puppies.  Additionally, through engaging with local schools and businesses, we have currently been named Local Charity of the Year for numerous organisations.  This has also resulted in our local supporters naming their own puppies too.

As well as this volunteering role, and due to the increasing feeling that I needed more recognition for the work I was doing, I decided to start looking for a job.  After a long journey of many failed job applications and job interviews, I have recently become employed as an Outreach Worker for blind and partially sighted people in Wiltshire. This role enables me to give blind and partially sighted people the opportunity to have their say about the Health and Social Care they receive and to encourage independent living the way they really want it. This is just a temporary contract position, but I view it as a start onto something bigger and a step on the ladder of employment.

My future now looks and feels brighter!”

Andy and Fiona’s DiverseTalent

As many of you are aware, we also provide holistic support to informal caregivers and supporters of disabled people. If appropriate, we have found that this enables people to be supported more effectively.  The next showcase is from Fiona, who describes her husband, Andy’s DiverseTalent, and the unnecessary impact of the information she received when he was involved in a serious road traffic accident:

“If someone had told me when I was 13, that I would be married to someone with a brain injury when I was older, I would have laughed it off and thought, ‘not me!’. When you think of someone with a brain injury, you don’t see the person they are, but you see their disability and not much else. This I now know, is not the case.

When my husband experienced a significant brain injury, as a result of a road traffic accident 4 years ago, I was devastated. As he lay in his coma, I wasn’t sure who the person would be when he woke up.  I got given various leaflets by Doctors, none of which helped.  One stated that people with brain injuries have a 50% chance of divorce and all the others just said what a brain injury was, but not the effects on day to day life. It was fair to say that I did not know what to expect.

My husband is, without a doubt, the same amazing person he was when I married him. If I was writing a leaflet to partners, family members and friends of people in my husband’s position, I wouldn’t focus on medical terms or statistics, but the facts that a brain injury does not change a person.  It just creates barriers that need to be rerouted. My husband may have a brain injury and may need routines, stress outlets and find things difficult, but he can do everything he did before.  Just differently!  If he’s stressed, he just needs to relax. If his brain goes into overload, he just needs to rest.  If he’s finding day to day tasks difficult to remember, he needs routine.  He is not ‘special’.  He is the same as everybody else, but just has to live his life with guidelines.

My husband is amazing, because he can manage his life as he did before.  He is the SAME person; a normal person with just a few added quirks.  I would not change him for the world and it is astounding to have witnessed the barriers he has overcome.  He goes to work; he walks the dog; he still surprises me; we go on holiday; and we talk about what lies ahead in our future.  There is nothing that we cannot overcome together.  Things just might need an extra hour here or there, or planning ahead.  But that is nothing that changes who he is.

I thought people with a brain injury were very different to everybody else.  I saw a wheelchair, various aids and people acting in a way that I didn’t understand.  I now know that none of that matters and I wish I could tell everyone in our society, not to see people’s disabilities, but to look at the person.  They have personalities, humour and love to give just like everyone else.  I am no longer naive to the many difficulties that disabled people face and it is something that should be communicated to people on a wider scale.  If there had been a leaflet saying, ‘Actually, your husband will be the same.  He’ll still laugh every day, still love me, still walk the dog, still talk about our dreams together… but, you might just need extra planning, instead of there’s a 50% chance of divorce, extensive rehabilitation, cognitive difficulties, etc.’, then the month I spent, waiting for him to wake up, would not have been of dread, but of the possibilities that still lay ahead.  

My husband is amazing, because he is still the person I chose to spend the rest of my life with and no brain injury is going to change that! If I knew when I was a teenager what I know now, and someone told me that I would be married to someone with brain injury when I was older, I wouldn’t laugh.  I wouldn’t think, ‘not me!’.  If they were going to be as amazing as my husband is now, I would simply respond by saying, ‘AND?’”

Ashley’s DiverseTalent

Ashley has a number of impairments and has faced numerous barriers seeking work.  After receiving support from us, she has kindly offered to provide us with support in spreading the word through social media, as our Volunteer Social Media Manager.  She is also a member of our Young People’s Panel and is certainly a great example of the DiverseTalent that exists:

“My name is Ashley and I identify as a disabled jobseeker. Originally from California, I moved to the UK in 2014 after receiving my Italian dual citizenship. I’m strongly interested in supporting organisations to ensure that they are able to get the message out to people who need it and I have been volunteering for over ten years now.

Social justice is important to me and I’ve been heavily involved in the disability groups at both Oxford and Cambridge. In addition, I’m in the process of creating a writing group for survivors of sexual violence at universities.  I’ve also been helping out with the social media aspects of the Work Advice Service.  This has involved sourcing appropriate and accurate information for disabled people and those with long term health conditions, as well as spreading the word about the support available.  I have even been able to support others to complete documentation relating to their impairments, education, training and future career aspirations. 

As someone with multiple impairments, I’ve struggled with many barriers in trying to find paid work. Both my educational and work histories are non-traditional in nature, and I have accessibility needs that must be met in order that I can work. However, I’ve grown to learn that my different experiences are what make me stand out as a job candidate. For example, due to my experiences of impairment and being a disabled person, I was able to bring a new perspective to the table, at a Channel 4 work experience event, that involved creating a media campaign for the Rio 2016 Paralympics.  

My autism allows me to flourish in a research capacity while also allowing me to bring to the table an unmatched enthusiasm for any project I’m involved in. Due to my different life experiences, I see solutions and have ideas others do not. In fact, if you want to look at it another way, my impairments have actually made me more creative!  And with the passion I have for social justice issues, I feel that my attention to fine detail helps me to identify the key issues people would like to know about.  Perhaps that’s why I have had so many successful volunteering positions in so many different roles and for various organisations (for example, volunteering in a hospice, co-creating a local fundraising project, being responsible for various social media fora on social justice and equality issues, etc.).

My biggest piece of advice for fellow job-seekers with impairments would be not to give up and not to sell yourself short.  There are many ways of removing the barriers that you may experience.  And, most of the time, adjustments cost very little, if anything at all!  To potential employers, think of what you can gain with a new perspective? It’s all too easy to get caught up in the differences and to miss the opportunities entirely.”

Kristina’s DiverseTalent

And now to introduce Kristina, who left school earlier this year and is hoping to get into University to allow her DiverseTalent to shine.  We are delighted that Kristina has recently agreed to become part of our Young People’s Panel and to support our work on a voluntary basis.  Her commitment, passion and prompt actions can certainly not be rivaled!

“This is a glimpse into my life,  the barriers I have faced and how I have found ways to address them.   I am 19 years old and I live in Birmingham. I am a person that takes education extremely seriously.  This is why I had planned to go to Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent after finishing my A-levels.

Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances linked with my immigration status, I was unable to attend university because of the large fee I would have to pay as an Overseas Student.  This was a huge blow for me, as I am someone that values their education and sees it as the key to all major successes in life.   As a result of this, I took a year out to focus on gaining more experience with working in the real world.  In relation to this, over the past few months, I have discovered many other barriers that I failed to notice before.  These obstacles are linked to making contacts and socialising (as I have difficulties with orientation, due to my visual loss).  As a solution to this hurdle, I did some research and enrolled myself into the Buddy Scheme, which is linked with guide dogs. Thanks to this, I am able to go out and socialise more and also gives me the opportunity to improve my orientation skills and independence.  During my research, I also discovered the Ring and Ride service, which also contributes to improving my independence and social skills, as I can get around.    

Although I am no longer in education, my thirst for knowledge has not been quenched.  So, as a result, I have found myself going to the library more and more often to listen to audio-books.  However, I came across another access issue, as some of the books I really wanted to read were only in print.  As I cannot read printed material, this was not at all helpful.  Again, this spurred me on to do some more research, which led to my discovery of an app that would allow you to access both audio and printed books with voice-over. 

I feel it is imperative to gain as much knowledge and information as you can.  But, it is also vital to share the knowledge you have gathered.  This thought helped me throughout my last years at my school and sixth form. As I noticed a lack of knowledge and understanding, in relation to blind people and the difficulties we can face on a daily basis, I presented assemblies to Year 7 through to Year 13 students.  These assemblies involved explaining what it is like to be blind and I also used demonstrations to assist students and members of staff to gain a better understanding.

I am an optimistic and bubbly person.  I always try to look on the bright side and also set goals to meet, in order to push myself to my limits.  I am a determined person; never one to accept the word, ‘No’.   I will try everything and anything before I give up!  My determination stems from a simple, yet strong motivation, which is to have a good and successful career and life, as well as to be able to support myself and my family.

I am also an extremely passionate and outspoken person who will fight for what I think is just and fair.  There are many ways in which I express my passion, such as linking to music.  However, I prefer to write poetry, as I feel this is a true representation of my emotions and beliefs. One of strongest beliefs is that it only takes one person to make a difference.  So, if you think something is unfair, stand up and make sure your voice is heard.  Doing a small thing like that can make all the difference!”