Disability Unaware

Over the Christmas period I was offered my first ever job at the age of 24. I was excited and nervous at the same time about starting; this was going to be a new learning experience for me.  I really needed this job because I wanted to save enough money to start a new life for myself and my partner. During the application process for the job, I wrote I had a mental disability; I am always honest about my disability during job applications because I know I will need extra support.  During my interview the employer did not ask about my disability, he actually didn’t have my application or CV in front of him, only a list of questions he wanted to ask me. I found this weird as it came across he was more interested in whether I could work at the company than find out about me as a person.

In the first couple of days I started to struggle a lot with the roles I was given due to my disability. I suffer from a rare and relatively unknown disability Nonverbal Learning Disability, a neurological disorder with learning, mental, physical and emotional factors. Mental health experts debate whether it is a type of autism or not as it shares some but not all traits of autism. As many people do not know what Nonverbal Learning Disability is, I tell them it is similar to Asperger’s syndrome. My Nonverbal Learning Disability traits affected my job in terms of coordination; I was not fast enough doing the roles which frustrated the managers. The job affected my communication in terms of interacting with colleagues and customers, I sometimes fail to make eye contact with people due to awkwardness and anxiety, this can mistakenly come across as me being uninterested in the person. My anxiety also affects me in other ways such as failing to be proactive and sometimes instantly forgetting what someone has told me or the instructions I was given. The late nights and long hours made me feel exhausted and hurt my feet; the pain in my feet is related to poor co-ordination and low muscle tone. My needing to sit down (which was not allowed) can be mistaken for laziness. Like sufferers with Asperger’s, it is hard for people with NLD to adapt to new situations, it took me months to settle into university and I was far from comfortable in this environment. Due to frustration with being ‘told off’ and being talked about behind my back I asked one of my colleagues to mention to one of the managers about my NLD, and yet again none of the managers approached me to ask me about my disability or ways they can help me. I felt ignored and very misunderstood in a strange and emotionless environment.

In the end, I had my six week review with the manager who interviewed me and gave me the job, shockingly my review was two weeks early. I was told I did not pass my review for the reasons mentioned above, I told him about my NLD and how I wrote it on my application form and no one had asked me about it. He said he did not know and was disappointed I did not mention it to him earlier. From the way I had been treated by the managers, I believe if I did mention my NLD in the beginning they would try and illegally fire me.  Over time I felt like I was making some improvements by being more proactive and being more sociable with customers, although they were just hellos and goodbyes with a smile they were large improvements for me. When I mentioned my improvements he said other managers did not see these. I think they were denying this to get rid of me. I mentioned over time my so called ‘unapproachableness’ might be less severe/obvious over time once I feel more comfortable in the environment, he told me I should ‘feel comfortable by now’ as it had been a month. Whatever I said, I was not listened to and made to feel horrible about myself. A lot of people with disabilities have low self-esteem and when you are criticised for things you cannot help or control, it leaves you feeling bullied and attacked. I left the meeting crying and feeling humiliated, I begged my parents to not let me go back, I could not face any of the managers and to continue doing a job that I know I won’t be any good at.

My advice to people who suffer from any type of disability is to only apply for jobs which have the two ticks symbol, these employers encourage disabled people to apply., they will be more understanding and try and help you to improve your job. I would also advise people with disabilities to work for smaller and quieter companies so it is easier to approach a manager or colleague if you are struggling. Unfortunately, some companies only care about profit, they do not see you as an individual with your only strengths and weaknesses, they expect all of their employees to be exactly the same and get the job done. Even though it is very unlikely, I hope in the future this type of capitalist behaviour will stop.

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About the author : Alexandra Farnese is a Bath Spa creative writing and media communications graduate.


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