The Employability and Skills team is interested in hearing student voices! We put a call out on our CCCU Careers and Disability Facebook group, asking students to share their experiences, both in life and in the workplace. Here Lauren shares her experiences as a CCCU student and staff member.

Dissertation handed in, library books returned and the piles of notes that had previously surrounded my desk at home and work have now gone into the recycling bin. It has not been an easy journey but I got there in the end after six and half years and have been working for the university for four years. I often wonder what piece of advice would have helped me through a stressful and worrying time when looking for a part time job. This is just my personal experience, but I hope my reflections here help someone else to remember they can do this.

I began my undergraduate degree in 2012 as history was my passion and teaching my goal. I have degenerative disc disease in my lower spine which impacts my mobility and causes constant pain. The pain spread and I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Hypermobility Syndrome which both have too many invisible and visible symptoms to mention. However, I began my degree in the hope that I could maintain my part time job at the company for whom I had worked for seven years prior and keep on top of my pain.

I had a scary incident in my second year where I completely lost the use of my legs and was admitted to hospital. This meant I could not attend lectures and was signed off from working but eventually the feeling returned and I could walk using crutches and my trusty mobility scooter. My GP and I had the honest conversation that things will never be ‘normal’ again and I could expect this to happen again in the future with the pain only getting worse the older I get. It was time to have a difficult conversation with my employer as the role I was undertaking was a very physical job and I just could not fulfil the whole job specification any longer. I was medically retired, a word at my age I thought I would not hear for a good few decades yet. I was a mature student, but not that mature!

Now classed as disabled, the Student Support and Wellbeing team were truly amazing! After speaking with them and my personal tutor, I felt far more empowered and positive about my goal of finishing my degree. Yet I was petrified to look for a part time role that would fit around my studies. I felt that my conditions made me unreliable and those familiar feelings of doubt crept in and I almost gave up looking for work altogether. It was during an employability week for students, that I attended a session specifically for disabled students.  We spoke at length with each other about the stigma surrounding visible and invisible conditions and how this impacted our job searches and thoughts about gaining a job after graduating. Some of us shared horror stories about job interviews and applications gone horribly wrong and it was good to know that I was not the only student feeling pretty hopeless at finding work either before or after graduating.

I came away from the session feeling inspired and began to browse through the vacancies the university were advertising through TempShop (which is now Unitemps). I applied for a part time role and was reluctant to disclose anything on the application yet could not hide the use of my walking sticks at interview. I had nothing to worry about, not only did I talk at ease about the conditions during my interview, I was lucky enough to get the job. I was even able to, thanks to the workshop, talk at length about how my conditions could be strengths rather than what I perceived as weaknesses. This job evolved into my full time role and I have worked for the university for four years now.

If I could impress on someone going through or coping with life altering conditions or conditions that challenge the process of looking for work just one thing, it would be to remember you are not defined by a label. You are more than your condition/illness/disability. I struggled to let go of my old role and feel this was my way of mourning the restrictions on my physical mobility. Talk about things to a point that you feel comfortable with and utilise the help and support on offer to you during your time at CCCU. Remember that your condition does not define what you are and what you are capable of, you got this!

By Lauren-Erica Ralph

Our Facebook group is for students with seen or unseen disabilities, for support with developing employability. Interested in submitting an article on your own experiences? Visit the group now!