Careers and disability
Employers increasingly are recognising the benefits of a diverse workforce, and the different knowledge, strengths, and experience this brings to their organisation. This page may be particularly useful for students with disabilities, neurodivergent conditions, mental health conditions and long-term health conditions.
The information below includes your legal rights, how to assess if organisations are genuinely inclusive, how to discuss your condition or disability with employers, along with information on adjustments and further resources for work opportunities and advice.
Your legal rights
The Equality Act 2010 defines a disabled person as someone with a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities. Note, disability includes physical or sensory impairments, neurodivergence (such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, or ADHD), mental health and long-term health conditions (such as cancer, diabetes, or HIV).
If you fall within this definition, and choose to share your disability with an employer, you are legally protected against discrimination. The main reason people choose to discuss their disability with an employer is so they can request adjustments in the recruitment process and/or workplace.
Our services for disabled students
The Careers service offers a range of services for disabled students, including workshops on finding inclusive employers and discussing disability. We also promote external opportunities for disabled students, such as jobs, networking events and mentoring schemes through JobsLive, our weekly newsletter, and through our disability careers newsletter, disseminated through the Disability Advisory Service.
See our range of careers advice & one to one appointments if you wish to discuss your career, the recruitment process, discussing your disability, adjustments, and other disability careers issues. If you book a Careers Discussion (online) and would prefer the appointment to take place as a text conversation via the Meeting Chat function on MS Teams, please state so in the notes when booking.
Finding inclusive employers
Employers are increasingly recognising the benefits of a diverse workforce and do not want to miss talented candidates who are neurodivergent, disabled or have a long-term health condition.
When considering applying to an employer, you may wish to research whether they are genuinely inclusive in both their recruitment and in the culture of their working environment. Steps you could take include:
- Are they Disability Confident? The Disability Confident scheme is a government initiative for employers who wish to recruit and retain disabled people. This does not guarantee an inclusive employer, as some employers may just ‘want the badge’ but it is a good starting point. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has a list of employers who have signed up.
- Do they have a comprehensive diversity/inclusivity statement on their website? For larger employers, general equal opportunities statements are a great start but are the bare minimum. Research whether they give more specific statements and policies specifically for disability. Employers who with more comprehensive information are more likely to be genuinely inclusive. It is worth noting that SMEs may be less likely to have this information on their website.
- Does the employer run disability inclusive schemes/initiatives? Some employers try to increase applications from disabled candidates by taking part in disability events and advertising roles through disability organisations such as EmployAbility, Change 100, Enna and MyPlus.
- Do they have a disability network? An internal disability network can act to raise the profile of disability within the organisation, and to develop and maintain an environment of openness and inclusivity. For example, Imperial has the Able@Imperial network. You may be able to find the disability network on the employer’s website or could ask to be put in touch with them.
- Do they have a Disability Champion/Officer? Having staff formally responsible for disability shows commitment to inclusivity. Research the employer’s website or look through their people on the organisation’s LinkedIn page using terms such as disability, diversity, or inclusivity. If you find someone, you could contact them and see if the interaction a positive one.
- Is there someone you can ask questions about their disability recruitment and support?
Ask to be put in touch, anonymously if you prefer, with the person responsible for disability recruitment and support. For an SME it is less likely that someone formally has this role, but even in this case you can assess how they deal with the question. If they respond positively, it may show the employer is inclusive.
Discussing your disability with employers
It is your decision whether to share your disability with an employer. Reasons that you may choose to do so include:
- You can ask for any adjustments in the recruitment process and/or workplace
- You will be protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010
When discussing your disability:
- You do not need to go into personal detail, but terms of its relevance to performance in the interview or job.
- You decide when to talk about it. This could be during the application phase, once offered a place at interview or assessment centre, following a job offer or once in the workplace.
- You can consider whether your disability provides evidence of the skills employers look for. For more information on this take a look at the AGCAS disclosure – Neurodiversity handout for ideas.
Adjustments can reduce or remove barriers related to disability either during recruitment processes or in the workplace. Everyone is different, but adjustments during recruitment may include extra time for interviews or psychometric tests, or access to a quiet room during an assessment centre. Adjustments in the workplace include examples such as non-standard work times or a quiet location for your workspace.
You should be prepared to make suggestions of adjustments to employers. Take a look at AGCAS Reasonable Adjustments - Neurodiversity for some examples. For adjustments related to psychometric tests, read AGCAS Taking a test if you have a disability.
Most adjustments are free, however the Access to Work scheme, a publicly funded employment support programme, can help for any adjustment costs. This applies to adjustments during the recruitment process, once you are employed, or if you move into self-employment.
How much you get depends on your circumstances. The money doesn’t have to be paid back and will not affect your other benefits.
Developing employability skills for autistic students and graduates
- A free employability course hosted on Udemy and supported by AGCAS and others. It covers interview preparation, adjustments, knowing yourself & your autism, and planning your career path.
Careers Programme for autistic students
Hosted in the Careers video library are recordings of autism specific workshops giving tips and strategies on different parts of the recruitment process. These workshops include:
- Finding inclusive employers and writing applications
- Interviews (two parts)
- Assessment Centre - group work tasks
Advice for autistic students from an autistic Imperial alumna
Sarah is an alumna with autism who, after Imperial, moved into a job as a Data Scientist for a Technology Consultancy. Listen to her advice in 'Advice for autistic students from an Imperial graduate', for present autistic students looking for and applying for jobs and internships.
Interview adjustments previously requested by autistic students
Following on from the adjustments section above, you could look through this list of adjustments autistic students have previously requested.
- To be given the interview questions or themes beforehand
- To be given the structure of the interview beforehand. For example,
- Five minutes introducing company, 10 minutes (or three) motivational questions, 20 minutes (or four) competency questions, five minutes for you to ask any questions you may have, etc.
- For the time allocated for the interview to be extended, to give longer to process questions and formulate answers
- For the interview to take place remotely through an online platform
- Then the interview is in-person, that it takes place in a quiet environment, free from distractions e.g., phones, ticking clocks, glass wall offices etc.
- For the interview questions to be clear and specific
- For the interviewer to ask supplementary questions to ensure they get the information they need
- For a supporter to accompany you, in case questions need rephrasing, or you need help with the question’s context. They can assist communication between you and the interviewer
- For access to a quiet area or room, before and/or after
Sharing autism with colleagues in the workplace
During an internship, graduate role or in any other workplace, sharing autism with co-workers is a personal decision. Some people share with co-workers to introduce themselves and how they like to approach work. Creating a Tip sheet - for autistic people in the workplace for colleagues, is a way of doing this by creating and giving them a document, which they can keep and refer to.
Useful Autism specific websites
- Ambitious About Autism offer placements with employers across a range of sectors for autistic people. Their Autism Exchange team will work with you to identify any workplace adjustments you may want to request and to provide support throughout.
- AS Mentoring offer mentoring and employment support to autistic and other neurodivergent people. They also regularly run workshops on helping university students and recent graduates to find employment.
- CareTrade: Think Talent The Think Talent scheme is aimed at aspiring solicitors with neurodiverse conditions. Participants attend two placements, each lasting for 1-week. One placement is with the Barclays in-house legal team, and the other is with a partner law firm. During the scheme, adjustments are put in place and support is available to participants.
Mental health conditions
Interview adjustments previously requested by students with a mental health condition
Following on from the adjustments section above, you could look through this list of adjustments students with a mental health condition have previously requested:
- Extra time during interview and aptitude testing to help with anxiety and nerves.
- Request an afternoon interview if you are lethargic in the morning due to medication.
- Frequent breaks and/or access to a quiet room or area, during an assessment centre.
Explaining your mental health condition
The AGCAS Explaining your mental health condition to others sheet contains useful information about talking to employers, including how to approach it and adjustments both in the recruitment process and the workplace.
- Mindful Employer - lists employers who have signed a voluntary charter supporting better mental health support in the workplace.
- Mind – have excellent resources such as information about the different types of mental health conditions, and tips on how to ensure positive mental health in the workplace
Internships & Graduate Schemes
- EmployAbility - resources and information for students/graduates of European countries with disabilities
- Leonard Cheshire's 'Change 100' - an internship scheme run by Leonard Cheshire for disabled students
- Muscular Dystrophy UK: Moving Up work experience programme – A work experience programme for young disabled people in London, featuring a work placement, mentoring, and ongoing careers support.
- MyPlus Students Club - job opportunities and a student toolkit for disabled students
- Astriid - connecting people with long-term health conditions with work opportunities.
- Disability Jobsite - committed to helping employers recruit the best talent by making sure their recruitment process and jobs are accessible to disabled as well as non-disabled candidates.
- Enna - Positions for neurodivergent job-seekers with inclusive employers, including Capita and Cambridge University
- Evenbreak – An job board helping inclusive employers attract disabled people.
- Reach: Equal Approach - Reach aims to connect diverse talent with inclusive organisations. The site includes a directory of inclusive organisations and a job search.
Finding disability positive employers
- Business Disability Forum - A business membership organisation focused on disability inclusion. Search through their members to find disability positive organisations.
- Disability Confident Employers – Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) - This regularly updated document from the DWP lists employers who have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme, making a commitment to inclusive employment.
- The Valuable 500 – A global collective of 500 CEOs and their companies, working for disability inclusion.
- Career Accelerator's Neurodiversity and Disability mentoring programme – supports Neurodiverse and Disabled young people work with Neurodiverse and Disabled professionals at strong allies at top firms to help them prepare for and secure top jobs.
Further useful sites
- Access to Work - help if your health or disability affects the way you do your job. It gives you and your employer advice, as well as support with extra costs which may arise because of your needs
- Association of Disabled Professionals - an association providing advice, information, and peer support to disabled professionals
- Blind In Business - a registered charity which helps blind and partially sighted students into work through training and employment services
- The National Autistic Society - the National Autistic Society provide training to people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in work, and has a partnership with Remploy to help increase the number of people with autism entering employment
- Shaw Trust - Shaw Trust is a national charity which supports disabled and disadvantaged people to prepare for work, find jobs and live more independently
- You're Able - an online community of and for people with disabilities, including a forum for work and learning