Going To A Disability Job Fair
Since being diagnosed with AS, I have had real difficulties when it comes to finding employment. Prior to my diagnosis, I was working in education, but sacked on account of my health problems. This was extremely hard to take, but as I was completely unable to walk at the time, I decided to take a break from working and put all my energy into making a recovery.
Unfortunately, by the time I had my condition under control along with the ability to walk again, COVID19 had arrived to spoil the party. This made re-entering the world of work very difficult.
Fast forward a few years of being in hiding and failing to find a job that agrees with my health conditions and/or an employer to agree to hire me, I find myself scraping by on unemployment benefits. It really is a challenge to survive in a city as expensive as London. To add insult to injury, the health conditions which have put me in this situation are not deemed to be enough enough to receive any kind of disability benefits.
Then one day at one of my (usually disappointing) appointments at the job centre, I was asked if I would like to attend a job fair for people with disabilities.
Deciding on whether to go
I had mixed feelings at first. I felt completely lost as to what to do with my life career-wise and being sacked for my health condition had knocked my confidence massively. I was hoping that maybe I could get some ideas on what kind of work is available and suitable for someone with my condition. Being unemployed for so long had brought with it many feelings of worthlessness and I hoped that maybe this could help me turn a corner.
But the imposter syndrome feelings that come with being dynamically disabled also kicked in. Even the people suggesting that I go to this fair did not believe I was actually disabled or they would be paying me disability allowance! I wondered whether it would be fair for me to go as maybe I was not ‘disabled enough’.
At the time I was going through a low pain and stiffness period and was able to walk about crutch free. I thought maybe it would look strange to people to attend as a man in his 20s with no visible signs of disability.
However in the end, I decided to bite the bullet and head down to the event at my local college.
Going to the fair
It was a rather bizarre start to the day. When I arrived, I was greeted by a crowd of teachers and employers chanting outside protesting for higher wages. However, I chose not to think too much about the probability that I would likely still be underpaid even if this fair did lead to employment and opened the door with a bit of hope.
As I entered, I saw a sign pointing to the waiting area for the disability job fair. But before I could enter the room, I was intercepted by a security guard who mistook me for a student and tried to usher me another way into the college. I explained that I was indeed there for the disability job fair and after blurting out a very awkward "Oh, I see..." he let me pass.
The room was filled with people with a wide spectrum of health conditions. I did feel a bit conscious of the fact that it appeared that I seemed to be the only person present with an invisible illness. However, I thought it would have been a bit disrespectful to bring my walking stick out on a rare day that my joints were behaving themselves!
After a longer wait than advertised, we were asked to form a line outside the entrance to the hall. One by one people were being let in after a brief conversation with the person in charge. However, when I reached the front of the queue, I was greeted by a question that I did not hear being asked to anyone that was in front of me: “Sorry if this sounds rude, but how are you disabled?”
It was the second time my presence at the event had been questioned and this definitely brought down my spirits. But after explaining my situation I was allowed in and I tried to not let it break my optimism for finding something exciting at one of the stalls. I suppose after years of having my disability questioned, I am a now bit numb to this sort of thing.
It was a failure
The line to head inside was the last part with any kind of organization. I had never been to a job fair of any kind before so didn’t really know what to expect or what to do there. The only instruction I received was: "have a look around and see what you like the look of."
But in reality, it was a bit of a free for all with no queuing (which I know goes against most stereotypes of British life). All I could really do was wait for a chair to become empty at a stall and try to make a break for it and work out what the organization was after getting my bum in the chair!
Out of the stalls I did manage to visit, the vast majority were employing people for physical labour. I suppose this was aimed at people with more mental challenges, but they were certainly not very AS compatible.
A temporary glimmer of hope
My interest was piqued by one stall that was offering disabled people an internship for a company that creates online media content. This sounded really exciting to me and I was very eager to sign up for it.
However, despite having a degree in the subject, it was Geography that extinguished this flickering light of hope. For some peculiar reason this offer was only available to people living in the neighboring borough to mine. The most frustrating part is that the border is 200 meters away from my home and there are actually houses on the same road as mine that come under their jurisdiction.
So because of a zoning issue, I had used up all of my day’s spoons on an unsuccessful trip. I went home just as unemployed and confused as to what to do with my life as I was when I arrived.
It is a bitter piece of irony that the government deems me not disabled enough to help financially but is still open to sign me up for events aimed at disabled people. But I do think that it is great that things like this exist, and I really hope that there were people present on that day that had a more successful day than I did.
However as great as it is that there is some help out there for people with disabilities, it does not make sense to lump us all into one category and hope for the best. I can only really talk about the situation for people with conditions like mine but I have never had any guidance as to what I can do career-wise after my diagnosis. I had my job taken away from me and replaced with a life changing illness and left to figure everything out by myself.
But I like to live in hope that one day I will work it out. That day was not my day, but we go again tomorrow!
Has your chronic illness got in the way of you finding employment? Let me know in the comments below.
Have you taken our In America Survey yet?