Did I ever tell you about the last time I interviewed for a paid job?
When I left university I started looked for paid work. And eventually I applied for an administrative position at the hospital where (with the exception of my years in Stoke at uni) I've always been treated for my CP. When I got the letter inviting me for an interview I was very very pleased especially given that I had been turned down for many other positions on the grounds that I had the qualifications (a degree) needed but no experience.
So I dressed up in my suit, did my hair all smart like. I gave my wheelchair a good going over to get rid of as much mud I'd accumlated traipsing around a forrest in the past week as was possible and I even put on a little more make up than usual. And off I went with my Dad going with me to give me a lift.
The interview was held in an office in a part of the hospital I knew well - part of the centre for enablement (basically a rehab unit) and it was a little strange to be sat there waiting for the interview. I can't remember what the function of the two women I would have been working under was but I can remember sitting there wondering if it would be people who had been involved in my treatment and being comforted by the fact that I hadn't reckonised their names as former therapists of mine.
One of the interviewers came to get me and we chatted a little about my holiday from the previous week (the interview had been rearranged due to that) as we walked to the room it was to be held in. She introduced me to her co interviewer and the first question they asked was "Tell us something about yourself. Who is Emma?" So I told them about how I'd just been to Penrith for a week with my sister and a friend of mine, how I'd just graduated with a 2:2 in Business Studies from Staffs Uni and that I'd studied at the Stoke campus. I told them that I liked working with computers and that I am a people person amongst other things.
Then I made what to me was an innocent comment. What was it?
"I've just moved into my own flat last weekend" They asked where it was and I tried to explain, hampered by the fact that they obviously lived and spent all their time in Oxford itself and I live in OxfordSHIRE i.e. in one of the outlying towns and villages. they hadn't heard of it or any of the places I said it was near but we eventually got it straigtened out and they asked their second question.
"So you said you've just moved into a flat by yourself. In this flat do you have carers? What do they do for you?"
Yes, yes, yes a hideously illegal question if ever there was one. No disability related questions in a job interview thank you very much, it's the law.
But I answered it for fear it would reflect badly on me if I didn't. Yes, I had carers but all they did for me was showering and cooking. I was hoping that soon the bathroom would be sorted out with a suitable seat and enough grab rails that I could shower myself.
The interview continued, they asked various questions about the position and I answered. Then the woman who was sat to the right of the panel asked me "I noticed that you put on the application that you can't drive. Is that true? It is I see. Are you planning to learn?"
I started to explain that I had tried learning to drive and had it reccommended to me after 20+ lessons that it was highly unlikely I would managed to pass a driving test at that time due to my issues with spatial awareness (judging size/shape/location/distance). So I had stopped and it was something I had been told I could return to but had yet to chose too and didn't think I would.
So, asks she, do you have a carer driver? No, my Dad had brought me that day but I had found a way for me to get their via public transport and I also knew of a government initiative (Access to Work) that would help me with transport to a job if I needed it. I had an appt with the adviser from there in a couple of weeks.
Well, says her colleague, if you want to work you're just going to have to learn to drive. Then going on to ask which therapist from the hospital it was who had told me I couldn't learn to drive and debating amongst themselves exactly why I had been told that etc etc.
At this point my nerves were evaporating and slowly beginning to be replaced by my temper which was on something of a slow boil. We talked a little longer and the interview was over. I thanked them and went to meet my Dad to drive home.
As we drove home I told him how I felt that they had been more interested in Emma the disabled person, rather than Emma the job applicant and that they had asked me more about having CP than the job and no matter how much detail I put into my non CP answers it always came back to that.
We went to visit my Gran that afternoon and as I was sat there I received a call on my mobile. I'm sorry, Emma, you did very well but we've chosen someone with more experience for the position. She went onto give me some feedback - I'd been obviously nervous but had answered their questions well etc etc.
I was relieved not to get the job. After that interview (the worst I've ever had) I didn't want to work with them. My family made comments about how sorry there were but I was like "I'm not" my Dad then said "yeah, you didn't want that job did you?" and I had, I really really had... but after that interview I really really didn't. I probably would have taken it had it been offered to me however, for fear of never getting another. So I guess the rejection was a blessing in disguise. I can't remember what we did after that but knowing my Gran it was probably something like having a bar of chocolate (Galaxy!) and a can of coke. And so we put it aside.
A big part of me did wonder however, was there someone who was chosen because they were better suited to the position than me or was I not chosen because I've got CP? They had made it all too obvious that was all they cared about when it came to me. The disability, not the girl.
My biggest regret about this however is that I didn't make a complaint about how they treated me... When I met with the disability employment adviser a month or so after that I told her about that interview and she was spitting mad about it. I felt like it was too late to make a complaint but she said it wasn't. I wouldn't complain but I did say she could mention it to the hospital bosses when she met with them the next week (with the proviso that she only referred to me as a client not by name).
After that interview I really didn't feel that I wanted to be a part of the world of work and I didn't make any applications for a long time. If that was going to be how I was treated I wanted no part of it.
But then my Mum found a newspaper article saying that my local CAB was looking for volunteers and something made me pop in to the bureau to ask about it. I had an informal interview with the manager in which nothing was mentioned about my disability until after we had agreed that I would start the following week as an admin assistant. And then it was how best they could help me/we could work around it.
A few weeks after that I was asked if I wanted to apply to be a volunteer adviser for them instead and I agreed. I was given a more formal interview in front of two different members of staff and I was awarded the position.
Again my CP wasn't mentioned and my faith in job interviews had come someway to being restored. But full time paid work is always going to be a problem for me and so I stuck by my decision not to work.
Not because I was scared of how I would be treated but because in volunteering for CAB I had found a job I loved. I had found my niche at last.
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