Information for disabled and neurodivergent students

The legal definition of disability

Under the Equality Act 2010, disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term (lasting or likely to last at least 12 months) adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. The Act does not provide a list of conditions that are covered, but instead considers the impact of a condition on a person.

The support that the Careers Service offers

The Oxford University Careers Service offers tailored support to all students who identify as having a disability, neurodiverse condition or long-term health condition. There is no "one size fits all" approach to disability so we offer a range of options:

  • 1:1 appointments: Sometimes talking through your circumstances with a Careers Adviser can help you decide what is “right for you”. We have a specialist team of careers advisers (Madalena FonsecaCallum Buchanan, and Damilola Odimayo) that offer long (45 minute) career discussions dedicated to disability and long-term health conditions. If you would prefer to discuss it with another Careers Adviser during a short (20 minute) discussion, they will also be able to help you.
  • Dedicated events: termly bespoke sessions, workshops and events covering topics such as if and how to talk about disability with employers, how to ask for adjustments, how to approach psychometric testing, among others. You can find them in the term planner.
  • Resources: a list of external sources of advice and resources, including independent organisations and charities dedicated to supporting disabled candidates. 

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Many students fear that employers will view them less favourably if they share (‘disclose’) information about their disability/health condition. This is a valid concern; however, many employers are recognising the importance of diversity in the workplace and are encouraging, knowledgeable and confident in supporting disabled applicants and employees. 

There are many benefits to being open about your disability/health conditions with employers:

  • So that you can request the adjustments/support that you need. You may require adjustments to demonstrate your potential at each stage of the recruitment process and to perform well in the role once you secure the job.
  • So that you are covered by the Equality Act 2010. You are only protected once you inform the employer.
  • So that you can discuss your disability positively with an employer. If you are open, you will have control over what information you share and how you share it. You can talk about the skills and strengths that you developed by having or managing a disability on a daily basis.
  • So that you can explain certain aspects of your applications that relate specifically to your disability (e.g. a gap in your education, lower academics or lack of experience).

It is a good idea to think through the pros and cons of disclosing from your perspective before making a decision. If you think talking through your circumstances with a Careers Adviser might be helpful, please book a 1:1 discussion through CareerConnect.

Yes and No.

You are usually under no legal obligation to share information about your disability or health condition with an employer at any point.

You may, however, choose to do it, and there are many benefits to doing so (see above).

In some circumstances, you may be obliged to provide information about your disability/health condition. For example, if there are health and safety implications (e.g. epilepsy) or to establish your ‘fitness to practise’ (e.g. in medicine or teaching).

There are several opportunities for you to share (“disclose”) your disability/health condition with an employer. You may choose to share it at the start of the application (i.e. on your application form, CV or cover letter), upon being invited for tests/interviews, upon receipt/acceptance of job offer, before starting the job, or once in role.

At which stage you choose to do it will depend on your circumstances and when you feel most confident to do so. There are several benefits to disclosing early in the application process:

  • The more notice you give an employer of your requirements, the easier it will be for them to accommodate them. (I would not be a good idea to turn up to a job interview and tell them on the day that you have a disability and require adjustments!)
  • If you inform an employer of your disability after an assessment, they won’t be able to retrospectively take it into account.

Consider booking an appointment with a Careers Adviser if you would like to talk through when and how to share information about your disability with an employer.

Disclose positively and tell them about your individual circumstances:

  • Don’t assume employers will understand your disability without further information. Be prepared to describe your disability simply and briefly, and how it affects you.
  • Be prepared to articulate your needs (more on this below). Your situation is likely to be different from those with a similar diagnosis and what you need to perform well may also be different. So, don’t leave the employer to guess what your needs are.
  • Share what is relevant. Avoid jargon and focus on what is relevant to the job in question. Practice saying what you are going to share so that you feel confident discussing it.
  • Focus on your skills and strengths: don’t assume an employer will view you negatively. As a result of having a disability and/or managing it on a daily basis, you will have developed skills and strengths that are invaluable in the workplace (e.g. problem solving, communication, determination, attention to detail, empathy). 

If you would like to read more about discussing your mental health condition with employers, read the AGCAS guide on 'Explaining your mental health condition to others'.

If you would like to read more about discussing neurodiversity with employers, read the AGCAS guide on 'Disclosure - Neurodiversity'.

If you would like to discuss how to word your particular circumstances with a careers adviser, please book one of our dedicated appointments through CareerConnect.

Under the Equality Act Act 2010, employers have a legal responsibility to make “reasonable adjustments” to ensure that disabled applicants and employees are not at a disadvantage when completing a job application or once in role. Whether or not an adjustment is considered “reasonable” will depend on factors such as whether it is affordable for the employer to implement it and whether it is likely to be effective. It is important to note that an employer does not have a duty to provide adjustments if they have no way of knowing that you have a disability (e.g. if you have not informed them).

Adjustments might make a big difference to you despite being typically simple and cost-effective for the employer to implement them. Examples include changes in desk height, ramp access, provision of assistive technology, extra time for an interview/psychometric tests, an advance visit to familiarise yourself with the place where the interview will take place, flexible working hours, having a designated buddy, time off to attend regular medical appointments, regular breaks, written instruction, among many others.

To determine what you need as an applicant:

  • Find out what each stage of the recruitment process involves.
  • Consider which adjustments (if any) you had in school or university – are they applicable?
  • Think about situations in your life that may have been similar to some of the stages in the recruitment - what was difficult? what helped? 

To determine what you need as an employee:

  • Start by considering what adjustments you had in school or university (if any) – are they relevant to this working environment?
  • Try to find out as much as possible about what activities your role will involve on a day-to-day basis – what might you need to do those tasks well?
  • Consider also the work environment (e.g. sensitivity to light, noise).  

It is important to think about how to articulate these needs to the employer. Keep it brief and concise. Focus on what you think would be useful for the employer to know. You could:

  • start by telling them the situation (e.g. “I have a disability” or “I have an anxiety disorder”);
  • then explain some of the ways it impacts you (e.g. “This means that I get nervous and anxious particularly in novel situations.”);
  • finally, let them know which adjustments you will require (e.g. “It would be useful for me to have an orientation visit prior to my interview and a schedule of the day.”). If you are unsure about which adjustments would be helpful, tell the employer that you would like to discuss some adjustments with them.

To read more about discussing reasonable adjustments for neurodiversity with employers, read the AGCAS guide on 'Reasonable Adjustments - Neurodiversity'.

If you are considering, or in the process of, applying for a graduate scheme, read the article on 'Graduate scheme hopefuls: What I learned supporting disabled applicants'

A disability-friendly or disability-positive employer is an organisation that is committed to ensuring that their disabled employees feel welcomed and valued. When considering different employers and whether or not to disclose, it is always worth looking for evidence of an employer’s engagement with diversity, and in particular disability. You could try the following:

  • Check if they have a staff disability network
  • Look out for external accreditation on their website/job advertisements – Are they a Disability Confident employer, a Stonewall Diversity Champion or part of the Mindful Employer charter?
  • Check their vacancies page – do they explain how disabled applicants can access adjustments? Is the application form accessible?
  • Check if they partner with organisations such as MyPlus Students' Club or EmployAbility.
  • See if and how they celebrate diversity on their website and social media pages – are disabled employees featured on their website or social media?

Note that being a ‘Disability Confident’ employer means the employer has made some commitment to employing disabled people, such as guaranteeing a job interview for disabled applicants if they meet the minimum job criteria.

A number of independent organisations and charities exist to provide careers advice to students and graduates with a disability or long-term health condition. Others have dedicated pages on their website with guidance and resources. Some notable ones include:

  • TargetJobs diversity matters series – specialist advice from the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services on key diversity issues including gender, race and disability. Use this resource to identify diversity positive employers, understand disclosure and get an understanding of your rights.

  • AGCAS Disability Task Group Blog – disability-related topics, advice and analysis designed for students, graduates, and HE Careers professionals.  

  • MyPlus Students Club – website for students with disabilities or long-term health conditions. It provides these students with information to prepare for graduate job applications and the recruitment process.

  • EmployAbility – advice for disabled people on careers, employment and legislation. Links to relevant sources for advice and support.

  • Disability Rights UK – aims to strengthen the voice of disabled people and provides a huge amount of practical information on accessing resources.

  • The Equality & Human Rights Commission – have a statutory remit to protect, enforce and promote equality. Their website contains lots of advice and guidance.

  • Association of Disabled Professionals – for professionals, entrepreneurs, students and the self-employed. Can be accessed via audio/no graphics/large text versions.

  • Disabled Entrepreneurs – aims to inspire and support disabled people to become successful entrepreneurs.

  • Autism Forward – provide mentoring and funding for adults on the autistic spectrum

  • AbilityNET – national charity in the field of computing and disability

  • Evenbreak - matching employers who value diversity with talented disabled candidates
  • Blind in Business – support blind and those with partial sight into employment

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