If you live with a disability you’ll know how it feels to be treated differently, to catch uneasy stares, or to have people awkwardly bite their tongues to keep from asking "What happened to you?" You’d happily tell them, of course, because for you it’s just fact. But while this may happen as you go about everyday life, should you be treated differently in the workplace?
Working with a disability
Fortunately in the UK many practices and procedures exist to ensure an inclusive workplace. The Equality Act, for instance, helps to ensure employees are given the same opportunities, regardless of age, race, gender and even disability – it’s a positive practice to make sure such differences are never seen as an obstacle to getting a job or progressing in a chosen career.
I had already started a career in law before I suffered an accident that would change my life. I had been working at Fletchers Solicitors for three years before I came off a motorbike back in 1999, severing my spinal cord. Following my accident and the initial shock of it all, rather than packing my career in, I made the decision to dedicate my working life to fighting for the seriously injured and those affected by medical negligence.
I was fortunate to have a great support network around me and my employers were brilliant in supporting my rehabilitation back into work. Even after my accident I knew I’d be back, and they made it work – wheelchair and all. It could easily have been very different, and for many people it is.
People seem impressed when a young person with a physical disability has genuine aspirations to work in an area like law. That’s something I’ve never understood. Just because you have a chair or a walking stick, or you were born without one arm or the ability to hear, doesn’t mean you won’t want great things for yourself. I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, and I believe that my ambitions would be the same even if I’d been born with a disability.
The drive to succeed…
I’ve always been driven, but it’s true that an experience like mine – when I thought I might not live – gives you an edge that others struggle to comprehend. I specialise in serious injury and medical negligence law and it’s fair to say I’m suited to understand the needs of the severely injured. I feel privileged in a way, because I can really empathise with people who’ve had those experiences, and who feel their effects every day.
I made partner in 2005, and then became the firm’s director. Last year, I took over the role of CEO, which just goes to show how far a little hard work and determination can go. If you have the patience and tenacity to apply yourself in the workplace as you would through your studies, you’ll already be in good stead to succeed.
Disability in the legal field
If you are considering a career in law, it’s good to note that law firms are just the kind of place a disability will be widely accommodated. Office facilities are built or adapted to accommodate access issues, and other requirements such as flexible working hours can often be negotiated.
It is a challenging profession, but at the same time extremely rewarding, which is why it’s such a popular career choice. Every day is different, but to better equip you on what to expect I’d suggest finding a mentor who you can look to for guidance, or to read up on working in your dream job. Big aspirations never hurt and there is plenty of support out there to help you succeed.
Law is a fantastic industry to work in, and where you’re least likely to encounter prejudice. So if it is a career you want to pursue, do your research, self-promote, and don’t hold back.
This article was written by Ed Fletcher, CEO of a leading medical negligence and serious injury firm. Ed is also a paraplegic wheelchair user and mentor for young professionals living with disability.
You can find Ed tweeting here www.twitter.com/EdwardBFletcher