Rhiann has just completed her English & Sociology degree at Leeds and is now undertaking a graduate internship with Leonard Cheshire Disability. In this post she discusses the value of taking a placement year and what she’s learnt about managing a health condition and choosing if and when to disclose a health condition or disability to an employer.
My current role
I work at the charity Leonard Cheshire Disability as a Corporate Partnerships Assistant. I am part of their Change100 internship scheme, which partners disabled students/graduates with top employers around the country. My job involves leading a proposal for £150,000 worth of funding to develop gardening programmes for the disabled people we support. I recently finished my English and Sociology degree at Leeds, which I combined with a placement year through the Careers Centre. I would really encourage students to make the most of the careers support available at Leeds. The range of opportunities they offer is fantastic, and this was how I discovered Change 100.
About my placements
While studying at Leeds, I developed a passion for human rights and equality. I recognised that pursuing a career in the charity sector required as much experience as possible, so I decided upon a placement year. I secured an internship in the Communications team at MassChallenge, a start-up accelerator in London. My main responsibilities were content production and research, primarily around gender inequality in the tech industry. My second placement was with Y Care International through the International Citizen Service. I worked with the YMCA in Senegal, during which time I learnt skills in intercultural communication, as well as experiencing the benefits and pitfalls of international development. My final placement was with the Rosie May Foundation, a small charity working in Sri Lanka to empower women and girls through education and employment. I discovered the opportunity when the Director gave a talk held by the PIN society at Leeds Uni. Attending events and networking is a great way to find out about placements like this.
My placement year was essential for my personal development and career progression, and I saw how international work can be successful in terms of forming intercultural relations. However, I also appreciated the exposure to the reality of development, which can be gruelling and needs to be undertaken strategically in order to avoid the ‘Western saviour’ effect. For anyone considering a career in the charity sector, I would recommend choosing your charity carefully: look into how their money is spent and consider if their operations are effective for the people they aim to support. Working for a charity can be incredibly rewarding if they implement effective change and put their beneficiaries first.
Managing a health condition in the workplace
While at university, I developed Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome and Crohn’s Disease, which was difficult to manage alongside studying and working full-time. Initially, I refused to accept that my health was a problem and insisted on diving head-first into international work. I have since learned that the first step of managing a disability or health condition is to accept that you may need to work in a different way to your colleagues, and this is nothing to be embarrassed about. I had never disclosed my condition to an employer before my current job, fearing I would be considered unsuitable. This ultimately caused more problems than it solved when I became ill while abroad.
However, my charity experience enabled me to join the Change100 scheme with Leonard Cheshire, which has completely transformed my view of disability. Embracing my condition has actually opened up opportunities for me. Managing my health has helped me develop personal skills that give me an edge in job interviews, and make me a more efficient and driven worker.
I now realise that telling an employer about a condition means they can put measures in place to make things easier, and I would recommend anyone in a similar situation to know what you are entitled to so you can feel confident in asking for it. Employers are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and cannot fire you for having a health condition or disability, something I have previously experienced. Opening up a conversation with your employer is vital, and the inclusive work environment at Leonard Cheshire Disability has encouraged me to understand that disability does not have to be a taboo.
My next steps
The placements I took through the Careers Centre, as well as the advice from my placement tutor, have been essential in helping me get to where I am now, in a challenging and exciting job that I love. In September I will be starting a Master’s degree at the University of York in International Human Rights Law and Practice. My placement experiences and the lessons I’ve learnt while managing my health helped me demonstrate when applying that I had the skills to study human rights law. My final advice would be to use initiative, be unafraid to shout about your passions, and turn your personal challenges into opportunities for development.