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Self-awareness: your greatest asset

Brianne Turk

How to plan your career with a disability in mind - learn how to use self awareness to find your dream job.

Career planning is about self-awareness – identifying your interests, understanding your strengths and acknowledging your limitations. This is true for everyone, but is especially pertinent for people with disability.

For some, having disability will have an impact on your career: on the fields you choose, the tasks you complete and the hours you work. In some cases, this impact will be minimal and  perhaps largely managed on your own. In others, significant support will be required: transport assistance, interpreters, communication aids, flexible hours, regular one-on-one training. If you can be upfront with yourself about this, this knowledge can have a positive influence on your career planning.

Strengths

It’s tempting to start career planning by listing off all the things you can’t do.

"Can’t hear.”

“Can’t process large quantities of information.”

“Can’t decipher priorities on my own.”

“Can’t spell.”

This can be particularly enticing for those whose disability has a significant impact on work-related activities. But we’d suggest flipping this approach on it’s head.Rather than focusing on barriers to employment, start listing off everything that you have to offer – the multitude of things you bring to the table.  

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What personality traits do you inherently possess?
  • What skills and subjects come naturally to you?
  • What strengths do you have?
  • What is your point of difference?
  • What does your disability offer that might help shape your career?

Despite having difficulty with spelling and reading, many people with dyslexia for example, are well suited to and extremely successful in creative and tech industries, entrepreneurship and engineering. This is due to enhanced thinking skills in the areas of visualising, imagining and communicating. With a natural proficiency in inventing, exploring and making connections, roles such as architects, programmers, scientists and musicians are a great fit.

Likewise, although an individual with autism may find it difficult to identify and interpret social cues, their heightened visual perception and acute interest in a product or industry might put them ahead of the competition as specialists in particular fields.

There’s no doubt that the experience of disability develops a range of life skills that are directly transferable to the workplace. These might include a determination, perseverance and willingness to work hard when things get tough; being able to adapt, think outside the box and find innovative solutions; and the ability to communicate with diverse groups, empathise and effectively assert your needs.  

With all of this in mind, consider what traits, skills and experience you bring. Don’t forget to consider the insight that your disability has provided, especially in the areas of accessibility, equality and human rights.

Needs and limitations

After identifying interests, skills and strengths, it’s time to acknowledge any needs or limitations which might impact your work. By being realistic about these factors – and seeking support where required – you’ll have a better chance of finding work that allows you to succeed.  

Think about any challenges you face in your day-to-day life. Will these be present in an employment situation? If so, how are you currently navigating these challenges? Could such strategies be applied to the workplace? Getting clear on these factors will help you determine which roles are a good fit, and what you might need in order to carry them out.

Questions to consider:

  • How many hours per week can you work? E.g. are you looking for full-time or part-time work?
  • Are there certain hours of the day where you are most productive? E.g. perhaps your pain worsens as the day goes on, decreasing work outcomes.
  • Can you access all cities, suburbs and workplaces? E.g. do you have the option to move cities or suburbs for employment? Do you need transport assistance, ramps or a designated car space?
  • Are there any specific supports that you need to carry out work-related duties? E.g. captioning, larger text on computer screens, an accessible mobile phone, support with prioritising tasks, work from home arrangements, a distraction-free workspace.
  • Are there any roles or tasks within your area of interest that you can’t or won’t do, regardless of supports provided? E.g. working with children, driving, public speaking, client-facing work, physical labour, handwriting.

Throughout this process remember that you are the expert in you. The more self-aware you are, the more likely you’ll direct yourself to work that promotes your strengths and supports your needs.

If you think you’ve got the knack to become a killer real estate broker, but your disability prevents you from driving to locations, make a note of it. If you need to sit on the right hand side of a colleague to communicate because you’re hard of hearing in your right ear, jot it down. Recruiters are eager to see that you’re aware of strategies that will enable you to successfully carry out a role. Limitations don’t have to define your employment options. This is where workplace adjustments come in.

For more information about how workplace adjustments can support your career, check out 'Workplace adjustments – what are they?'