Disability Awareness: ‘But you don’t look disabled?’

As part of our commitment to Purple Tuesday 2020, we have pledged to raise awareness and educate our colleagues and customers around disabilities within the workplace. Our colleague Ferrial Syed volunteered to speak out around her disability and experiences that she has faced.

Ferrial has always had a passion for healthcare and research. Studying for a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences with Physiology & Pharmacology, before going on to gain a MSc in Cancer Therapeutics. Ferrial works with Innovative Trials as a Patient Recruitment Associate, having 5 years NHS experience as Senior Clinical Trials Practitioner of Clinical Oncology Commercial and Non-Commercial Research.

She has a vast knowledge in areas of Breast and Urological Cancers, along with experience as R&D manager for the Research Department at North Middlesex Hospital, taking the lead in supervising staff and managing a global clinical trials portfolio for oncology, gastroenterology, rheumatology and other therapeutic area research. Ferrial worked as an Accredited Workplace Mediator for the HR department, and has experience in Oncology, Clinical Research, Scientific Data Interpretation and Public Speaking, as Patron of the burns and wound healing charity, RAFT.

Ferrial shared her thoughts and past experiences with us: With having a physical disability from a burns accident when I was young a lot of people notice and ask, and I’m happy to talk about it, while a lot of people also don’t notice. Sometimes I wonder how it must be for people whose disabilities are not physical and others understanding of this.

From past experience, I’ve been so grateful for any extra help I was given, from school through to my working environment, and the efforts of teachers, lecturers and employers to make me feel supported. However, there is a fine line between disability support and making this person feel excluded due to their circumstances.

For example, when I was in school, I could have a support teacher with me all day. But would that then draw extra attention to me as a young person trying to make friends? What if that same teacher quietly came and sat at the back in a class with me? I knew I could call her if I needed help. If I was ok, I could then carry on with my friends. That would make me feel supported and not excluded. I am grateful that my support teachers and school were aware of this, and I have great memories making friends and learning to do a lot of things by myself.

In the work environment it is the same, we want to make individuals feel supported and included. Another example is job applications: Some employers will ask you to tick a box when you apply for a job if you meet the criteria and have a disability, if you would like to get an interview. This would benefit their diversity statistics, and also if you meet the basic criteria you are guaranteed an interview.

Seems like a win – win situation, but after ticking this box, you can’t help but think: was I invited for the interview because they think I am good for the job, or because I ticked the box that I also have a disability?

I guess, I could ask at the interview what they particularly liked or what stood out from my application, but what about the time leading up to that? Wouldn’t I feel unsure, disheartened, maybe demotivated instead of excited about the interview? It is crucial that we show we are a disability positive company, that we are always looking to be more supportive and that each individual is employed based on their skills and attributes and not because they tick a box.”

Here at Innovative Trials, we believe that people should be hired based on their talents, skills and attributes. Ferrial has brought fantastic experience with her, as you can see above, and demonstrated the right attributes aligning to our company values, enabling her to become a valuable asset to our team.

As a disability confident committed employer, we are encouraged to recruit, retain and support those with disabilities, thus ensuring a more inclusive environment. As highlighted by Ferrial, sometimes the line can be blurred for whether employers across the board are recruiting because of a candidate’s talent or just simply for an attractive statistic. 

Employers need to acknowledge the need for recognition of talents during the recruitment process. At Innovative Trials, we aim to ensure that our colleagues and candidates feel valued and appreciated throughout their entire experience of the company.

As a society, we have to ensure that diversity is incorporated within the workplace without objectifying others. We should focus our efforts on celebrating our differences. And look to hire someone, not to tick a box, but because they are the right fit for the job.

Diversity continues to be high on our agenda, and we are working behind the scenes to push this forward. Keep your eyes peeled for more.

Find out how we’re working with clients to ensure greater patient diversity in clinical trials.