BT: seeing beyond disability
Don’t’ give up. You only need one person to look at your application and see beyond your disability.” This is the advice from Callum Stoneman to blind and partially sighted graduates who are looking to secure their first job or graduate scheme placements.
Callum, 21, has just started his role as a Network Designer on the BT Graduate Networks Scheme and is one of 243 graduates joining BT’s scheme this year. He talks about the challenges he faced applying for jobs, the application process and how BT has supported him right from the start.
Blind from birth due to the rare inherited eye disorder, Norrie disease, Callum moved from his hometown of Bradford to Bolton in 2017 to study Computer Networks & Security.
Applying for jobs
Not long after starting university he started applying for part time jobs to have something to put on his CV other than academic qualifications. He said: “For 90% of the jobs I applied for, I heard absolutely nothing back. I accept that for some jobs, I probably wasn’t experienced enough, but for others, although the employers never actually said this, I think my visual impairment put them off employing me.”
Callum indicated that he is visually impaired on the applications. He said: “I think if you keep this from prospective employers until the interview you are not doing yourself any favours as the employer will think ‘What else are they keeping from me.’
“But I always reference this in a positive way, for example to show how independent I am or how I can easily adapt to new and unfamiliar situations as I have to do this regularly in my everyday life.”
Three years and over a hundred unsuccessful job applications later, Callum was coming to the end of his university course and looking into full time jobs and graduate schemes. He said: “I knew from my experience of applying for part-time jobs I needed to start looking for either a job or graduate scheme as soon as I started my third year.
“I found out about the graduate scheme through BT’s website. I thought the role sounded good and applied for it.
BT graduate scheme application process
Part of the interview process was an automated online video interview. Callum explained the issues with this and the adjustments BT made for him during the interview process: “As I am completely blind, it is difficult for me to know whether I can be seen clearly on camera, plus the interface of the apps/websites used for video interviews tends to be inaccessible.
“I know these kinds of interviews never give the best impression of me so I emailed to ask if they could do a telephone interview instead. Within a couple of days they replied to say they would be happy to do this instead.
“The phone interview went well as did the rest of the application process which included an online test and face to face interview at an assessment centre.
Callum’s boss, Katie Oldham, explained the application process: “BT Graduate scheme applications are handled by an independent graduate team. They go through applications and shortlist for the interviews and assessment centre. With interviews and practical sessions, candidates get through this assessment centre on their own merit. It is only at this stage that we then meet the candidates.”
Callum explained how supportive BT has been around making the adjustments he needed: “Shortly after receiving the news that I’d got the job, BT’s occupational health team called to find out about my visual impairment and how this may affect me in the workplace. Katie and our Unit Manager Darren then called to talk about what adjustments I would need.
“I explained I would need a screen reader, a Braille display and made them aware I would have a guide dog with me. These adjustments were just not a problem for them.”
Katie said: “We were made aware early on that things can take longer so was keen to ensure we had everything in place before Callum started.”
Accessible technology and Access to Work
Callum immediately applied to Access to Work* for JAWS screen reader software and a BrailleNote TouchPlus. He said: “It is crazy. They know I am blind yet send documents through the post for me to read and sign. I am so lucky to have a sighted partner otherwise I would not know what I have to physically sign. In saying that, the process was fairly quick and the equipment arrived within six weeks ready for me to start my role.”
BT has funded Callum to complete a JAWS training sessions and is looking at how accessible the various BT platforms are. Callum explained: “So far I’ve found most systems to be pretty accessible. Most are web based which helps. The only area is the timesheet system and we are working on improving this.
“Nothing has been too much trouble. On the odd occasion inaccessible slides have been shown in an induction presentation, an accessible version is sent through straight away afterwards. In team meetings colleagues send this in advance. Although I have only been here a short time, my initial experience has been really positive.”
Callum is the first VI member of staff Katie has managed. She said: “This has been a learning curve for me. We have an internal disability people network, Able2, which oversees our inclusion and diversity practises. Both Able2 and our Digital Experience Team have been so helpful in helping us to understand vision impairment and what adjustments we may need to make.
“We didn’t know what we didn’t know. Our Able 2 programme showed us how we can make things accessible. They gave us training and shared the accessibility checker. It’s made us question things in a good way.
BT: an example of good practise
“We have only needed to make small adjustments to make things accessible. It has not been hard. We are now looking at various ways to share learnings and raise awareness via Workplace and other comms.”
Usually graduates within BT rotate around the business in various placements. Because Callum’s role in the Technical and Service Design (T&SD) team is very specific and technical, he will spend two years in the role.
Katie said: “Callum is doing so well and is easy to work with. If he encounters a problem he generally has already figured it out how it can be fixed or resolved.”
Callum thinks there needs to be more training and awareness raising across employers around disability and inclusion using BT as an example of good practise. He said: “I think some blindness awareness campaigns are really unhelpful as they focus on the challenges blind people face. This reinforces the preconceptions among employers that employing blind and partially sighted people is a real problem. It needs to be flipped to what adjustments can be made and what visually impaired people can do.
“My advice to blind and partially sighted graduates looking for a job or to secure a role on a graduate scheme is simply – don’t give up!
“It is hard. So many times, especially during the long gap in the summer, I was applying for jobs 9am-5pm. It can be disheartening but you only need one person to look at your application and see beyond your disability.”
*About Access to Work
The cost of accessible technology for employees with disabilities does not have to fall on the employer. The government’s Access to Work grant helps disabled employees pay for special equipment, adaptations, support worker services or help getting to and from work. www.gov.uk/access-to-work
Inclusion and disability at BT
A ‘Disability Confident’ employer, BT works closely with industry leading partners, such as Business Disability Forum (BDF) and both BT and its EE businesses have a BDF ‘disability smart’ silver standard award.
Many of its innovations, like its Disability and Carers Passports which helps people move around BT, are now used by other companies to improve their employees’ lives as well.
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