The possibility of appearing on a panel was a daunting one. During my time with the Hidden Talent project, I’d dabbled in public speaking from time to time, I don’t think I’d done anything on this scale before. As such, there was an added pressure to get it right, not just for myself, but for the various people with hidden conditions who are the centre of our work.
Myself and Talent Match Leicestershire Manager Emma Southern arrived at Hull Truck Theatre at 7:45am, after having endured a 2 and a half hour taxi drive up there, I had a million things going through my head, the sight of various organizations working with disabled people all showing up to offer their support, the members of PADD (People’s Awareness of Disability Discrimination) who pulled off this incredible event, Alan Johnson MP going through the event plan… and hoping that the bags under my eyes weren’t too visible.
Starting off the session was a bizarre comedic performance by double act Norris and Parker, who proceeded to act out a scenario of the outspoken boss and the unassuming candidate. Their satire was to put it simply… magic. As someone who uses self-deprecating humour to sell the Hidden Talent Project, it was an incredible experience to be to laugh at the stereotypes and misconceptions of disabilities listed but done so in a tasteful manner. It was one of the most incredible displays of comedy genius I have ever had the pleasure of being witness to, and reaffirmed my belief that when disclosing a hidden condition, it helps to have a few funny bones handy.
Then it was time for PADD’s very own Gemma Genter to take to the front to share her experiences. Gemma described her own difficulties in finding work while also highlighting the universal issues young people face when looking for work. She showed all the makings of a born spokeswoman, championing our cause to the masses.
Next up was Nicky Ivory Chapman from Channel 4, and she spoke about some of the programmes that Channel 4 was running to create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities. Watching a video of various interviewees sharing their experiences struck an emotional chord for me. Seeing all these people with hidden conditions not only in work that they enjoyed, but receiving the support they needed was like watching our own endgame in mind.
Then it was time for the panel members to take to the stage (or in this case, the sofas), and as my name was called out and I made my way to the front, I was grateful that I made it there without tripping up. From that point I just had to hope my silver tongue didn’t go rusty mid-sentence.
It was fascinating listening to the other healthcare professionals alongside me regarding their methodologies and approaches, offering a perspective on working with people with hidden conditions that I have no doubt will benefit Hidden Talent in the days to come. And then it was my turn to speak, mainly in regards to reasonable adjustments.
This was for me, The Moment of Truth; to make sure that all of the knowledge, experience and research I had accumulated paid off… suffice to say, it did. I outlined some general methods of support in the workplace, as well as some specific cases that I had come across in my time, and they seemed fairly receptive to what I was saying – of course they didn’t pelt me with rancid tomatoes (always a good sign).
Rounding off the panel was Laura Jane Rawlings of Youth Employment UK sharing a few words on… well, youth employment. After that, there was half an hour of networking and chatting, and coming to the gradual realization that no this wasn’t a dream. It felt like a dream… although that might have been the sleep deprivation kicking in.
Coming away from the event, I feel revitalized by participating in something that could have national implications. When you’re trying to raise awareness, sometimes it feels like a constant battle uphill to get your point across. But seeing so many employers and organizations there who want to be a part of bringing about this big change gives me a huge confidence boost in the work we are doing, and is a hell of a motivator to anyone working with hidden conditions…