Finding accessible work with a chronic illness

hand holding notebook reading 'futile attempt at organising my life', with legs and feet in cosy PJs propped up in background

So, let’s talk about working with a chronic illness.

Since I started blogging, there’s one question I’ve consistently been asked more than any other: how I got my flexible, work from home job. If you don’t already know, I split my time between employment with a well-known UK disability charity, self-employment as a blogger and freelance writer, running a social enterprise, and relentlessly guzzling tea whilst making extensive to-do lists. You can find out a bit more about my background here.

This post has come about rather spontaneously, following preparations for a livestream on Zubia where I’ll be discussing accessible employment and managing work with a chronic illness. It was whilst doing my prep that it hit me: whilst there are a fair few of us talking about our own experiences, there’s not a great deal of practical support and signposting others to what helpful resources are currently out there.

So, that’s led me here: to a blog post I’m hastily putting together just before my livestream, in the hope that I’ll come back and keep adding to it. It’s no secret that there simply aren’t enough flexible opportunities out there for chronically ill people, with many employers yet to realise they’re missing out on a huge wealth of talent, but I hope these resources go some way in helping others to kick-start their own careers.

pippa holding up copy of dear chronic illness book and smiling at camera

I’ve split the following up into schemes, mentoring, work from home job searching and freelance opportunities. There’s so much more I want to add when I have the time, but for now, let’s jump straight into it with some cheeky schemes worth a look into…

Schemes:

  • BBC’s Extend Hub: a new talent recruitment hub for disabled people, providing opportunities in journalism, production, technology and business.
  • EmployAbility: a portal of events and vacancies for disabled students and graduates.
  • Change100: Leonard Cheshire’s database of paid 3-month internship opportunities with top UK employers. I will say that I had a not-so-positive experience with this one in 2016, where my application was rejected on the grounds that I wasn’t well enough to work full-time: in my opinion, quite a contradiction for a scheme that hails itself as wholly accessible and inclusive. However, I’ve heard that they’re now committed to implementing more flexible working going forwards, so don’t rule it out purely based on my experience.
  • 4Talent: Channel 4’s collection of apprenticeships, training schemes, mentoring and work experience in the media industry. Whilst not exclusively for disabled people, their Support & Advice page highlights their desire to employ more disabled people, and outlines the steps they’re taking to make sure people’s needs are met.
  • Reed in Partnership: this programme, by The Reed Foundation has been anecdotally recognised as a partiuclarly supportive scheme for applicants with disabilities. You can search for specific jobs on their site, and they’ll take care of any reasonable adjustments you need to thrive. Many of these positions are managerial/executive, with corresponding salaries.
  • Access to Work: a government scheme to provide practical and financial support for disabled people in work, where reasonable adjustments cannot be covered by an employer. I haven’t experienced this myself, but Gem Hubbard and Jessica Kellgren-Fozard discuss their own experiences of the scheme in this video (from 13:30 onwards).

Mentoring:

  • Scope’s two support programmes, Starting Line and Kickstart: Starting Line involves group training and one to one employment advice over seven weeks, and Kickstart features tailored support from an employment advisor on how to reach your goals. Both of these operate in the London and Leeds areas.
  • Scope’s Support to Work programme: a 12-week action plan featuring telephone and online employment support for applying for paid work, potentially most accessible for those who struggle to leave the house.
  • The Prince’s Trust: a youth charity that helps young people to access education, employment and training, including business mentoring schemes.

Find Work From Home opportunities:

  • Guardian Jobs: filter searches right down by selecting ‘work from home’ and ‘part time hours’ options. There tend to be frequent well-paid opportunities for experienced workers here.
  • indeed.co.uk: similar to above, but with more miscellaneous opportunities. Some are junk, but there tend to be legitimate and remote/flexible hidden gems in there too.
  • ASTRiiD: a platform matching workers with long-term illness to prospective employers. When creating a profile, you can upload your CV and LinkedIn page, and specify how many hours you’d be comfortable working, and whether you have the ability to travel in advance.
  • EvenBreak: similar to the above, job advertisements aimed at connecting inclusive employers with talented disabled workers. The enterprise also provides online information and resources, and runs campaigns highlighting the benefits of employing disabled people. As of 2016, Channel 4 advertise all their current vacancies on this site.
  • Large international corporations: this post on The Mighty lists 11 international organisations who routinely recruit for work from home positions all over the world.
  • PeoplePerHour: I don’t have experience of this myself, but others speak highly of the ability to search jobs that could require less commitment than contracted full-time/part-time work, or be one-time opportunities that can be pursued as and when you feel up to them. Lots of social media tasks on there!
  • Look for the Disability Confident accreditation: organisations who have been certified in this way have made commitments and taken action to ensure their recruitment is as inclusive as possible. If you see a Disability Confident badge on their website, they’re likely to be more in-the-know about chronic ill-health and the impact this can have on working practice.
  • Approach specific charities: if you live with a specific chronic illness, charities dedicated to the cause are often keen to recruit workers with lived experience of that condition or a personal connection to the organisation’s ethos. There’s no harm at all in popping over a friendly email with your CV, expressing an interest in future opportunities. This method’s worked very well for me on more than one occasion in the past!

Freelance writing/paid blogging gigs:

  • START A BLOG: If you’re wanting to go into freelance writing, I cannot emphasise this one enough. Most of my own freelance opportunities come from those who’ve seen my blog posts and reached out directly. Get writing, put yourself out there, and make sure your contact details are visible in as many places as possible. Yes, you’re initially working for free and there’s no guarantee that it’ll ever amount to more, but enjoy the process, and it could pay off. Massively.
  • Disabled Writers: These guys are committed to introducing more diversity in the journalism industry. Create a profile to add to their database, which is frequently utilised by those who commission written work. Many opportunities (which they often also tweet out) are USA-based, but I’ve had UK copywriting agency offers come from here: potentially a good starting point for those who want to get into freelancing.
  • Familiarise yourself with other bloggers slaying the game: my pal Jenna Farner runs a brilliant site called The Bloglancer, full of useful tips and advice for monetising and earning a living out of your blog. Another good friend of mine, Natasha Lipman, is one to watch on social media too- constantly dropping truth bombs about working with a chronic illness that make me want to stand up and applaud her through my phone screen. True story.
  • Pitch to organisations and brands: once you’ve built up your confidence and know you have something to offer, there’s certainly no rule to say that you can’t approach external orgs and brands yourself. Blogger Beth Sandland has some fab guidance on pitching blog collaborations to PRs that’s definitely worth reading and taking on board, when the time is right.

As I’ve said, this is just a very quick starting point post which I hope to continue adding to, and I hope this proves a worthwhile resource. If you know of any schemes or opportunities that I’ve missed, be sure to let me know and I’ll get them in there!

I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that life with a long-term condition is tough: managing chronic illness is a full-time job in itself. If you don’t have the capability to work because of your condition, this has absolutely no bearing on your worth or who you are as a person. If you do, I wish you all the luck in the world in finding things that work for you. I won’t lie, it’s tough, but it’s so worthwhile too. Put yourself out there, and you never know what could happen…

pippa in powerchair with back to camera, wheeling along path next to beach

Thanks for reading! You may be interested in some of my other employment blog posts, such as Employing Disabled People Isn’t An Act Of Charity, and The Importance Of Inclusive Employment. Do you have any experiences you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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4 Comments

  1. October 24, 2018 / 12:01 am

    I have a masters degree and I’m a qualified teacher, but due to my ME, I can’t work a normal job anymore. Which is why my wife and I started our own wedding cake business. It’s still a log of hard work, but because it’s our business, I can be more flexible with my timekeeping! (Sleep on the job)

    Sometimes you have to create opportunities for yourself if you have a chronic illness or disability.

    We’re totally skint, but I couldn’t be happier.

    • Pippa
      Author
      October 24, 2018 / 4:09 pm

      Oh wow! Thanks so much for sharing this Paul, I couldn’t agree more: sometimes if you can’t find opportunities that are working for you, the best solution is to create them yourself. It was that very thing which led to me starting my social enterprise (Spoonie Survival Kits) in 2015! Wishing you and your wife all the very best!

  2. November 1, 2018 / 11:29 pm

    Pippa this is awesome, what you are doing. Endless income streams we can develop and grow through our blogs.

    • Pippa
      Author
      November 3, 2018 / 11:59 am

      Thanks so much Ryan, really hope it helps!

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