Finding Accessible Work With A Chronic Illness

image taken from above of silver laptop open on white bedsheets with hands typing on keyboard, iphone laid on the left hand side

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 find my flexible, work from home opportunities. As a self-employed chronically ill writer, I currently split my time between consultancy and content creation in the charity sector, freelance writing and editing, blogging and social media shenanigans, running my social enterprise (Spoonie Survival Kits), and incessantly guzzling tea whilst making extensive to-do lists.

You can find out a bit more about my background here, and read more about my personal career journey so far (including employment and self-employment!) in this post.

This post first came about rather spontaneously, following preparations for a livestream where I was to discuss accessible employment and managing work with a chronic illness. It was whilst doing my prep that it hit me: although there are a fair few of us talking about our personal experiences, there isn’t really a great deal of practical support and signposting to actual resources and opportunities.

So, that’s led me here: to a blog post hastily put together before the livestream, which I’ve since returned to and have been expanding ever since. 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’m working on it. And in the meantime, I hope these resources go some way in helping others to kick-start their own careers.

I’ve split the following up into schemes, mentoring, work from home job-searching, resources for organisations, and exploring freelance opportunities. Really hope it’s helpful!

Schemes:

  • BBC’s Extend Hub: a talent recruitment hub for disabled people, providing industry opportunities in journalism, production, technology and business.
  • EmployAbility: a portal of events and vacancies specifically 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 I wouldn’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 particularly 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.
  • VERCIDA: recent winners of the prestigious Best Specialist Job Board at the 2018 National Online Recruitment Awards, VERCIDA use specialist technology and artificial intelligence methods to create a tailored job search. They promote the benefits of having an inclusive workforce, and prioritise working with organisations with diverse initiatives.
  • 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 one myself (yet), 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. You can read a bit about my personal journey with The Prince’s Trust Enterprise programme here!
  • Bright Futures UK: workshops, mentoring and tutoring designed for young individuals who are forced to take time out from education due to medical circumstances – both mental health and physical health.

Find Work From Home opportunities:

  • ASTRiiD: a small charity and online platform matching talented workers with long-term illnesses with volunteering and employment opportunities. Candidates upload their CV or LinkedIn page, and can specify how many hours they can manage, whether they’re looking for short-term or long-term work, and whether they would prefer to travel or work from home. The Astriid team also work one-to-one with candidates on helping them to identify career goals and develop their skills, and they proactively advocate with businesses and organisations to demonstrate the value of inclusivity and the potential of chronically ill workers. As you may be able to tell, I have a slight bias here… I’m part of the Astriid team, and incredibly proud of it. Do come and say hello on Instagram!
  • Guardian Jobs: filter searches right down by selecting ‘work from home’ and ‘part-time hours’ options. Some of them are usually quite niche, but there tend to be frequent well-paid opportunities for experienced workers in here too.
  • indeed.co.uk: similar to above, but with more miscellaneous opportunities. Some are junk, but there are legitimate and remote/flexible hidden gems in there too if you’re prepared to hunt for them.
  • 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. Highly recommend their fortnightly newsletter – one of very few that are worth signing up for and scrolling through!
  • Timewise Jobs: search recruiters and individual job opportunities that accommodate flexible and part-time hours. Vacancies are organised according to region and at the time of writing, there are often a handful of remote opportunities listed on there too.
  • Large international corporations: this post on The Mighty lists 11 international organisations who routinely recruit for work from home positions all over the world.
  • Financial Times: every editorial job for The Financial Times reportedly comes with the caveat that you can make a case for working part-time or as a job share; make sure you highlight your preference for this in your application.
  • FlexJobs: a site full of opportunities designed to better work around people’s unique circumstances, including remote and part-time roles. They host success stories and online information guides on their website too. However, it’s only after signing-up that you’re asked to pay a subscription fee to access the jobs, so please proceed with caution!
  • PeoplePerHour: A platform that allows people to share one-time jobs for freelancers to search through and apply for. The bonus here is that most jobs listed require less commitment than contracted full-time/part-time work, and you can pursue as many or as few as you feel up to. Lots of social media and digital tasks on this one, ideal for home-working!
  • 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 who can relate to 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 rather well for me in the past!

Freelance writing/paid blogging gigs:

  • START A BLOG: If you’re wanting to go into freelance writing, I cannot recommend this enough. Get writing, create an online portfolio, put yourself out there, and make sure your contact details are as visible as possible. As somebody who’s been on both sides of the process, a contact form on your page often won’t cut it: whack your email address everywhere you possibly can to increase the likelihood of professionals reaching out. 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.
  • The Bloglancer: my pal Jenna Farmer runs this brilliant site, full of useful tips and advice for monetising and earning a living through your blog. This Opportunities Board for bloggers lists various opportunities and how people can engage with them.
  • Familiarise yourself with other bloggers slaying the game: Natasha Lipman in particular is one to watch on social media: constantly dropping truth bombs about working with a chronic illness that make me want to stand up and applaud her through the medium of my phone screen. True story.
  • Pitch to 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 organisations. The Bloglancer, mentioned above, hosts the Ultimate Guide to Sponsored Posts: a cracking read for more experienced bloggers looking to begin earning. Blogger Beth Sandland also has some fab guidance on pitching blog collaborations to PRs.
  • Online networking can be a gamechanger for people wanting to work freelance and find new opportunities… and it took me years to get the hang of it. Anybody interested in making new contacts whilst working remotely may find my How To Network Online eBook helpful!

For Organisations:

  • Astriid: if you’re a business looking to become more inclusive and recruit chronically ill workers, get in touch with Astriid. The team will help you list your opportunities on the online platform and help you connect with talented individuals who fit your job specifications.
  • Business Disability Forum: if you’re an organisation looking to become more inclusive and disability confident, this organisation provides pragmatic support and advice, facilitates training and offers specialist networking opportunities to make it happen.
  • Disability Confident Accreditation: organisations certified in this way have made commitments and taken action, such as ensuring their recruitment process is as inclusive as possible, to make the most of the talent disabled people can bring to their workplace.
  • Endometriosis UK Friendly Employer Scheme: employers can sign up to Endometriosis UK’s scheme to show their commitment to supporting the wellbeing of employees with the condition. By signing-up, organisations will receive free training and resources, and also have their name proudly displayed on the charity’s online list of signatories. This scheme is relatively new but looks to become a good one!

That’s all for now, but if you know of any schemes or opportunities that I’ve missed, I’d love to hear about them! Every single signpost could well be the starting block for somebody else’s career, and I’m thrilled to bits to hear that this blog post has genuinely been helping people find opportunities that suit them. It makes my entire day.

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, I hope you know that this has absolutely no bearing on your worth or who you are as a person. If, however, you do wish to pursue employment, I wish you all the luck in the world in finding things that suit you. It’s tough, but it’s so worthwhile. Put yourself out there, and you never know what could happen…

pippa standing holding up copy of dear chronic illness and smiling

Thanks for reading! If you know of any other schemes or opportunities worth sharing, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Related Posts:

9 thoughts on “Finding Accessible Work With A Chronic Illness”

  1. 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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  2. Thanks for this Pippa, I currently have a job but am on long term sick leave and not sure if I’ll be able to return. This post has given me some hope I will find a suitable role again,

    Reply
  3. Very nice set of resources. Thanks for compiling them. I am a visually challenged person from India & I am into Accessibility consulting. I work part-time with Deque Systems due to a chronic challenge that is diagnosed few months ago. When organizations start providing flexible working hours it becomes easy for us to perform our best.

    Reply
  4. These are fantastic suggestions, Pippa! Since becoming ill and losing my 9-5 job, I’ve gone self-employed but barely make enough for groceries. It’s better than nothing, but I’ve found the hours are much longer and I’m far more stressed yet earning only a fraction of what I could had I have been able to stay in my regular job. But, working from home does have its advantages, especially with chronic illness and pain and when you can’t work as you otherwise would without the health problems. It takes some getting used to, it’s just finding the opportunities that I’ve found particularly hard. I’ve done online surveys for years, but it’s painstaking work and time consuming for very little reward. I still do those but I add in my blog and some odd freelance writing. I’d definitely like more work, and I always keep an eye out for things.

    In terms of companies employing those with disabilities and looking for office or flexible home working, it’s great to know there are places out there that are trying to open the playing field a bit, as well as sites to help find these more accessible jobs. I know of Reed but I hadn’t come across their Reed In Partnership scheme before, that’s a great idea.

    Fab suggestions lovely.
    Caz xx

    Reply

Leave a comment