Can more skilful storytelling help disabled people get into work?

I found myself watching the television through my fingers last week.

No, not the latest Donald Trump outrage, which can certainly have the same effect, but seeing a 52 year old man’s dreadful debut  as a motivational speaker, in the BBC TV series Employable Me.

Andy, a motorsport businessman who’d had a stroke 6 years before, had a good story to tell, but it quickly became uncomfortable to watch him. He started off by showing an inappropriate (half naked) photo of himself, talked for 10 minutes about his life before his stroke and had no clear message to share with a sympathetic audience.

Which was a shame, as he had literally got himself back on his feet since being partially paralysed by the stroke. He had  determinedly applied for over 3,000 jobs, getting just one interview in five years, before deciding speaking might be a good career for him.

He and a billion other disabled people worldwide deserve better, which was why I decided six years ago to test out if better storytelling might help them get into and on employment. The inequalities and discrimination faced by disabled people who want a job, let alone a career, are immense; overall they are 50% less likely to have a job than someone who is not disabled.

Being clear about your strengths, being articulate and unembarrassed about what your disability means at work and creating a compelling narrative around your own story can make all the difference to how a prospective employer sees you. But it takes practice to get it right as well as confidence to deliver it well.

The power of really skilful storytelling was on show at a conference on global employment for disabled people sponsored by EY this week: keynote speaker Caroline Casey unashamedly used emotion to share her new global campaign for disabled people’s employment #valuable. EY partner Iain Wilkie used gentle humour to describe his work to ensure stammering is no longer a barrier to career progress at EY or anywhere in the UK.

I was in the audience courtesy of Kate Nash, the force behind Purple Space, with whom I have teamed up to create a storytelling course (called Purple Stories, of course) and we will be opening the course to individuals next year, as well as continuing to work with company disability networks. We’ve written a free guide to improving your own storytelling – so you can start now!

Happy International Day of Persons with Disabilities!

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