Lydia's experience: "TAP helped me see that I am employable and that I can find my place in the working world"
This is an adapted version of a presentation that English Literature graduate Lydia gave at the Yorkshire Universities 'One Year On' Employability Conference on 7th June 2023. Lydia presented to an audience of over 100 delegates from universities across the Yorkshire region about her understanding of and experience of 'employability'. She discusses how, due to an inclusive environment on her TAP internship with With Love in 2021, she felt able to bring all parts of her identity to the workplace and celebrate the value in her 'contexts and disabilities'. Read on to see how this has transformed Lydia's attitude to the workplace:
I always thought that being employable was learning how to be an inauthentic version of myself. To be a person who masked, altered and suppressed all my needs in order to be an employee who didn’t need any accommodations. This was a really scary and a potentially dangerous expectation of the working world.
My experience with TAP helped me change that perspective. I learnt that my contexts and disabilities have value and TAP empowered me to understand that my needs are not unreasonable and will not make me unemployable. In 2021, I did my internship with a marketing company With Love – an industry I had no experience in and never thought I would have access to. TAP opened that door and showed me that my experiences and my ideas are important and useful to an employer. Their aim for me during my internship was to create a report covering academic theory, interviews and some general research on the idea of place-feel and to see if we can pin down how placemakers can consistently produce a positive place-feel in public spaces. I looked at a specific case study of NOMA in Manchester which was a developing area looking to provide a space for work, socialising, arts and culture.
|NOMA in Manchester
I was able to create and perform interviews, did my own academic research and was able to write to a brief and match the company’s tone. I was able to embrace the ethos of knowledge-exchange that TAP championed and felt like I was making an impact as much as I was being impacted. I learnt and developed new skills which I have been able to transfer beyond the internship and knew that my work for With Love would be used beyond my time with the company. I also discovered that there are environments and jobs out there for me and that being employable is about finding what suits my needs and finding an employer that sees the value in all of my contexts.
I have worked, since graduating, in environments that have not accommodated my disabilities and have caused crashes, meltdowns and panic attacks because of the stress caused by not being in an environment that was safe. Having my experience with TAP allowed me to remember that finding a healthy working environment is achievable. TAP gave me the opportunity to know that what I need is not unreasonable and does not make me any less employable.
Since participating with TAP I have been diagnosed as autistic and having ADHD, which has helped to explain why my previous roles were so difficult for me to stay in. Learning about my neurodivergence would have been a lot scarier when it came to thinking about future careers if I hadn’t been involved with TAP. I knew that there were autistic students that got on great with their placements, that there were conversations being had for neurodivergent students to help them be accommodated during their internships. I think that TAP provided a safe space for everyone to openly discuss their own contexts and how these might both make working a different experience and help people ask for help. Without knowing what might help to accommodate your contexts, finding and staying in a job is so much harder and I think that empowering students during internships to advocate for themselves really encourages confidence and ultimately enables students to work on their own employability.
Being a widening participation student, you often feel like the world is not automatically set up to support you and that you do not fit within the default position. Your identity is separated between who you feel you are, who the world thinks you are, and how you are seen. I felt the pressure to demonstrate my skills in spite of my disabilities and felt that I had to work harder to prove myself as a capable employee. The community that TAP created meant that I was not in a minority anymore and I was surrounded by other students whose experiences and contexts meant that we were there together. I can not emphasise enough the impact of TAP creating a space that felt like it was for everyone and that everyone deserved to be there. These environments and the feeling of unconditional belonging are so rare in everyday student life. TAP provided an opportunity for me to be myself and know that is enough.
Lydia presenting alongside Zelda on a panel at the Yorkshire Universities 'One Year On' Conference
TAP allowed me to see that being a widening participation student was a benefit, that I had ideas and perspectives that were unique to my contexts, that being a disabled student had an impact that was worthy. I learnt that my disabilities are part of my identity and that is important to how I function in the world, but that this identity also had room for me to be creative, professional and employable. I learnt that even if the environment is not suited to my needs, that does not mean my skills are any less valuable. TAP empowered me to be confident in my disabled identity and to not view it as a boundary to showing-off my talent.
I am now returning to mentor current TAP students and to do my MA in September. Without TAP I wouldn’t have realised that my academic interests in spatial theory and emotional landscapes can have an impact beyond my essays. Looking at place-making through the employment perspective has helped me understand that being a graduate with disabilities makes me an interesting person and these contexts are relevant to who I am as an employee. I do not have to separate myself from my needs and I can add value through my experience. TAP helped me see that I am employable and that I can find my place in the working world.
Thanks Lydia for sharing this story with us!
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