By Nicola Kassam - Careers and Welfare Leader at City Centre Campus

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Careers Development with Special Educational Need and Disability

It may be a surprise to learn that a significant proportion of working age adults have a disability.  

According to the Office for National Statistics - Census 2021 a national average of 17.3% were considered to have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (1). Within Manchester this figure is higher at 18.3%. So how does this impact on our service as careers professionals and what impact does this have on our student’s career progression?

What impact does Special Educational Need and Disability have on Career Progression?

SEND has historically impacted on adults’ self-confidence and reluctance to disclose, the application process, retention, and promotion in the workplace.  The factors for these vary from the individuals’ perceptions of employers’ response to health conditions, size of the employer, support in the work place and accessibility of the industry sector.  Consequently, many disabled people are more than likely to work part-time, in lower-skilled occupations, within the public sector, or become self-employed. 

Following the Equality Act 2010, the government introduced a strategy in 2017 to increase disabled adult in work employment by 1 million by 2027 (2).  By 2021, 4.4 million disabled people were employed in the UK from 2.9 million in 2013. Up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the employment gap for disabled and non-disabled adults was narrowing.  Despite the impact of COVID lockdown on employment figures, the latest 2021 statistics suggest the trend is continuing. As disability employment rate shows signs of returning to its pre-COVID-19 level (3).

How can we support SEND Students with Employment Progression? 

Awareness is key to the success, and this is three-fold.  Firstly, the individual candidates need to have an industry awareness of the sector they plan to progress to and an understanding of employer law.  Knowing their rights under the Disability Act 2010 and when best to disclose a disability in the application process (4).  Most employers are supportive of disabled applicants and will provide support during the application process, making reasonable adjustments, and educating staff in the workplace. 

Our role as career professionals is to adapt our service to the needs of the student, ensure our students understand industry expectations, that they are well informed of employment laws, have the employability skills and are industry ready before progressing into employment.

Secondly, employers must recognise the skills, talents and contributions SEND applicants can bring to an organisation. They will be aware of the needs of candidates and ask appropriate questions during recruitment.  A Disability Confident employer, will ensure staff are continually supported.  They will bring awareness and assist SEND candidates with workplace adjustments and Access to Work (5).  There are several good case studies of leading companies engaging with the scheme (6) and the positive impact this is having on employee lives. 

Within our role, signposting students to Disability Confident employers is a good place to start. It is standard that we expect students to research the company they plan to apply to.  Taking this one step further and exploring case studies, company mission statements and policies will give a good indication if the company is a good fit. Some organisations run pre-employment schemes, volunteering, industry placements and/or internships.  These are all great opportunties to demonstrate an individuals qualities, skills, and knowledge prior to the application process.  

Finally, the industry sectors need to be supportive and encourage applications from SEND candidates.  At this current time, disabled workers are most likely to work in low level roles with the health, retail and education industries.  And least likely to work in agriculture, forestry and fishing.  It is hoped that the Disability Confident scheme will negotiate some of the challenges that may be presented in all sectors.    

Our role is to ensure that students demonstrate to employers the skills and qualities they can bring to the role regardless of SEND.  To support them through an equitable recruitment process and access resources to enhance employment opportunities.   By working with our SEND students and preparing them for employment, we can begin to change the traditional pathways, explore new opportunities and find new destinations previously unavailable to our SEND cohort. 


(1) The employment of disabled people 2021 - GOV.UK
(2) The employment of disabled people: background information and methodology - GOV.UK
(3) The employment of disabled people 2021 - GOV.UK
(4) Disability rights: Overview - GOV.UK
(5) Access to Work: get support if you have a disability or health condition: What Access to Work is - GOV.UK
(6) Disability Confident – Are you disability confident?