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Emily's caring role

Photo: The job market has been tough for many young people recently, but Emily found additional challenges to finding a job.

Dancing along to care home residents singing their favourite songs, listening to tales of the war and doing their hair ready for video calls, Emily feels very grateful for the job she has.

But it wasn’t an easy road to getting hired.

Born at 24 weeks, Emily (21) has been profoundly deaf since birth and wears hearing aids. She also has cerebral palsy and learning difficulties, but has never let her additional needs get in her way.

“She’s always got through everything,” says mum Paula. “All the challenges life throws at her, she gets on with it.”

Emily found school difficult socially. “I spent a lot of time in the library,” she explains. “I didn’t have many friends and it was quite isolating.” At college, though, she found something she really enjoyed, studying health and social care.

“I had a lot more time to learn,” she says. “I could spend time researching and reading. I loved health and social care, I liked the fact I could go in and be with other people and make their day a little bit better. I volunteered in a primary school too. I like working with little kids and older people, it’s the middle bit that I sort of get stuck on.”

After completing her qualifications and spending some time volunteering, the natural next step for Emily was to find a paying job. However, she began her search just after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and it was tough.

“I decided not to mention my deafness and additional needs on my applications,” Emily says. “I wanted them to see the experience and keenness I had without putting the big stamp on that says I’m deaf. But when I got to interviews I said, ‘I’m deaf and I need you to take your face mask off so I can read your lips.’ Everyone was fine with that.

“The job search was very, very stressful though. They kept saying to me – you’ve got all the qualifications you need but you don’t have any experience.

"I was thinking, how can I get the experience without anyone giving me a chance?”

“It was really hard for her,” Paula adds. “We’ve always had the mentality of ‘pick yourself up and move on’. But I think it did take its toll on her mental health. She did a lot of writing to process her feelings and release whatever she needed to release.

“There was even one company who said, because of her additional needs, they couldn’t accommodate her and wouldn’t even consider her. It was quite a kick in the teeth.” The family were disheartened, but realised this was discrimination and against the Equality Act 2010. Luckily, two days later, Emily had two further interviews and finally secured a job.

“One company emailed me and said they couldn’t offer me the role because I didn’t have experience. It was a maternity cover for a more  experienced role. They were really apologetic. I understood but felt disappointed,” Emily says. “Then I read the next paragraph of the email and cried! The interviewer said I came across really well and she understood the passion I have and the work I’ve put in. They wanted to offer me a different position. I couldn’t believe it. I had to get Mum to read it too and check I’d got it right!”

“I cried and showed everyone at work,” Paula adds. “When you’ve gone from one person saying that you’re effectively a lost cause, to this. It was amazing.”

Emily’s new role involved covering annual leave and sick leave. Initially she thought she might get a couple of shifts here and there so she could build up her experience, but she’s ended up with three regular shifts a week and lots of cover on top of that. The care home also asked Emily what adaptations she would need and made sure they were in place before she began work.

“They put in flashing lights next to the fire alarm,” Emily says. “Doing a morning and afternoon shift is difficult for me so they’ve adapted my rota so I work on afternoons only. They use a buzzer system which I can’t always hear too, so they’re getting me a pager.”

When the day finally came to start work, Emily couldn’t believe it.

“I was nervous but I knew that this is what I wanted to do.

"On my first day I was dancing with the residents in the home, listening to old music, clipping nails and making them feel relaxed. I loved it!

“My shifts cover tea and biscuit time, we watch a lot of films and karaoke is very big in the care home! Older people are hilarious, they have the best one-liners. I dance with them, do personal care and get them ready for bed. It’s been difficult that they couldn’t have visitors in, because of the pandemic, but I help them do their hair and nails before their family see them through the window or online.

"I love knowing I’m making a difference to their day."

“The biggest challenge is PPE. I wear a visor and mask but others are able to lift up their masks for me to lip-read when necessary. We have a couple of residents who are deaf and use hearing aids; my experience of deafness really helps them. I’m the queen of reminding them to change their batteries! I understand their struggle of hearing staff in masks and visors too.

“To any other deaf young people currently applying for jobs, I’d say don’t listen to anyone who says you can’t do it, because you can.”