Description of a year’s work placement undertaken by a student with hearing difficulties on a BA Business Studies programme.
This information has been extracted from Skill – the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities
http://skillcms.ds2620.dedicated.turbodns.co.uk/page.aspx?p=267&c=169 (information accessed and extracted May 2008)
My name is Bertram Li Mow Ching and I did my work experience at the Home Office.
I am studying for a BA in business studies at the University of Middlesex. I had left it until after my January exams to find a placement, so pressure made me take the first placement available to me. I ended up working at the Criminal Justice Joint Planning Unit (CJJPU), a department in the Home Office for a year. I was nervous about the interview, mainly because I had never been to one before, but also because I was not sure how I would cope. Nevertheless, with advance warning the interview panel did accommodate me quite well with my radio aid.
Soon after I was chosen, my immediate employers did raise questions about how to support me but it wasn’t until I started work at the beginning of August 2001 that things were put into place. The two other students and myself were the first placement students the CJJPU had ever taken, so this was a new experience for them as much as it was for me – I had never worked full-time before. Because of the particular organisational nature of the Home Office, getting a textphone installed and working took three months. We also organised some deaf awareness sessions that were enjoyable as much as they were informative. Meetings were also an issue; I had new NHS digital aids, so I needed new receiver shoes for my radio aid and communication support. This was all provided for by an Access to Work (AtW) grant.
Just over a month into the job, I performed a PR coup that resulted in a windfall for the whole team. As part of a drive to increase communication amongst the unit I had to give a presentation on our team’s work. Word went to the top, and the whole team received a bonus from the director.
My favourite project came in late November. Initially I wasn’t very receptive to the idea of working on the Criminal Justice System’s bids for money from the Treasury for the 2002 Spending Review, as I perceived that it meant accounting of some sort. However, it turned out to be a database project – I was to design and maintain a database for all departmental bids throughout the CJS, and to present the required information to ministers and officials in a series of reports. I suggested using an Access database, but I knew very little about Access. Armed with an Access bible, I gave myself a working knowledge of the programme. This enabled me do what was required in the very tight timetable provided. It was a brilliant challenge and I was pleased to be part of it.
It was not all plain sailing throughout, though. Midway, I moved departments for a while. The head of unit at the new department was not receptive to my communication support needs (despite having 100% funding from the Access to Work scheme) or to the suggestion that his unit should undergo deaf awareness training just as my first unit had. Eventually we had limited awareness training for those that were interested, and I did manage to have my usual palantypist for meetings.
Being one of the few members of staff in the Home Office with a hearing disability, I helped contribute to the first ever set of specific disability awareness guides. This guide came out at the formal launch of the Home Office Disability Support Network in February 2002, chaired by Phil Friend, an inspiring man who I had the honour of meeting at a later conference.
When opportunity presented itself, I became an equality advisor for one of the Home Office directorates. I did this partly out of concern about the lack of disability awareness at middle management level. My response to this was to organise a pilot disability awareness training session for that directorate. It was hoped that it would pave the way for further disability awareness training sessions throughout the directorate. It was very successful and enjoyed by all who attended.
I think the best thing that happened to me was to have a wonderful line manager who is very diverse, funny, interesting and a great person. He supported me throughout and was very encouraging. Being treated as any other member of staff, and not just a student trainee, gave me confidence. I really hated leaving the CJJPU and the Home Office, because I had such a good time, learnt so much and made a lot of friends. I still meet up with them from time to time. It was a brilliant year out from university, judged a success by everyone.