Shani Dhanda, 31, was at a loss– she had sent hundreds and hundreds of job applications, and no one even interviewed her.
The Birmingham woman stands at 3’10”. She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, which is a set of rare genetic disorders that cause incredibly fragile bones. It’s caused by a mutation that interferes with collagen production in skeletal tissues. There’s no cure, only treatment to alleviate symptoms. To learn more about this rare disorder, click here.
Shani wasn’t exactly sure when she would fit in the professional world after leaving school at 16. Her physical challenges prevented her from getting the waitress or retail jobs that she saw her friends find only too easily. When she turned to her career advisor at school, all she found was a condescending suggestion that she apply to the local council since “they have a quota of disabled people they need to employ a year.” They didn’t really know what she could do.
Shani set her sights on administrative and telecommunications jobs. They seemed like a good fit, that would take advantage of her strengths. She printed out her resume and personal cover letter, and mailed it or took it in herself– this was before the days of the easy digital applications. Then she did it again– hundreds of times. There were hundreds and hundreds of openings, and not one company even interviewed her.
She decided to test out a suspicion she had about the reason. She sent in the same application to a job, with one change: she didn’t fill out the disability section. Immediately, she heard a response. She found a job in telesales.
Finding a job was difficult, but it didn’t end once she was hired. She found it very difficult to keep it, and felt nervous to speak out about accommodations she needed for her condition. When she finally did ask for a little flexibility from the company she had given six years to, so that she could manage her pain in the winter, they refused, point blank. It wasn’t an outrageous request, and she couldn’t understand why it wasn’t considered. HR didn’t help, and she decided it was time to walk away from a job that didn’t value her enough to listen to her needs.
She’s started working freelance after too many negative experiences. It was frustrating– although anti-discrimination laws should have protected her, she just watched companies get away without consequences. She worked as an event planner, and although people were sometimes surprised to realize the event was planned by her, she saw it as another step towards a more normalized view of disability.
Shani speaks out now for herself and others in her situation. Discrimination benefits no one– companies lose the contributions of valuable employees when they skip over candidates based on health issues, or ignore their employee’s needs.
Read more about this story in The Mirror.