I’ve always had trouble finding work and it’s not because I’m lazy or unskilled or not trying hard enough because believe me, I’ve had many jobs, most of which are in the dreaded hospitality and catering field. The reason why is because for almost all the jobs I have had, I’ve had to be quick and process lots of information at the same time. My dyspraxia means that I have a very bad short term memory so with all my restaurant jobs I’ve had a hard time remembering food orders and instructions, especially as there were little to no visual prompts. Additionally, my overlapping autism meant I had sensory differences and it was a literal hell during rush hour – I’d be too hot, too forgetful and/or clumsy (mainly both) and overloaded with different noises and have a red-faced chef telling me to be quicker and multiple people telling me I need to be better at multi-tasking.
In 2017, I left my job working as kitchen staff because my anxiety was literally off the charts and as a student, it was difficult because I needed to be able to pay rent, food and travel. It was a really tough time for a while, but luckily I survived by getting a bursary and funding from my university. Now I’ve been working in hospitality and catering for nearly 10 years give or take a few other jobs, but I worked out that I wasn’t cut out for such an unforgiving and inaccessible work because working long shifts and having to have nimble fingers JUST.WAS.NOT.ME. not to mention it was a total sensory nightmare almost every shift.
So I finally finish uni and have time to reflect on career paths, rest and recuperate and spent time with my kitten (she’s the best). Meanwhile every Thursday, I attend disability football with Millwall’s pan-disability team with an amazing place called The Bede centre. Bede supports people with disabilities by teaching them new skills, helping others and making friends. Getting involved in Disability football and meeting and making new friends at the centre really opened my eyes to all the great possibilities after graduating and I really wanted to give back to the centre. I offered to volunteer 4 times a week to help other people with disabilities and it’s honestly one of the best things I’ve done.
Currently, I am working in the centre’s cafe every Monday and Friday for 4ish hours a day, helping users to learn kitchen skills. Unlike the fast-paced nature of restaurant and fast-food work I’ve done, we have an actual recipe to follow, equip with visuals at each step. Each worker (max 5) has our own jobs to do and we aren’t rushed or overloaded with too much information either. The only customers we have to cater to are the other service users and staff members, who don’t get angry or impatient with us. When it’s time to take the orders, we only have to check the boxes under a visual of the food or drink that they want to order, so there is no writing down anything. Tables are clearly marked and we work table by table. All the people who work in the kitchen work on social interaction, teamwork, communication, time-keeping and organisation at a pace that suits them and everybody, (especially me) love it!
Soon, I will also be volunteering every Tuesday and Thursday as a ‘travel buddy’, supporting clients to and from the centre on public transport. I’m really excited to be helping out at such a great place. As a person with disabilities, it’s often hard to find work, even harder to find accessible work and triply hard to find work that’s not only accessible but also enjoyable too, so I’ve definitely hit the jackpot with this one and can’t wait to take on more ventures at the centre. I’m already in discussion to teach service users computer skills and will also be getting my FA level 1 in football coaching in March, so I can possibly help out more with Thursday’s football sessions! My advice for anyone like me is to always reach out to disability organisations, even if to volunteer one day or a few hours a week with them because not only is it super accessible but who knows, you might just love it!