Queen Mary Alumni

Dilani Selvanathan – International Day of Persons with Disabilities testimonial.

Your disability doesn’t have to define you or stop you from doing anything you set your mind and heart to in life. I have chosen to embrace my disabilities as they make me unique, and I feel a greater sense of accomplishment when I do succeed as I know I have had to work that extra bit harder.

(Digital and Technology Solutions (Software Engineer) BSc, 2021)

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Dilani is a Junior Software Engineer for Herotech8, where she works alongside the technical delivery team to support growing technical requirements and helps build the products and services. Dilani is also a STEM Ambassador and took part in the STEMazing programme, giving online interactive sessions to primary schools. She is also a WISE role model, promoting young women in STEM.

Why have you chosen to speak openly about your disabilities at this moment in your life?

There isn’t much information or stories out there about people in engineering with disabilities. I wanted to share my story to break those stereotypes and perceptions about engineering. I was diagnosed with dyslexia at 18, in the first year of my degree apprenticeship with the BBC. I wouldn’t have known about this disability if my university professor didn’t tell me to visit the special needs advisor after reading one of my initial essays. Many people don’t get diagnosed till later on in life, so I consider myself to be lucky in this regard. Recently, aged 22, I was further diagnosed with severe ADHD and this is something that I am still processing and learning to live with.

Following your recent diagnosis, how have your disabilities helped you come to terms with who you are as a person and to understand more about yourself?

When I was diagnosed with dyslexia, the University and the BBC were really supportive and provided me with all the equipment and support I needed to successfully complete my apprenticeship. After being diagnosed, I understood why I struggled with reading and comprehending information, why I had to work harder than other students, why I found it difficult to pay attention in lectures for long periods of time, and why I was unable to absorb any information. My study skills tutor gave me guidance and support to work with my dyslexia and as I knew more about the symptoms of dyslexia, I found that the easiest thing for me was to simply work through it. For example, I got a planner to help me with my organisational skills and I began to wear orange-tinted glasses as I struggle to read on white paper. Instead of seeing my dyslexia as an insurmountable obstacle and something that I had no control over, I decided to take action to make my disability more manageable.

What messages or advice would you like to give to other disabled persons?

Don’t be afraid or think that you are less likely to get a job because you are different. A lot of corporate companies are being multi-diverse and providing a lot of support. The world is changing, and people are being more accepting and understanding so you need to be vocal about your needs in the workplace and in society more generally.

Your disability doesn’t have to define you or stop you from doing anything you set your mind and heart to in life. I have chosen to embrace my disabilities as they make me unique, and I feel a greater sense of accomplishment when I do succeed as I know I have had to work that extra bit harder.

There are so many stigmas around having a disability and I know first-hand that being diagnosed with a disability can be hard to hear and difficult to process, however, over time you can work through your symptoms and use your abilities positively.

Do you have any disabled role models that you look up to?

Albert Einstein is one of my greatest inspirations. It was said that he was dyslexic but yet he achieved so many incredible things during his lifetime and he made so many ground-breaking discoveries. He even won a Nobel prize and to this day he is remembered in science textbooks and his theories are still referred to.

Why is it important to increase visibility of disabled persons in the workplace and more generally in society?

We don’t hear inspirational stories about people with unique abilities being successful in the engineering industry therefore those people don’t think they have a chance and don’t pursue their dreams. Seeing more role models with disabilities will inspire people to pursue a career in STEM and show them anything is possible. They don’t need to be afraid once they know that they will be supported and given the equipment needed to allow them to do the job. This is why I have started to promote STEM to a special needs school to inspire the next generation of engineers and share my story.

What is a key issue that you’d like to raise more awareness of when it comes to disabilities and accessibility?

A big misconception is that having a disability means that you are less likely to get a job. Yes, you need to work harder compared to others, but you will get the support needed for you to do your job and therefore this makes you just as capable as any other person and just as attractive to future employers. Once you have secured your job, it is important to continually speak to your manager about your needs and how they can help you.

Also, if you know you are different there is no harm in getting yourself an assessment. There are so many stigmas around having a disability and I know first-hand that being diagnosed with a disability can be hard to hear and difficult to process, however, over time you can work through your symptoms and use your abilities positively. For example, I am very creative and can visualise ideas from different perspectives which is really useful and integral to my current job role as Research and Design Engineer at HeroTech8 and when I was a Software Engineering Apprentice at the BBC.