Graduates Are Gaining Access To Jobs With Pioneering Disability Employment Project

Charity scheme is reversing turning the tide of poor disability employment rates in Northern Ireland      Graduates are kick-starting their careers in some of Northern Ireland’s leading businesses and turning the tide of poor unemployment rates for people with disabilities.

Leading charity Leonard Cheshire is reaching out to talented university graduates with disabilities who are signing up for the pioneering GradEmployNI Programme which is placing university leavers with leading businesses in paid placements.

GradEmployNI Programme participants Jade Hamill and Zahra Baz

The scheme was launched in a bid to turn the tide of poor unemployment rates for fully qualified graduates with disabilities in Northern Ireland, with just a 38 per cent employment rate for this group compared to the national employment rate of 80 per cent for individuals who do not have disabilities.

Top businesses including Excalibur Press, leading charity Bolster Community, media and software developer Ethel Care are among the first to help launch the careers of ambitious graduates who traditionally struggle to get a fair chance of employment despite being fully equipped with the skills, qualifications, and ambition to thrive in the workplace.

Many graduates who have applied for GradEmployNI have hidden disabilities like epilepsy, depression, anxiety, diabetes and Crohn’s, among many others and are being welcomed by top businesses tailored to their career goals.

The project – the first of its kind in Northern Ireland – is being delivered by Leonard Cheshire with Ulster University Business School, who are providing additional workplace training for the successful applicants to empower the individuals to launch their work placements with the skills to thrive in the workplace.

From left Alex Feher (senior content creator, Excalibur Press) and Tina Calder (director, Excalibur Press) with GradEmployNI Programme participants Jade Hamill and Zahra Baz

Jade Hamill, 22, is kick-starting her career with leading media business Excalibur Press where she is aiming to pursue her dream career as a journalist. 

She explained: “I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 16 and it reached the point where I was having chronic seizures which caused Severe fatigue and short-term memory loss.

“Throughout University it was a real struggle. In the first year, I was having a seizure once a month and by the final year I could be having seizures as much as four times a month.

“Despite the huge impact it was having on my life I was adamant that it was not going to affect who I was, what I wanted to become and what I wanted to achieve – although at times this seemed almost impossible.

“The physical impact that the condition takes on your body was the biggest challenge. But I just pushed on and refused to give in and last September I graduated from the University of Plymouth in English and Creative writing.

“I applied for a place on GradEmployNI and when I received the call from Leonard Cheshire to inform me that I had been placed with Excalibur Press it was an incredible moment.

“I feel like I’ve been given a golden opportunity to launch my career in journalism with a business that understands my condition and will help me thrive and achieve my goals.

“Leonard Cheshire has been so supportive and understanding from the moment I made contact with them and Excalibur Press is the perfect match for me to pursue my career ambitions.”

Employer Tina Calder, founder and director of Excalibur Press said she was delighted to be able to offer positions at the growing agency.

She explained: “As soon as I heard about the programme I offered to host a graduate. 

I have personal experience of disability in my family and know how difficult that can make it for young people to go to an interview or be successful at an interview.

“The GradEmployNI scheme is a fantastic way to engage with young talent and I’m delighted to be able to show our support for the amazing work of Leonard Cheshire.”

Graduates with all kinds of disabilities, including hidden disabilities, are being encouraged to apply for the GradEmployNI scheme by visiting

GradEmployNI’s Programme Manager Roisin McDermott said the project has received a diverse range of applications: “Talented graduates who have been through a tough time with their physical or mental health are getting access to work experience, without having to go through an interview process, which can be very daunting, particularly to anyone who suffers from anxiety or confidence issues.

“These individuals have the qualifications and ambitions, and we are matching them with business partners who we are also supporting to improve inclusivity and diversity in the workplace.”

“Successful graduates are placed with a business partner for four months in paid employment at no cost to the company. It is a very positive step forward in boosting the employment rate for graduates with disabilities or health conditions in Northern Ireland, which is currently the lowest in the UK.”

“We still have a number of places left on the programme and are inviting graduates with all kinds of disabilities, including hidden disabilities or conditions that have affected their ability to work, to sign up and open the door to opportunity to start paid work in positions in a career tailored to them.”

To apply for a place on the GradEmployNI programme visit:

Tina Calder