Millions of disabled people feel lonely, including me – let’s change this

Shani is an events manager, disability campaigner and entrepreneur from Walsall. She features in Scope’s new What I Need To Say campaign which highlights the isolation that millions of disabled people face. In this blog, Shani shares her own experiences.

At certain times in our lives, we are all likely to experience loneliness. We often talk about loneliness in elderly people but, as Scope’s new research shows, loneliness affects so many disabled people.

This can be down to poor access to services, inaccessible transport and venues, and financial challenges. When you face so many extra costs related to disability, it can stop you from being able to go out and do things like everyone else. That’s why I launched the Diversability Card – a discount card for disabled people.

Social attitudes are also a significant barrier. Many struggle to see the person beyond the impairment or condition and act awkwardly. One in four people have admitted to avoiding conversations with disabled people because they worry about causing offence or don’t know what to say. This really astonished me. Personally, I feel sorry for the non-disabled UK population who are missing out on interacting with 13 million of us fabulous people!

With so many barriers to contend with, imagine being a disabled person, experiencing the same life transitions as everyone else, but not being able to participate in the same way. No wonder disabled people feel lonely.

My own experiences of loneliness

Being part of the ‘What I Need To Say campaign’ by Scope made me really reflect about the times I have experienced loneliness or isolation, which has drifted in and out of my life over different periods.

As a young child, I attended a special needs school which made keeping in touch with friends very difficult as we lived miles away from each other. It also meant that I was sent to a separate school that my siblings, cousins, friends and neighbours attended. Whilst it was the best place for me because of the care I needed for my condition, it was hard to maintain friendships and any sort of social life.

Over the course of my childhood, I spent a lot of time in hospital with broken legs due to my condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bones). I would be in hospital for a minimum of three months at a time, missing school and home whilst only having adults to really talk to. I was very lucky that I always had lots of family coming to see me during the visiting time, but this is such a short amount of time in what used to seem very long days as a child.

I’ve also experienced loneliness as an adult, being excluded from social situations or activities due to my condition or people making assumptions about what I am able to do, or not. It’s really frustrating, especially as I’m a very independent person who will always find an alternative way of doing things.

Shani smiling, stood on a cobbled street

Ending loneliness

I feel that increasing the awareness of different conditions and dispelling misconceptions about disability are major steps in combatting the ‘silent epidemic’ of loneliness and isolation.

Also, if you are a friend or family member of a person with an impairment or condition, take a moment to consider how they might be feeling, especially around this festive time of year. It can be as easy as making a quick phone call or popping in for a cup of tea to brighten someone’s day.

Too often disabled people struggle to access the right emotional support, advice and information. As a result they feel like no one truly understands, leaving them disconnected and isolated from those around them. This is particularly heart-breaking at Christmas.

Please help us this Christmas by getting involved with our What I Need To Say campaign. Share the message, tell us your stories, and donate to Scope so we can be there for people who have nowhere else to turn.

Budget 2017 – so near and yet so far

The Chancellor today has announced the second Budget of this year and the first since the General Election. It was a deliberately low-key affair after a turbulent few months for the Government.

In this blog, we take a look at the impact that this will have on disabled people’s lives.

There was a much-needed announcement to Universal Credit which is a step in the right direction for disabled people. The seven-day initial waiting period for processing claims has been scrapped and the repayment period for advance payments has been extended from six months to twelve. Claimants will also be able to get a 100 percent advance now, rather than 50 percent.

However, as our helpline calls demonstrate, we remain concerned there are still fundamental problems with Universal Credit that were not addressed today.

The Government is failing to collect data on the number of disabled people claiming Universal Credit and their experiences. We know from our helpline that many disabled people are worried about what the shift to Universal Credit means for them and the loss of disability premiums means many disabled people will be financially worse off. With disabled people already paying extra costs of £550 a month related to their disability and less likely to have savings we oppose the loss of these premiums.

We need to see urgent reform

The Government has promised to get one million more disabled people into work by 2027. In order for that to happen, we need to see urgent reform to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) so that it better identifies the barriers disabled people face to finding work.

With the Government expected to publish their response to the Improving Lives Green Paper shortly, we need to see ambitious reforms to support disabled people to find and stay in work. As well as reforming the WCA the Government need to look at what more employers can be doing to support their disabled employees and make sure schemes such as Access to Work are available to everyone who needs them.

Disappointingly the Chancellor did not take the opportunity to confirm that there will be no further cuts to disability benefits in this Parliament. We’d like to see the Government commit to protecting the value of vital payments such as Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments.

A missed opportunity

While the announcement of more funding for the NHS was welcome, the Government has failed to act on social care again. The social care system is increasingly under pressure and while the Government has set out plans to consult on social care for older people it’s not clear what they’ll be doing to support the 278,000 disabled people who rely on social care for basic support.

Overall this Budget looks like another missed opportunity to improve the lives of the UK’s 13.3 million disabled people. With action needed to tackle the barriers disabled people face at work, at home and in their communities, we’d like to have seen the Chancellor be bolder.

If you have any questions or concerns about the changes made to your support, please call Scope’s Helpline on 0808 800 3333. 

Visit our website for more information on disability benefits.

I thought I was the only one feeling like this, then the responses started coming in

Ellie felt isolated as a teenager so she set up CP Teens UK to connect other young people and show them that they’re not alone. Sport has transformed her life too. After spending years being excluded from P.E. lessons at school, she’s now competing at a professional level.

In this blog, Ellie shares her story and tells us why she’s dedicated to making sure that no-one else feels alone, like she did.

I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy just before my second birthday and my parents were told I’d never talk, walk, or function in a ‘normal’ world. Fast forward 22 years, and I do all three and even more! I went through mainstream education, achieving GCSE’s and A-Levels, and most recently a BSc, even though my parents were once told this was ‘impossible’.

Although I coped well academically, school began to get a bit difficult for me when I was around 13 or 14. That’s the age when kids start to form cliques and reject anyone who is a bit different. I felt lonely a lot of the time.

And it wasn’t just the students; teachers would actively discourage me from joining in with things. When we had a P.E. class the teachers would look at me and say: “Shall we go inside and do some homework Ellie?”

At the time, I went along with it because I was so self-conscious. My cerebral palsy is very obvious when I move and I wanted to stay inside and hide away.

Ellie, a young disabled woman, smiling at the camera
Ellie felt less alone after she set up CP Teens UK

I wondered if it was just me feeling like this

I realised that there was nothing out there for people like me, both socially and in terms of going out there and getting opportunities. I didn’t have the confidence to go out and get a job, and my friends all went off to university and forgot about me.

I felt like I was the only person on the planet feeling like this so I set up a Twitter account in the name of ‘CP Teens UK’ thinking nothing would really come of it. Then, the next day I woke up to loads of followers including Francesca Martinez and Sophie Christensen!

The response was amazing. People were getting in touch saying, “I feel the same way, it’s so nice to find someone else.” I got so many emails like that I couldn’t believe it. It made me feel less alone. I’ve met some really cool people.

Since then I’ve set up a Facebook page and a website and it just grew and grew and CP Teens UK became a fully registered charity in March this year.

Then sport opened up a whole new world for me too

Because I was discouraged at school, I avoided sport throughout my life. I wasn’t even aware that there were opportunities for disabled people in sport. Then, the Paralympics changed everything. Seeing disabled athletes at the top of their game made me realise what was possible.

I saw something on Twitter about a Paralympics GB Taster Day and I went along to see what it was like. It was an incredible day with an amazing atmosphere. When it came to sports, I’d always heard: “No, you can’t do that, it’s not safe” but now it was all: “Come on and have a go.”

Sport transformed my life and now I regularly train and compete internationally. I have just been selected for the 2018 World Cerebral Palsy Games in Barcelona. Out there on the track, being watched by hundreds of people, I am in complete control. As a disabled person, I don’t feel that way very often. Being cheered on by so many people who are all on your side is a powerful thing.

Ellie Simpson races an adapted bike on a race track
Ellie competing in RaceRunning

Hopes for the future

It’s important to let people know that they’re not alone. I set up CP Teens because I wanted to connect other people who, like me, just felt a little bit lost and to tell them that they’re not the only people out there who feel isolated.

Now I want to connect people through sport too. I’ve just finished a degree in Sports Coaching and I organise events through CP Teens. Sport is something that brings people together and I don’t want anyone else to be left out like I was.

Too often disabled people struggle to access the right emotional support, advice and information. As a result they feel like no one truly understands, leaving them disconnected and isolated from those around them. This is particularly heart-breaking at Christmas.

Please help us this Christmas by getting involved with our What I Need To Say campaign. Share the message, tell us your stories, and donate to Scope so we can be there for people who have nowhere else to turn.

“I felt so alone last Christmas. I tried to be cheerful for Elise, but inside my heart was breaking.”

A few weeks before Christmas last year, Christie received a letter confirming her daughter, Elise, has cerebral palsy. Here she explains how isolated she felt and how she couldn’t stop worrying about her daughter’s future. Thankfully Christie reached out to Scope, and she found the support she needed.

You can make all the difference this Christmas. Please donate today to help provide another family with life changing support.

Whether or not you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ll understand why I wanted Christmas to be amazing for my daughter, Elise – especially after everything we’d been through.

Elise, who was born prematurely at 33 weeks, was really sick as a baby. She wasn’t meeting her developmental milestones. At nearly one, she wasn’t sitting up.

Just before last Christmas, I got a letter confirming Elise has cerebral palsy.

I was devastated – I thought Elise’s life was over before it had even started. I couldn’t stop worrying about her.

Mother holding her daughter looking concerned
Christie thought Elise’s life was over before it had begun

Would Elise ever walk? Would she go to school? Would anyone look beyond the wheelchair and see what an amazing little girl she is? Would she have any friends? Would she be able to get a job in the future?

I tried to talk to my family and friends, but I felt like no one understood. I ended up trying to hide my fears. That Christmas, I was in a dark place. Even though I was with people who cared about me, I felt completely alone.

Sometimes I felt like I wanted to lock us both away.

I was at my lowest point when I called Scope’s helpline. I was anxious all the time and I avoided other people. I didn’t want to take Elise out because I thought people would stare and ask questions. The first time I took her out in a wheelchair, I cried. It felt like everybody was looking at her.

I tried to be cheerful for Elise, but of course it affected her. At her age, most toddlers are going to playgroups and having play dates. But we weren’t.

It’s only thanks to people like you that things changed for us, because your gifts mean caring, knowledgeable people are just a phone call away.

Step by step, Scope has transformed the way I feel – supporting me to be the mum Elise needed.

When I called Scope’s helpline, I finally talked to someone who understood what I was going through. It meant the world to me.

Mother with her daughter playing looking happy smiling
Scope has supported Christie to be the mum that Elise needs

I’ve started to enjoy Elise’s achievements, instead of worrying about what other children can do at her age. When she started sitting up on her own, it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I was so happy.

If I hadn’t called Scope, I would still be terrified of the future and I’d be avoiding going out. Elise would be missing out on so much. And the world would be missing out on Elise – she is such a happy, wonderful little girl.

This year, I’m actually looking forward to Christmas.

With Scope’s support, I’ve come such a long way – I can now look forward to something instead of fearing the future. This is a precious, life-changing gift you could give a family like mine this Christmas.

Thank you for reading, and Merry Christmas.

Mother with her daughter in front of a Christmas tree smiling
Elise and Christie are looking forward to Christmas this year

Christie’s story shows that lives can be changed for the better with the right support. With a donation today, you could help ensure Christmas isn’t the loneliest day for the 4000 families expected to turn to Scope for support over the festive period.

Donate today to support a family like Christie and Elise .

“There is still lots of stigma around mental health”

Today Scope has published Let’s talk, research on having conversations about disability at work. The research found that 48 per cent of disabled people have worried about talking about their impairment or condition with an employer.

Here, Gladys, who took part in the research and whose name has been changed to protect her identity,  talks about her experiences of employment. She is based in London and works in a school.

I was previously an Aid Worker with various charities for around 15 years. The work was sometimes arduous and required stamina as well as rigorous analysis. We worked very long hours in often difficult conditions. I was also involved in training other people from around the world. When I noticed that my memory was going and I was struggling with analytical thinking, I tried to continue as best I could including taking on ‘distance’ work based at home. Eventually even that became difficult and I didn’t know what to do. I was also in a lot of pain. But because the symptoms of my condition develop so slowly, it took nearly seven years to get diagnosed.

A few years after treatment had started I needed to get back to work as my benefits had been stopped after the first year, but I knew I couldn’t work full time as I had limited energy and so many medical appointments. I had been supported by the Job Centre, but they thought I was over-qualified for the stuff I was applying for. It was incredibly painful, because basically I was negating my career, and I had to ‘dumb down’ my CV. The fact that there was a break of a few years in my work experience didn’t help either. Due to my reduced energy levels, I tried to find work within a couple of miles of home so that the journey to work didn’t tire me out.

It was hard to get beyond the first interview

In one interview, with a call centre, I explained that I wouldn’t be off sick all the time; and that for example if I wasn’t in on a Tuesday, I would come in on another day to make up the hours. I thought this demonstrated my willingness to work. But they said, ‘Oh no, I would need you at this particular slot, because that is when the chair is available, we can’t be flexible’. A music school director rang me and said they had really liked me, and thought I was good, but they felt nervous about my condition and hospital appointments. I just wasn’t getting anywhere.

I wasn’t getting in through the normal channels and then I was advised by someone in the Job Centre that it wasn’t necessary to disclose, which proved to be valuable advice.  That’s how I got this job at a local Primary School. Whether the Headmistress assumed I’d taken a break for family reasons, I don’t know.  My qualifications were at the bottom of my CV and she reminded me that the job I was applying for was basically cleaning tables at lunchtime. But she didn’t probe further. She said that her main priority was that I would be reliable and turn up to work. I was relieved that I didn’t have to justify myself and I promised her that I would be reliable.

I am still at that school, working just four hours a day, four days a week.

I have never disclosed my disability

A couple of years ago I tried to increase the number of hours I worked and my grade but it was too exhausting and I had to stop after a year. During a chat with a teacher an early experience of teaching English as a Foreign Language slipped out and she identified a vacancy as a part time Learning Support Assistant. Although I preferred this work, I struggled to manage the 25 hours a week and I reverted to my former job, they found someone who could work full-time.

My former line manager was very friendly, and I tried to tell them I simply cannot work full-time, if I’m going to function in this environment.

I have never disclosed, but they know there’s a reason. I tried to say something once but decided against it because I was not sure how that might affect the dynamic in the office. I read that if you don’t need adjustments to be made to the workplace, then you don’t need to tell your employer. I don’t know if that is correct but if I don’t need to tell them, then I won’t. I am not yet psychologically strong enough to be surrounded by people who ‘mother me’.

Because I haven’t disclosed my impairment, I’m not sure what my rights at work are. I haven’t disclosed, because I wouldn’t have got this job if I had. It’s as stark as that.

A graphic showing statistics from Scope research. It reads "48 percent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer"
48 percent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer

People assume you are okay when maybe you are not

There’s still lots of stigma over mental health, I overhear negative comments from other colleagues. ‘So and so seems to be depressed – they just need to pull themselves together’. ‘So and so shouldn’t be doing this job if she feels that thing.’ I’ve heard that a lot. A couple of people know that I’m on anti-depressants but I usually keep quiet about it.

There was one colleague who started crying a lot. I went to comfort her and suggested that she speak to her doctor. She said that her doctor wanted to put her on anti-depressants and she was very worried about that. I told her that I’m on them. It seemed to help her to know that there was somebody else in her shoes.

It is important that disabled people are able to make informed decisions about if, when and how they talk about disability at work.

Based on the experiences of the people we spoke to, we’ve outlined ideas in our report for disabled people to consider when sharing information about their impairment or condition. 

Read more about our findings and recommendations and show your support on social media using #EverydayEquality.

Let’s talk: New research into disabled people’s experiences of talking about disability at work

Today Scope has published new research which looks at disabled people’s experiences of talking about disability at work.

We carried out a series of interviews with disabled people who are working. Some of those who took part had talked to their employer and colleagues about their impairment or condition, some hadn’t spoken about disability at work at all and others had shared some information with some people at work.

Below is a summary of our findings and our recommendations to employers and government to improve conversations about disability at work

Why is this important?

For some disabled people, talking about disability at work means they can start conversations about their support needs and how these may change over time. This can often be challenging for disabled people – two fifths of respondents in our research who asked for adjustments at work have felt uncomfortable doing this.

A graphic which shows a stat from Scope research. It reads "Two fifths of respondents who asked for adjustments at work have felt uncomfortable doing this"
Two fifths of respondents who asked for adjustments at work have felt uncomfortable doing this

In other cases, conversations between disabled colleagues can help create an environment where more people feel comfortable sharing information about their own impairment or condition at work.

Sharing information also allows employers to gather information about the experiences of disabled staff and helps them to develop a picture of how effectively they are recruiting, retaining and developing a diverse workforce.

By establishing an environment where disabled staff feel able to start conversations about disability, employers will be better placed to support their staff to reach their potential.

It’s important to recognise that some disabled people will have more choice over if, when and with whom they share information than others. However, this research has found that even among people who have a visible impairment, conversations about this and any support needs they have can have a significant impact on experiences at work.

Barriers to talking about disability

As many as 48 per cent of disabled people worry about sharing information about their impairment or condition with their employer. Some people who took part in the research had worried that telling their employer they are disabled may put their job opportunities at risk.

A graphic showing statistics from Scope research. It reads "48 percent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer"
48 percent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer

Others were concerned about how their manager or colleagues would react, and wanted to avoid negative comments, personal questions or pity.

Read more about Gladys’ experiences of talking about disability at work.

What leads to sharing information?

Many disabled people who took part in the project preferred to have conversations about disability on their own terms than responding to questions.

This included choosing who to tell, what information they shared  and when they shared it.

Positive and negative experiences of sharing information

Some disabled people had negative experiences when they talked about their impairment or condition at work.

These included feeling they hadn’t been listened to, or feeling as though they were being singled out as a result of the information they had shared.

For others, talking about disability had been more positive, and had led to them getting support to carry out their role.

For many disabled people who took part in the project, a positive aspect of talking about disability was that it opened up new conversations with disabled colleagues.

What needs to change?

We want to see employers review the way they gather information about their disabled staff. It is vital they take steps to make sure line managers know how to respond and offer support when staff start conversations about disability.

We’re also calling on the Government to improve the support available to working disabled people as well as employers. We want to see the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission strengthened so that employers who discriminate can be held to account.

It is important that disabled people are able to make informed decisions about if, when and how they talk disability at work. Based on the experiences of the people we spoke to, we’ve outlined ideas in our report for disabled people to consider when sharing information about their impairment or condition. 

Read more about our findings and recommendations and show your support on social media using #EverydayEquality

As soon as I stopped ticking the ‘disabled’ box, I got interviews

Charlotte Jukes is a qualified teacher based in Wales. After graduating with a first-class honours degree in teaching, she started applying for jobs but wasn’t getting any interviews. She decided to stop disclosing that she was disabled, just to see what happened, and suddenly she was getting interviews.

She’s supporting our Work With Me campaign to ensure that disabled people can get and stay in work.

Charlotte in her graduation gown
Charlotte at her graduation

I injured my spine in 2002 and was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2013. I’m in quite a lot of pain every day. I’ve had my conditions for quite some time and they have worsened over the years. I was a teacher up until March this year.

When I first graduated, with first-class honours, I thought it was going to be quite an easy process to get interviews. Especially given that my Local Authority have a policy where disabled people are guaranteed an interview if they meet the person specification.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Friends with fewer qualifications were getting interviews for the same jobs

I was very confused. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I found out that my friends who had 2:1s and 2:2s were being interviewed for jobs that I wasn’t.

I was the one people would come to for help with grammar, application forms, personal statements and CVs because English language is one of my specialist subjects, so I knew my applications couldn’t be bad.

I emailed the council to ask why I wasn’t being given interviews, as a disabled person who met all the requirements, but I didn’t receive a response. It just made me feel a bit hopeless. I felt like I was never going to be able to get a job.

As soon as I stopped ticking the ‘disabled’ box, I got interviews

My husband suggested that I applied for some jobs without marking the ‘disabled’ box, just to see what happened. I was a bit sceptical at first because surely if there is a policy in place, they wouldn’t be ignoring it? I was also worried. If I needed time off sick or I needed adjustments putting in place to make my role easier, what would happen then if I hadn’t declared that I was disabled?

As soon as I stopped ticking the disabled box, the interviews started coming in. I think I applied for eight or nine jobs then, and was given interviews for all of them.

I feel like there’s not much point in having a policy for guaranteeing interviews for disabled candidates who meet the criteria if they aren’t going to abide by that.

When I finally did get a job, I had all the support I needed

I was offered a job and the Head Teacher was excellent. When I first took the job, my conditions weren’t affecting me as much, but then the Fibromyalgia started to flare up. Things were worsening with my back and my arthritis as well.

When I told the Head Teacher that I was struggling, she referred me to occupational health. They made adaptations to make things easier. Things like a trolley for carrying books and special seats. That was great. I was very lucky there.

I loved everything about the job and I thought I was good at it. I loved the children and everything, it was brilliant! It was everything I’d ever wanted. I was even nominated for “The Pride of Wales” Award for “Teacher of the Year”, and I actually won that in 2016. Sadly, my contact was only for two years and I left in March this year.

Charlotte's "Teacher of the Year: Pride of Wales" Award
Charlotte’s Teacher of the Year: Pride of Wales Award

Now that I’m unemployed again, I’m worried I won’t get another job

I’ve started using a wheelchair and I feel that I have to tick the ‘disabled’ box now. If I didn’t and I just turned up in a wheelchair, I don’t know if the school will have access.

I’m worried about the future because I know it’s going to be very hard for me to get back into work. What will I do after all the years of work that I put in to train to be a teacher? It’s what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little girl, and to know that I won’t be given a chance just because I’m disabled is hard to accept.

I’m supporting Work With Me because I think that employers and policies need to improve. Just because I’m in a wheelchair, doesn’t mean that I can’t do the job as well as any other person.

Be part of making change happen. Find out more about Work With Me and share the campaign on your social media networks using #WorkWithMe.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people.

As a disabled person, I had to persevere through rejection

Fiona is a 27-year-old who has a very rare bone condition which affects her left leg and hands. It causes cartilage swelling around her bones which restricts her movement.

She went through a difficult journey to find employment, facing challenging attitudes and uncomfortable interviews. After she decided to take an unexpected career turn, she now works as the Disability Specialist at DisabledHolidays.com.

Working in the travel industry has been an unexpected (although fantastic!) career path for me. I completed my Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in Primary Education in 2013 and then graduated with a Masters in Inclusive and Special Needs Education at the University of Cambridge in 2014.

Unsurprisingly, I expected a career as a Primary School Teacher, however, my search for a teaching job was not easy as I had many unexpected obstacles to overcome. It was tricky to find a part-time job which I needed because of my disability, but the most difficult obstacle was working out how to boost my confidence following job rejections.

Although I’m aware that non-disabled people can have their confidence lowered after job rejections, I believe that rejection can be even more difficult for disabled people. When telling people I had experienced another job rejection they sometimes responded with the question “Did you ask for feedback?”, I answered, “yes – I was told I did not appear very confident”.

My two main frustrations were firstly realising that a potential employer would never admit if they had discriminated and secondly, even if I did not appear the most confident candidate, I was actually very confident in front of a class. It is not easy standing up in front of a class of children, who have never seen someone with my disability, and attempt to divert their attention back to the learning objectives. In an ideal teaching interview, I would provide Disability Awareness Training.

Jumping in at the deep end!

Whilst persevering in my search for a part-time teaching job I was supply teaching. I felt like I was jumping in at the deep end here. I had just qualified as a teacher, moved to a new city and was travelling through rush hour every day to teach an unknown class, at an unknown school for the day.Fiona smiles on a sunny day by the sea

After a challenging two years of supply teaching, with children being curious about my disability, I started running Disability Awareness Workshops in schools.

It turned out that the job rejections were a blessing in disguise. I’m now teaching children what I believe should be integral to our curriculum – helping pupils to put themselves in other people’s shoes and understand what it means to respect people with a disability.

What I learnt through this challenging experience of day-to-day supply teaching was that although job rejections highlighted my disability in a negative way, I now see my disability only as a positive when educating children. Every time I teach a lesson, I believe my positive attitude despite my circumstances, provides an education in itself. Not only do pupils learn how to respect people with disabilities, they also learn how to empathise and begin to live with a more broad perspective on life.

Overcoming the ‘elephant in the room’ during an interview

You might be wondering how I managed to regain confidence after job rejections.

I felt reassured after reading various blogs and websites that I was not the only disabled person who senses an elephant in the room during an interview because employers do not ask about your disability. You shouldn’t have to feel the pressure to mention your disability in an interview, however I found that the ‘elephant in the room’ became such a distraction I had to mention it.

As I explained my disability however, I felt like I was using valuable interview time which should be used to explain what values I will bring to the role. I even became unsure about whether I was making the right decision to tick the ‘equal opportunity’ box on the application forms. Sometimes I wondered whether I was just ticking this box for “workplace statistics”.

I was in such a dilemma every time I applied for a job – my disability doesn’t define me. It shouldn’t be, and isn’t, relevant to how I would perform in the job so I surely don’t need to mention it. At the same time, my disability does need some consideration as the employer might be wondering if it will affect my performance at work and I need to be sure the job is suitable for me.

A woman in a wheelchair smiles on holiday
Fiona made a career change from teaching to travel

From teaching to travel

After realising I needed a change from teaching, I decided I wanted a job to help disabled people overcome obstacles in society. I was offered a job as a Disability Specialist at DisabledHolidays.com – the UK’s largest accessible holiday specialist.

As someone who loves to travel and believes that everyone is entitled to a good quality of life, I feel privileged to be able to work for this incredible company. Needless to say, it came without the interview obstacles I faced in teaching!

Our accessible travel experts take away any anxieties disabled people might have about going on holiday in the UK or abroad. We support customers at every stage of their holiday including booking, preparing to go, travelling, holidaying and coming home. Some of the support we offer includes guaranteed accessible accommodation, mobility equipment hire, airport assistance, adapted travel and much more.

It is important to remember that although overcoming barriers to employment is a difficult journey, employers who cannot see the unique assets you bring to the workplace do not deserve to have you.

More than a third of disabled people don’t think they will be hired because of their impairment or condition. And two in five disabled people don’t feel confident about their chances of getting a job in the next six months. 

We’re campaigning with Virgin Media to support more disabled people to get into and stay in work. Find out more about the Work With Me campaign. 

How it feels to experience endless harassment, just because you look different

Chris has dwarfism and experiences regular harassment. For Hate Crime Awareness Week, read his blog about the effect this had on him and why he’s keen to change attitudes.

A lot of people still think it’s socially acceptable to mock and effectively dehumanise people with dwarfism. For me, the physical side doesn’t get me down, it’s the attitudes that other people have towards it. There’s still a big stigma around dwarfism and the way we’re portrayed as freaks.

Experiencing harassment at work

I worked at a local pub for a few years. At first, I mostly did night shifts and of course people are drinking, and I was specifically targeted. I’ve had people run up behind me and try to pick me up, people patting me on the head, talking to me randomly about really personal and inappropriate things. People even take photos or film me, purely just to portray me as being different.

It got to a point where I had a breakdown and told my family and my managers at work about it. They were very understanding and agreed that I should do more day shifts instead. It’s a lot better. It’s nice to be able to just get on with your job without constantly feeling paranoid.

Chris arms folded, in front of a garden

The effect of endless harassment

Endless harassment can create paranoia. You just constantly feel paranoid if there’s someone behind you or if someone’s got their phone out, are they going to take a photo of me? And it’s the principle behind it – that they’re going to share it on social media as a joke.

Because I’ve been experiencing it for a long time it can be difficult when I’m in certain environments not to be too self-conscious. For some people, it can lead to depression and even suicide.

Comments and insults can be more damaging than physical assault, certainly for me – it’s just that concept of feeling excluded from society. It also affects my confidence when it comes to working and dating.

Changing attitudes

Through animation, I re-created some of the worst things that I’ve personally experienced. I hope it will raise awareness and change perceptions. I want to put this kind of harassment on the same grounds of nonacceptance that racism is.

I also want to challenge the dehumanising ideas about what disabled people shouldn’t and shouldn’t do. I think education is key to changing attitudes. One day I hope I can walk down the street and nobody cares about my height.

If you have a story that you’d like to share, get in touch with Scope’s stories team.

Why you should run the Royal Parks Half – from someone who’s done it!

When keen runner Chris lost his leg in a motorbike accident he was determined to keep running. Last year he ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon for Scope and in this blog, he tells us why it’s such an amazing experience.

Getting back into running was a long journey. One of the first books I read after the amputation was Chris Moon’s autobiography. It got me excited about the possibility of running again!

The training does takes longer but don’t let that stop you. Get in touch with other people with a similar impairment and find out what’s possible. I learned that the right prosthetic makes all the difference. The first time I tried a pylon prosthetic I was dubious but we went to the running track, fitted the leg and I broke my para-athlete 400 meter record within about 10 minutes!

The Royal Parks is such a beautiful route

Last year I did the Royal Parks for Scope. I love those parks and used to train in them when I worked in Central London. It was good to go back. Despite losing my leg, I haven’t changed inside. I’m still the same person, life goes on and it can be as enjoyable. It’s just a new normal. I like to challenge myself and I’m always thinking “what can I take on next?”

It really is a beautiful run and the autumn weather was perfect – a beautiful, still, chilly morning with glorious sun rising over the trees. It took a while to get going because of the number of runners but once I got going, I relaxed and settled into a nice rhythm past Buckingham Palace. As well as the parks, you pass so many amazing London landmarks. They were familiar to me from years working in Central London offices and running at lunchtimes. Memories flooded back.

All the support spurs you on

With my right leg doing all the work I find uphill gradients take their toll so I eased up a little. Then I spotted the Scope supporters at their cheer spot and exchange shouts with them which spurred me on! I had my name printed on my vest and get lots of personal encouragement. At the halfway point, I saw that I had three minutes in hand, so I was feeling pretty good!

Just after 10 miles a runner suddenly brakes in front of me and I lose my footing. I almost save myself but eventually lose it and fall heavily on my right knee and forearm. Many hands lift me to my feet – I think I’m okay and I walk for about a minute, testing my body. There are lots of concerned spectators and runners who call to me. The camaraderie is great.

It’s less than a straight mile to the finish. I push myself and enjoy the cheering of the crowds for the last few hundred metres to the finish banner. And there is my wife, Denise, with that big smile, just past the finish line.

We called in at the Scope tent to see our friend Nicola Gale in the events team and then it was time to tackle the journey home to a long, hot bath and an even longer nap. Thanks to everyone’s support I raised £668 for Scope, beating my fundraising target of £300 and I beat my time target of 2 hours too! It was an amazing experience. If you’re thinking about doing it, don’t hesitate to sign up with Scope!

13.1 miles. 4 Royal Parks. 1 Team Scope. Get your Royal Parks 2018 place with Scope today.

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

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