“It’s like baby steps, one step after another” – Michael’s story

Landing your first “proper” job is tough for many young people in the UK. For 19-year-old Michael, having a learning disability has made that challenge all the harder. After a disrupted education, the East Londoner left school without his GCSEs and with his confidence badly dented. But everything started to change for Michael when Scope’s First Impressions, First Experiences programme set him up with a work placement at London Overground. 

Michael's face, smiling
Scope’s First Impressions, First Experiences programme gave Michael the confidence to begin his dream career.

When I was in school my confidence was knocked. I was diagnosed with my condition in year eight. I was diagnosed because I had problems with my attendance. My mum thought I might have a bit of a learning disability because she works with kids herself. The day I was diagnosed with autism I felt a whole lot of relief.

I thought that without many skills and GCSEs it wasn’t going to be worth applying for things like apprenticeships. I thought I had no chance. Before I came to Scope I thought to myself I wasn’t going to get anywhere. But from day one at the course things started to look better.

When I first started the course, I was down in general and didn’t have much self-confidence. I couldn’t see how I’d get to where I wanted to be. I’ve always had a passion for transport, and working on buses was my dream job.

Getting my first work experience 

First thing in 2013 I got the news that London Overground wanted me – brilliant. When I started with London Overground at the end of January, things picked up a lot more.

The Scope course dramatically improved my confidence and filled that gap that was holding me back. It gave me the chance to do work experience with London Overground, where I helped and assisted passengers with tickets and travel enquiries at Surrey Quays station. This work experience helped me to think “I can do this” and gave me a more positive outlook on life.

Now, I’m working part time at Stagecoach as a Customer Assistant on the number 15 bus route from Tower Hill to Trafalgar Square. I check tickets, offer travel advice to customers, supervise the platform and assist passengers with getting on and off the bus safely. I really love my job and I’m hoping that it will help me to achieve my dream of becoming a bus driver. Without First Impressions, First Experiences, I don’t think I’d be here.

A new outlook on life

I’ve always got a smile on my face and I’m cheery with customers. When they see that, they are more likely to have a chance of being a bit happier. Even a “good morning” or a “hello” makes someone feel a bit cheered up.

It’s like baby steps, one step after another. One step at a time is always the best policy and disabled people should be entitled to work no matter if it’s in an office or what.

When it comes down to it, go for it, no matter what way you take, you are going to get where you want to be.

Find out more about the First Impressions, First Experiences work training.

The Access to Elected Office Fund – changing the world one political appointment at time

Today Minister for Women and Equalities Helen Grant announced that the fund will continue for another year, and be extended.

Helen nailed the central issue and reason it was created in the first place when she said: “Disabled candidates can often be faced with additional costs that make standing for election more difficult than their non-disabled counterparts.”

The fund also “creates the space for disabled people to play a key role in these decision-making processes, but can also lead to increased visibility in public life, and ultimately change attitudes towards disability” according to Scope chair Alice Maynard.

In the run up to the 2010 election the Conservative party manifesto committed to “introduce a £1 million fund to help disabled people who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials with the extra costs they face in running for office”.

The fund idea was then reflected in the coalition agreement after the election.

Since the fund was launched in July 2012 there have been over sixty applications to the fund, which will now also cover Parish and Town Council elections.

The Local Government Association Be a councilor campaign is also being expanded and will now help aspiring disabled candidates by providing coaching, mentoring and training, to help build their confidence, knowledge and skills.

Everyone involved deserves a huge amount of credit, for recognising the potential disabled people have, and the benefits they can bring to our communities and political life. Crucially that is being backed up with money, time and commitment, particularly at a time the public purse is under pressure.

Disabled people are still massively under-represented in public life, but here’s hoping that more people take the plunge and use to its full potential.

In you’re interested you can apply on the Access to Elected Office Fund website.

Haylee’s friends

A guest blog from Emma, author of Haylee’s friends, a new story book for young disabled children.

Haylee's friends ebook cover

About a year ago my daughter, Molly, became aware her left hand didn’t always do the things she wanted it to do. Sometimes she got quite cross with it when it was uncooperative. It has a habit of going off at an unhelpful angle which is awkward for her and gets in the way.

Molly’s frustration prompted me to look for some books to help explain in simple terms what cerebral palsy is. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything that was child friendly or presented cerebral palsy in a positive way.

After some encouragement from friends, and of course motivated by Molly’s questions, I contacted Scope to see if they had any story books to help Molly understand. As our conversations went on I asked if they would help me write a book to answer these questions, they agreed.

Getting started

I arranged to meet one of the Scope team at the Kidz up North exhibition 2012 to discuss our ideas. Whilst at the exhibition I bumped into Molly’s occupational therapist Michelle and we got chatting about what I was doing at the exhibition.

A couple of days later Michelle emailed me offering to write the book with us, and so the project started. Michelle had never written a children’s story before but it was on her “one day I would like to do” list, all she needed was some inspiration! After a few luxury hot chocolate meetings, the story started to take shape.

Michelle spoke with speech and language and physiotherapy colleagues to hear what they would like to have included in the story. She also met up with a family that she has been involved with for a number of years and asked both the parents and the older child with cerebral palsy, “if this book had been around when you/your child started school, what would you have wanted it to say?”

The answers were to provide the central theme of the story.

“Never say it is all going to be okay, because it isn’t. But if you do your exercises and wear your splints, it can make things a lot easier”. And “however hard it is and however much you don’t want to, always answer your child’s questions truthfully”.

Molly’s help

Throughout the process of developing the story, Molly insisted on being part of it, giving us lots of inspirational ideas and letting us know if she didn’t like something. She vetoed some of the illustrations, like the original pictures of Lilly, the walker, which were met with a very disapproving face from Molly! She also gave us suggestions of what to include, like using her fork and knife and helping to name the characters. Most importantly, she wanted our family dog to be the model for Toby in the illustrations.

Now Haylee’s Friends is published Molly is our best advocate for it. She loves sharing it with anybody willing to sit down with her. Visitors to the family home this summer have all benefitted from Molly sharing “her” book with them and her school friends have commented that “it tells you the things that help Haylee” and “I like the bit when the lead gets tangled up.”

The story has really helped Molly to understand why her body behaves like it does and it has helped her to share this new understanding with the people she meets. Now we hope that Haylee’s Friends helps other children, their families and friends in the way it has helped Molly. Already it is making its way into primary schools in the Harrogate District, it has been shared at Portage training sessions and is appearing in Children’s Centres, Child Development Centres and libraries.

We are all so excited and we hope to have a celebration and launch somewhere local to where it was written and where the hot chocolate was drunk very soon.

A limited number of hard copies are available. If you would like a copy please call 02920 815 452 or email training@scope.org.uk. You can also buy it as an ebook on Amazon.