The things that people say never go away

Our new report, The Disability Perception Gap, reveals the extent of the negative attitudes that are held towards disabled people – and how many non-disabled people don’t realise the scale of the problem.

Marie is a college tutor, wife and mother whose experiences feature in the report. In this blog, she revisits some funny and not so funny moments, and talks about the impact of negative attitudes.

I’ve got osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones. It means my bones can break easily so I use wheelchair, I can’t stand or walk. I’ve experienced negative attitudes throughout my life – some awkward moments you can’t help but laugh at, and others which have actually held me back from living my life.

Because I’m disabled I couldn’t possibly have a love interest

I can’t tell you the number of times people have bumped into lampposts or tripped over on the street because they are too busy staring at me. When I’m out with my husband Dan, it can be even worse.

Once, when we’d just started dating, we were on the way home from the pub, holding hands and we stopped to look at the stars. What could be more romantic? A kiss seemed like the natural thing to do.

After a moment, I became aware that a police car was driving past very slowly. The officer was staring out of the window and was concentrating so hard on us that he ended up mounting the pavement and crashing into a street sign. We couldn’t believe it! A few seconds later he sped off, clearly embarrassed.

We still laugh about that incident now. We have to laugh – if we took these things too seriously it could start to mess with our heads.

Marie and Dan kiss outside the church on their wedding day
Marie and Dan share a kiss on their wedding day

We often hear people making comments. People don’t blink an eyelid if they see any other couple kissing in the street but because I’m in a wheelchair and Dan’s not, we become an immediate target. I think when people see us, they can’t quite believe that a guy who isn’t disabled could have fallen in love with me.

If Dan and I aren’t being affectionate, it’s a different story. Trying to convince people he’s my husband takes some doing. One time, a hospital consultant asked me if Dan was my dad! When I said no, she presumed he was my brother, then my uncle, and finally my carer. I let her go on and on before she petered out. It’s that  assumption that because I’m disabled I couldn’t possibly have a love interest.

I was told “We don’t have any jobs for people like you”

When I finished my degree in Health and Social Care in 2011 I didn’t have a lot of luck finding a job. I went to the Job Centre for support and their attitude was “Why do you want to work?” and “We don’t have any jobs for people like you.” There was no help or aspiration.

Being told not to bother working made me feel angry and upset. I’d spent so many years studying, I’d put everything into my degree, I’d worked in the past and I wanted to progress. It made me feel worthless, like I couldn’t contribute towards society like anyone else.

Woman wheelchair user holding a sign saying "#workwithme"
Marie features in Scope and Virgin Media’s employment campaign, Work With Me

I decided not to put that I was disabled on my CV because I felt like I wouldn’t get an interview. I often managed to get interviews but when I turned up I could tell by people’s reactions that I wasn’t going to get that job. I think it was largely because they didn’t understand my impairment and didn’t want to take the chance.

If you’re disabled, it can be difficult to progress in your career too. I’ve had many different jobs and at times I felt like I was being treated like a child because employers didn’t allow me to use my skills and knowledge. I ended up leaving one job. If people aren’t going to accept me for who I am and what I can do, why stay?

The things that people say to you never go away. There have been times where bad attitudes have made me feel like “What’s the point in working?” I just wanted to find an employer who would give me a chance, like anyone else would be given a chance.

This report is the start of something, not the end. We will be working to better understand how negative attitudes impact on disabled people, and how these can best be tackled.

There’s no single fix for this problem, and as part of our campaign for everyday equality for disabled people, we’d like to hear about your experiences and what you would like to see change.

Will you support our campaign by telling us your experiences?

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