“my impairment left me feeling like I was on a deserted island but technology helped me feel at home”

Ajay, Service Desk Team Lead Analyst at Scope talks about his journey from the age of 16 to a working adult, showing how technology has helped him live the life he chooses.

Ajay, wheelchair user, looking at computer screens at work

For me living with an impairment is a bit like being in a relationship, you and your impairment know each other very intimately, you share every moment together, you sleep together, eat together and spend a lot of time getting to know each other very well. Like most relationships you also have conflicts, and both sometimes desire different things. This certainly was the case with my impairment and me.

As I got older my disability became worse and by the time I turned 16 years old I had lost all movement in my hands. From being able to write, play musical instruments or even feed myself, I was left with no movement at all. It was as if my impairment had left me on a deserted island with no hope of getting back home.

Technology changed my life for the better

This is where technology came into effect and really changed my life for the better bringing more control and freedom to it. I remember a time when I was watching TV at home and CNN showed an advert for a new piece of technology that had come out in the US called the Smartnav.

It was a device that would let you control the mouse using your head. It works by sending a signal to a piece of reflective material which you can attach anywhere and when you move that, it would control the mouse. You can click using additional switches or keys on the keyboard. When I learnt about this I immediately contacted the suppliers and purchased it from the US. At the time I could not operate the computer without assistance and if this worked I would feel not completely disabled again.

Ajay, wheelchair user, looking at his work screen on his chair and talking into his microphone

I remember when the first one arrived it was faulty, and I was extremely disappointed. It meant that I had to return it and wait for the next one to arrive which came in a couple of weeks. As soon as I plugged it in and configured it, I was hoping that this would change my life and let me use a computer again. When I started using it, it was amazing! I was able to control the mouse with precision and complete control. It had opened up a new world to me as I was able to use the computer again, and hope of getting off that deserted island had become a possibility again.

The internet was a complete life changer

As I got older, the Internet started taking over people’s lives and more and more Internet Service Providers were providing Internet connectivity to people’s homes. Being able to use the internet was a complete life changer for me also because it meant I could communicate with anyone around the world and I could research and look at whatever I wanted.

The next piece of technology, which completely transformed my life again was a device called the Housemate which I have been using since February this year.

This device with an app installed on your mobile, lets you control devices around your home. Being able to control the TV again was fantastic and I didn’t need to rely on having to ask someone to change channels or access recordings and so on. With this device I can control the TV completely, being able to record, playback recordings, change channels and fully operate my Sky box. Feeling bored was now not an option.

Technology gives me the independence to be part of society

Without technology I don’t think I could really survive in this world, being imprisoned in a body which cannot move can be very depressing at times and it’s something I would not wish anyone to go through. Finding different ways to keep your hopes up and trying to perceive things positively can sometimes be a job in itself and extremely tiring. Technology brings a breath of fresh air to my life, being able to live it the way I want, giving me the independence to be part of society, be employed and share experiences with friends and family.

There is no limit to what technology could bring to disabled people’s lives

What I would really like to see is developers and manufacturers to develop more technology and software to bring more freedom and independence to lives of many disabled people out there, who rely on technology not as a luxury, but as a means to get through life on a daily basis. I think if there was more awareness raised in Information Technology about the needs of disabled people, then there is no limit to what technology could bring to people’s lives and perhaps maybe someday it could even get me off this deserted island that my impairment left me on many years ago.

We know there is still work to do until all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness, with digital and assistive technology playing a huge part in this. We all need to work together to change society for the better.

There’s something everyone can do to be a Disability Gamechanger, so get involved in the campaign today to end this inequality.

“This is why I fight to overcome barriers to employment for disabled people.”

Max, a writer and Disability Gamechanger, writes about the challenges he faces finding employment as a person with autism.

I choose to fight for the voices of others on the autistic spectrum. Through my own efforts to find work and my writing, I aim to show that those on the autistic spectrum can play an important role in the workplace and indeed, society.

As someone who has a deep passion for social issues and strongly believes in the concept of society, I want to contribute to society through employment. And yes, I do realise that means paying taxes!

All I need is a bit of patience

Along my personal journey, there have been many positive experiences as well as challenges and people who have believed in me. I recently undertook a placement at a very inclusive and welcoming PR marketing agency in Barry, Wales. Here I was given the patience and understanding to build my confidence and work at my own speed. I am also working part-time with an education technology start-up to help develop kids and adults digital skills.

The main barrier for me in the past, and one which I still sometime face has been interviews. I often struggle to express all my strengths in the pressurised situation that is a job interview, and as a result I feel that employers only see my anxiety.

Though I recognise that verbal communications skills are important in marketing and any other employment sector, I know that once I settle into an environment I can achieve anything I set my mind to! All I need is a bit of patience.

One of the biggest impacts that such barriers have had on me are feelings of isolation and loneliness. I am sure these are feelings which are shared by many others in the disabled community.

A young man smiles with his dog
Max at home with his dog

Everybody has value to add

To achieve progress, I believe there should be a greater focus from employers on what  disabled people can do, not what they may find difficult at first. Just as everyone has their own weaknesses, everybody has value they can add to a team.

Creating an environment where all abilities thrive, enabling a wide range of talent, is key. Similarly, creating interview processes which are flexible and allow this talent to shine, I believe can be a positive step forward.

Take those with autism, for example. We are creative, focused and have attention to detail. These are all positive traits which can be valuable within a team.

By creating more diverse teams, this means that more organisations will have the ability to represent their customers and society. Surely, this is something we can all agree is a good thing.

It is time that we focus on ability, not disability.

Half of disabled people feel excluded from society and many say prejudicial attitudes haven’t improved in decades.

We know there is still work to do until all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness, so we all need to work together to change society for the better. 

There’s something everyone can do to be a Disability Gamechanger so get involved with the campaign today to end this inequality.

“This is how assistive technology is helping me live the life I choose”

A keen campaigner and writer, Raisa uses lots of different assistive technology to help her do day to day tasks. Here, she writes about some of these pieces of technology and how they help her live the life she chooses.

I’m very selective when choosing assistive technology. Of course, everything has its purpose, but if it is no use to me, there’s no point in using it.

For me, because I have the option, I don’t use assistive technology for absolutely everything. I’ve only considered using assistive technology seriously when I started university in 2013.

Because I was doing a Creative and Professional Writing degree, it was clear that there was going to be a lot of writing involved. There was no guarantee that I would be able to type everything up in time, by only using two fingers on the keyboard without a fast typist beside me. I was lucky in the sense that I got quite a lot of help through Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) at uni.

I’ve always had the habit of writing nearly everything by hand so I can literally see what I am typing, rather than transferring my thoughts straight onto a computer. I have never been able to do it. The only exception is when I compose emails. But even then, if my email is really long and I’m really exhausted, I would probably end up using some sort of assistive technology.

A woman laughs whilst talking in a group at the Scope for Change residential
Raisa talking to fellow campaigners

Technology has so many uses

I am (literally) using Dragon Naturally Speaking 13 to dictate this post in my bedroom. This version is pretty good. I was first introduced to this software in 2009, when version 9 came out. It was horrendous. No matter how much I tried to train the software to my voice there were too many typos per page. I literally wanted to rip my hair out.

I got Dragon 12 at the beginning of my university course in 2013. Thank God I did. There was just too much to do in so little time! Don’t get me wrong, it still makes mistakes, but they’re so rare that I can live with it now.

Something else I use quite regularly was my Olympus Sonority voice recorder. I used this device to record every single one of my lectures or big public events over the last five years. It’s great that they automatically convert into audio files that work on pretty much any device – so I could listen to them anywhere if I wanted to, either on my phone or laptop. It saves as a compatible file for your memory stick also – bonus!

Assistive technology can help you live the life you choose

A family friend showed me Apple’s voice recognition software and how it worked before I got my first iPhone. I got really excited by this. I wouldn’t use Siri in public, but voice recognition software on my phone has helped me do my most important job these days – dictating and replying to emails! I have a habit of sending really long emails! I don’t have to use my laptop, I just have to hold my phone in my hand and speak.

A woman laughs with another campaigner at Scope for Change
Raisa laughing with another campaigner

One of my really long emails to date, which I wrote by only my right thumb and predicted text (without using voice recognition at all), took me two hours to type. However, if I wrote that same email again using voice recognition software on my phone, it would have only taken me about half an hour. It is also a quick way to make notes in your notes section for reminders.

I personally wouldn’t go as far as using assistive technology to help me with absolutely everything. I don’t want technology to directly take over my life. However, I hope that this post has been helpful in showing how assistive technology can help you to live the life you choose.

We know there is still work to do until all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness, with digital and assistive technology playing a huge part in this. We all need to work together to change society for the better. 

There’s something everyone can do to be a Disability Gamechanger so get involved in the campaign today to end this inequality.

“Disability is full of compromises and workarounds”

Edith was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when she was 16. As her condition started worsening, it was essential that she found a social care package that met her needs.

In this blog, Edith writes about how finding the right social care package has enabled her to focus on the other important things in life.

Writing about my twice daily care visits feels like trying to describe brushing my teeth, or cutting my nails. It’s boring and I aim not to focus any great deal of time on it, it’s just an essential part of daily life.

A young woman smiles whilst sitting on a sofa, typing on a laptop
Edith sitting on a sofa with her laptop

I use a wheelchair full time, but the ‘book ends’ of my day are especially hard. Lying in bed overnight, my whole body stiffens up and takes a while to stretch out and co-operate. Come evening, fatigue has turned me to jelly.

Add in flare ups, temperature variations and colds or viruses. Each day is a surprise. My carer starts by stretching my legs in bed and helping me to a sitting position. Using a standing frame I transfer to my wheelchair, and in a subsequent set of routines I get dressed and ready for my day. The process is fairly cumbersome and long winded, but we go the fastest we can, totalling around an hour.

Night calls follow a similar set of processes, all made quicker and easier if I’m having a ‘good day’, but following a routine which we know well enough to follow without fuss.

It means I can focus on the rest of my life

My social care calls are crucial. Do I want to have company first thing in the morning? Would I love to get up and make a cup of tea then go back to bed for a few hours? What about those unexpected evenings out where one drink turns into many and you just re-adjust your 12 hour plan accordingly.

The alternative is being bed bound, in some residential home, or relying on my parents (while I can, then what?). So when it works, my social care support enables everything else.

With the essentials of personal care covered, I can focus on the rest of my life, the nights out, holidays, work, credit card bills… just life. To me social care is as necessary a part of my functioning as any of my healthcare, if not more so.

I’m frustrated by the wires I’ve had to untangle to get social care in place, the lack of transparency in funding and set up. It feels more vulnerable than the NHS and prescription meds, yet to me should be treated in the same way.

It’s all a part of my life I’d rather not have to incorporate, but fundamental for me to achieve, do, live or anything else.

Read more from Edith on her blog.

Half of disabled people feel excluded from society and many say prejudicial attitudes haven’t improved in decades.

We know there is still work to do until all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness, so we all need to work together to change society for the better. 

There’s something everyone can do to be a Disability Gamechanger so join the campaign today to end this inequality.