Category Archives: Real life stories

Smiiffy’s 7 tips for coping with isolation

Josh, popularly known as “Smiiffy”, is a rapper from Birmingham who is looking to challenge attitudes and raise awareness of mental health and disability. He did an Instagram Stories takeover for Scope on Friday, where he shared “What I Need To Say” posts throughout the day, and even wrote a special verse.

I have anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder. I haven’t been in a good place in the past few months. My anxiety sometimes makes it difficult to be happy, even around my own family. It also means that it’s quite difficult to know what mood I’m going to be in for Christmas.

Josh sitting on a pub bench, looking into the camera

There are a lot of times I do feel isolated. I often find that I do it to myself because I prefer to be alone. I constantly feel alone in a crowd. Even if I’m surrounded by good friends, I feel alone. I sit alone for a while and think that I don’t fit in here. And I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere, which is really difficult sometimes.

Scope’s What I Want To Say campaign is important to me because I feel like Scope’s giving people the opportunity to have a voice and let me say what I genuinely need to say. Letting people know that they’re not alone, and that there are other people there who are wanting to listen to them is incredible.

As part of this campaign, I took over Scope’s Instagram on Friday 8 December, and am sharing my top tips for reducing isolation:

Smile

Whether it’s someone I know well, or a stranger in the street, one of my favourite things to do is just smile. I feel like if someone’s having the worst day, at least I’ve acknowledged them. Plus, it always makes me feel much better too!

A hug always helps

Hugs always make me feel good. Be it a friend, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a cousin, a family member or whoever, it helps you forget about the loneliness, depression and anxiety you might be feeling for a while.

Social Media

Josh taking a selfie in front of a mirrorI always thought that I’d be lonely and I posted that on social media. That was the first time that I accepted my own mental health. Telling people how you feel on social media can help things improve.

I use it positively, to raise awareness and let people know that there is help out there. You can also be anonymous on social media and that can make it easier to talk about the fact that you’re struggling.

Find someone to talk to

For people that are lonely, there are a few community clubs and centres out there that are open for people on Christmas day. If people are alone, that’s definitely one thing that could help.

If you’ve got family around you but you’re still struggling, just trying to talk to people can help. In most families, there’s at least one person that understands, so if you can speak to that one person, then things can get easier. Just expressing your needs to somebody else will help in the long run, because they will find a way to help you through it.

Speak to organisations that can help

Josh (Smiiffy) wearing a Scope T-shirt

Scope have helped me massively. They’ve helped a lot of friends too. I’ve never really told anyone that I have Bilateral Perthes’ disease but through working with Scope and seeing the work they do, it made me feel confident enough to tweet about it. I feel motivated by Scope to raise awareness of invisible impairments, like mental health.

Do something you love

I think that a hobby, something you’re good at or enjoy, can help. When I started music, I wanted money, fame, popularity but then I released a song about when I was struggling called “Air I Breathe”. When I realised how many people it had impacted, I knew that was my calling.

Music has been hard because I don’t like the attention but I fought off my fears. If you have a talent and use it to create good things for yourself and inspire thousands of others, it can be life changing. I also like giving back to charity because as well as music, charity saved my life.

Smiiffy, a young disabled man, smiles by a microphone

Help raise awareness

Over the years thousands of people have messaged me and said positive things like “I love your music, you’ve saved my life” or “you’ve made me open up about my own mental health” which is incredible.

I want people to let people know that, if they’re struggling to talk or feel like they’re not going to be heard, speaking out about what you’re going through can really help.

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.

Poor accessibility can lead to isolation, but this theatre company is changing that

Pippa works on Scope’s online community and is also an accessible theatre blogger. The festive season seems to be filled with activities but when they aren’t accessible, disabled people and families are often left out. This can be very isolating. For our What I Need to Say campaign, Pippa spoke to Erin, whose company DH Ensemble is leading the way in accessible theatre.  

Going to the theatre is an experience enjoyed and cherished by many families, especially during the festive season. However, like many other activities, theatres and shows often fail to be wholly inclusive of disabled people.

Although the accessibility of venues is improving, content isn’t always suitable for people with specific disabilities. However, one theatrical company with inclusivity at its heart is The DH Ensemble (previously called The Deaf & Hearing Ensemble). I talked to Erin Siobhan Hutchings about their new show.

Based on Erin’s own experiences of growing up with her deaf sister, ‘People of the Eye’ features Deaf and hearing cast members and uses stunning visuals to create an immersive experience for all.

Accessibility is a forethought, not an afterthought

Accessibility is built into the aesthetic, so deaf and hearing audiences can enjoy the show on an equal basis. For example, we use integrated sign-language as well as creative captioning, so whether you’re relying on that to access a performance or not, it brings so much more to your understanding of the world and the characters. I think that makes the work so much more interesting. It adds layers to the narrative and the way that you tell the story and connect with the audience.

Whilst the show was primarily designed with D/deaf and hearing audiences in mind, we also strive to ensure that venues where the show are performed are wheelchair-accessible. The production team also take precautions to ensure that audiences are aware of the visual effects beforehand, by sending out resources including descriptions of lighting effects and images of the projections used to those who request them.

Two women on a stage in front of the words '2 player mode'

Being excluded can be really isolating

The story is about myself and my sister growing up but it could easily be replaced with many other disabled people’s stories. The crux of the story is about families, relationships and isolation, and how important it is that we accept each other.

Deafness isn’t necessarily a disability that cuts you off physically or intellectually, but it’s isolation that can really affect people who have hearing loss. It’s that inability to communicate in a social situation that can be really isolating and that’s something that I noticed with my sister growing up.

We’ve tried to really show that in a way that puts the audience in that position, so some feedback we’ve had from audience members is that maybe a hearing person might not understand everything that happens in the play but that’s an important experience for them to have, they get some insight into that feeling of isolation themselves.

What I would really like people to take away is a little bit of empathy about the way that other people live their lives, and some idea about isolation and communication and how important that is. Then hopefully they’ll take that out with them into the world and influence the other spaces they go into.

Making theatre more accessible

It’s important that we’re all realistic about the diverse world that we live in. We’re a co-led deaf and hearing company and we strive to maintain that.

People understand that it may not be possible to make every single show accessible for everybody, but if you’re open to discovering what can make your work accessible, that’s a start. It’s better to ask people who really live the experience and get their feedback. I went to an interesting discussion with deaf and disabled artists recently where this was addressed.

Accessibility shouldn’t just be a tick-box exercise – put on a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted show and do one relaxed performance and that’s it. That’s not really exploring the depth of how we can make sure our theatrical environment and all aspects of our society are welcoming for everybody, and that people can feel equal to everybody else.

As accessible theatre continues to slowly improve, it is the innovative work of companies such as The DH Ensemble that are really making strides in helping to address isolation and ensure that theatre really is becoming more inclusive for all.

The DH Ensemble is led by Jennifer K. Bates, Stephen Collins, Sophie Stone and Erin Siobhan Hutching. You can see People of the Eye in 2018:

  • 23 March Harlow Playhouse
  • 26 March Arlington Arts Centre
  • 7 April Nottingham Playhouse

Find out more about DH Ensemble and People of the Eye and get involved with our What I Need to Say Campaign.

I’m a disabled person and I’ve contributed to the economy for 43 years – the Chancellor’s comments feel personal

Graham is Scope’s Engagement and Participation Manager. As a disabled person himself, with three disabled children, he had a strong reaction to Philip Hammond’s comments about productivity and disabled people. In this blog, “after a full day to calm down and sleep on it”, he responds and shares some other reactions.

It’s not based on any evidence

Firstly, as Scope colleagues and many others have said on social media, this statement hugely undermines the Government’s commitment to getting one million disabled people into work.

This wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark by Mr Hammond during an after-dinner speech – it was made in a formal Parliamentary committee meeting and broadcast to the world. So, apart from the slap in the face to working disabled people, he is contradicting Government policy.

His statement is not based on any evidence that anyone knows of. I’m extremely pleased that Scope has called out both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister on this slight.

I’ve contributed to the UK economy for over 43 years

Secondly, it feels quite personal. I’ve had my impairment since I was  a child and have worked continuously (apart from study breaks) since age 17 when I joined a press agency in London as a trainee journalist.

I’ve since worked as mental health support worker, probation officer, supported housing officer, bookseller, policy wonk and project manager. During this time I haven’t avoided paying my income tax and have contributed to the UK’s economy for over 43 years. So being labelled as a problem for  productivity would be a joke if it wasn’t so serious.

I worry for the next generation of disabled people, including my son

Thirdly, I worry for the next generation of disabled people. My youngest son is leaving university in a year or so, and my daughter has worked and has paid taxes for several years.

Despite my professional and personal campaigning on the inclusion of disabled people for 20 years or more, it is very clear we have a whole lot more to do if senior politicians still see us as drains on the economy and uninvestable. We need to be seen as active, empowered citizens.

And in addition to this novel stance – being seen as non-productive – the framing of disabled people as inherently “vulnerable” is another barrier that needs dismantling. I’m confident that Scope will continue to challenge received and dated ideas that diminish disabled people, and really promote everyday equality in all its senses.

It’s not just me who’s outraged, here’s what other people have told Scope

Laura via email:Laura walking with her guide dog

“I am disgusted that a man in his position could say such a thing. We have enough issues to face daily without comments like that.

Every day I make a contribution to society along with so many others. These were very hurtful comments to read as I was getting up, getting ready and travelling to work!

I am pleased to see disabled people and organisations have pulled together today.”

 

Liam via Twitter:

“I just felt disappointed and confused, to be honest.Liam wearing radio headset, smiling at the camera

Aside from being derogatory, it was also a bizarre statement to make when the disability employment gap remains stagnant.”

 

 

Shona via Twitter:

“It’s just reinforcing what we already know, this government thinks disabled people are a problem.Shona in her wheelchair in front of a fence and a park

What is even scarier is the government knows they can get away with saying things like that because they’ve created a society that sees disabled people as lesser.”

 

If you want to read more reactions to the Chancellor’s damaging and inaccurate comments, check out Scope’s Twitter moment. 

Scope storytellers also shared their views in the media:

Scope has written to the Prime Minister asking her to clarify her position and called on the Chancellor to withdraw his comments. We’ve also explained why his comments are damaging and inaccurate.

What are your thoughts on the Chancellor’s comments. Share what you think on Twitter or Facebook using the #EverydayEquality.

I had a good life but cuts to social care have left me completely isolated

Angela spent years looking for the right kind of social care and eventually she found it. For a while she enjoyed having complete control over her life and led a very active one at that. However, in the past few years, drastic changes to her social care have left her isolated. In support of our Christmas campaign, Angela is sharing her story.

My mum found out that I had cerebral palsy when I was two and a half. She took me all over the place to find answers and she was constantly fobbed off with “Oh your baby is just lazy”. When she did get the diagnosis they said, “She’ll never do anything, she’ll never speak”. Which wasn’t true and sadly it still happens to parents today.

But you can only thrive if you’re given the right support, and that’s often the biggest barrier to living a full life if you’re disabled. Something I know all too well.

Angela as a child on a blanket cuddling a big dog
Angela as a child

I was always searching for something different

I grew up in residential schools and when I became an adult the only option – other than living with my mother – was to live in a residential home. I hated the regimentation. There was no independence and hardly any choice. You had to get up at a certain time, do this, do that, you only had three choices for your meals.

We were very isolated. The nearest town was Colchester and that was 10 miles away. There were no opportunities, nowhere to go. There was a factory on the grounds so we worked there. I had my 21st birthday there, among all these people that I didn’t know. It was very lonely. I was always searching for something different but I didn’t know what it was.

Then, one day I came across an article about a place that had the vision that you might be disabled but it doesn’t mean you can’t own your life and live your life. This was the first time I’d heard that kind of attitude.

I managed to get a place there but it was scary to begin with. By this time, I was in my mid-30s and I was so used to people deciding things for me. Suddenly I had a lot of say in how I lived my life. I could choose when I wanted a bath, when I wanted to go to the toilet, I could go out quite a lot. It was life-changing.

Finally living as an equal

After a few years I took the next step and decided that I wanted to live in my own place. It took a while to sort it out but soon I was moving into my own flat for the first time. I had two support workers who lived in a flat upstairs and were available to support me 24-hours a day. Finally, I was living as an equal.

My support workers relieved me of my ‘disability’ by doing things that I physically couldn’t do and I was in control of what I did and when I did it. I could invite friends round and they didn’t have to get involved with anything – they just saw me as me and not a disabled person. But sadly, this new life didn’t last.

Angela in front of hills and a castle
Angela on holiday, something she used to be able to do with friends

Cuts to social care have left me completely isolated

I remember hearing there would be cuts and there were cuts. Over the last few years my social care support has changed dramatically and with it my life has changed for the worse.

The carers that come now only take me to use the toilet, prepare simple meals and do my personal care. I get half an hour in the morning, three quarters of an hour for lunch, half an hour in the middle of the afternoon, three quarters of an hour in the evening and half an hour around bedtime. It’s the same every day. Then I get 2 hours a week to do a shop and 2 hours for housework. It has completely taken away my independence and left me very isolated.

I can’t live a life now. I’ve lost many friendships. I can’t do most of the community activities I used to do. I can’t just get up and do things, be spontaneous. I have to think about the consequences of everything I do. I used to do a lot of campaigning but I can’t do that anymore. I virtually have no social life.

It’s a very lonely way to live. The social care system urgently needs to change. I have a right to live in my community as an equal.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.