Tag Archives: Work

“I have a love-hate relationship with my benefits”

Josie, from Bristol, was a nurse until 2008 where she developed a number of impairments which affect her health and mobility.

She has most recently been diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation, a condition which affects immunity and increases the chances of anaphylaxis attacks.

In this blog, she talks about her journey of getting different benefits she needs and the anxious days where her payments stopped completely.

I have a love-hate relationship with my benefits. I am grateful that they exist and that I can live as a disabled person, but I was a worker and I still find it hard that I can’t earn my own money.

When I became ill in 2008, I had just got a new job but hadn’t started yet. After a couple of weeks of no income, I went onto incapacity benefit . This was £ 73 a week. It was so little. Out of that I had to live, pay towards my rent and support my children.

My most heart-breaking moment

I did a depressing budget where I couldn’t afford to see my kids or contribute to them at all. My son asked if I was coming for half term to see him. I had to say no. It was my most heart-breaking moment. At this point, I had been denied three times by Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and was awaiting a doctor’s visit at home.

In 2011,  I was moved over to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). I filled in the 40-page form and got all my paperwork together. I was so worried. I was put in the work-related activity group (WRAG). This involved a trip to the job centre on my birthday. I had two people with me, wore a face mask and hoped I wouldn’t need to get out of my wheelchair and need the toilet.

Josie, a disabled woman, wears a face mask to protect against allergens
Josie wearing her face mask

In 2012 , the job centre invited me again. I was now single and having more reactions so they rang me. I was so so nervous. They put me in the support group and realised I was too unwell to study and other options like office work were a no and I couldn’t even go in a charity shop due to my allergies no matter work in one. So I was released into the utopia of the support group.

It made me anxious and worried

In 2012 , I was reassessed for DLA. My three-year award was up. Reassessment meant a full assessment as if I was applying for the benefit from scratch. I thankfully had an amazing social worker who I will be forever grateful for. Between her and the Occupational Therapist manager, I got all the assessments and paperwork together (again) and was awarded five years. This is due soon and with the move to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), I am not looking forward to it.

This year a work capability form arrived. At first, I thought it was a mistake. I rang, it wasn’t. I can’t write easily or well so I started answering the questions into my laptop. I was worried and scared and avoided dealing with it for a couple of weeks. It made me anxious and worried.

I knew I wasn’t going to be able to achieve it in the time given, so I rang. I was told to get the form back when I could, with no mention of money stopping. Two weeks after the date on the form I had it ready and was going to get it printed by my carer as I get two hours once a week for errands. Then I missed a payment and that day had a letter saying my ESA had been stopped. I rang and it was confirmed.

Josie, a young disabled woman, following a reaction where her face has swollen and become red
Josie following a reaction with swelling and redness

I asked for help, this took five phone calls. The first said no we don’t have your case anymore, ring ‘X’. I rang ‘X’ and they said ring ‘Y’, ‘Y’ said ring ‘Z’ first. Eventually, I broke down in tears, sobbing. A man rang and I answered the questions (including really personal things like how heavy my periods are, how often I need the toilet at night, if I was continent etc) and he filled in my form for me. He reinstated my money immediately. I was told a copy of the form would be sent for me to sign but it never came. But my money continues.

In the four days it took for me to get help, I had a p45 and a letter saying my housing benefit had been stopped. If I had been in hospital or unwell and not able to do the chasing, my life would have completely fallen apart and I would have lost the roof over my head.

Two days after the phone call I had an anaphylaxis. Stress makes it more likely I will have one. Anaphylaxis is not a minor allergic reaction, it’s where you swell up, your throat closes and your blood pressure and pulse drop. This happens quickly (within three to five minutes) and I have to be ready to give myself an EpiPen, otherwise, I would die. I have had to have 78 EpiPens so far and I will shock again.

What needs to happen next

My needs are documented in so many different places – if only these records could be joined up so I don’t need to repeat myself. I’m eight years in now and I feel battle weary.

We need to look at this Work Capability Assessment and find a more holistic, compassionate way forward.

Visit Josie’s blog site to learn more about Mast Cell.

If you have any questions about benefits or employment, contact Scope’s helpline where we provide free, independent and impartial information and support to disabled people and their families.

You can also start or join a discussion on our online community.

Tell the Government what you think about support in and out of work

Yesterday the Government launched “Improving Lives”, a consultation on proposals around disability, health and work.

We know that disabled people are twice as likely as the general public to be unemployed and just 48 per cent of disabled people are in work, compared to 80 per cent of the wider population.

The difference between the two rates, known as the disability employment gap, has stood at roughly the same level for more than a decade.

We have been calling on the Government to deliver on its commitment to halve the disability employment gap, and to deliver a strategy that tackles the barriers disabled people face in and out of work.

Today, the Government have published some proposals on how to address this. The question is will these proposals translate to meaningful legislative and policy change?

What is “Improving Lives”?

Improving Lives is a Green Paper, which essentially means the Government wants to find out about and discuss an issue with the public before deciding on any action.

Improving Lives is a document about improving the support available to disabled people in and out of work.  The Government are looking at the following areas:

  • The support people need to get into work
  • The support working disabled people might need
  • Assessments for out of work benefits and employment support
  • The role of employers in recruiting and supporting disabled employees
  • Health and care for people both in and out of work

You can read Improving Lives in full on the Government website.  It’s also available in in easy read,  BSL, audio and braille formats.

The consultation is open from 31 October 2016 until Friday 17 February 2017.

A young disabled women using a computer
Mima, who took part in our First Impressions, First Experiences employment scheme

What do we think about the Green Paper?

It’s right that the Government is consulting on support for disabled people in and out of work. We welcome some proposals, including working more closely with employers, challenging attitudes and halving the disability employment gap.

However, we’re concerned that the Government is considering extending requirements to look for jobs and attend employment programmes to people in the support group of ESA.

Not every disabled person should be expected to work, and everyone’s contribution to society should be recognised regardless of whether they work or not.

We want to see specialist employment support made available to all disabled people who want to work, for this to be voluntary, and for it to not impact on any financial support.

We’re also concerned about previous decisions to take £30 a week from new claimants placed in the WRAG group. Reducing disabled people’s incomes won’t incentivise people to find a job. It will just make life harder. We’ll be urging government to rethink this cut, as part of our response to the Green Paper published yesterday.

The paper sets out some important questions about reform to the fit for work test, accessing employment support and making workplaces more inclusive.

However, this document is just the first step. At Scope we want to see meaningful consultation with disabled people lead to real policy, legal and attitudinal change. There remains a huge amount of work to be done to tackle the barriers disabled people face entering and staying in work. It’s vital that the whole Government now listens to disabled people’s views on how to do this.

How can I get involved?

You can respond to the consultation using the Department of Health Consultation Hub website.

If you would prefer, you can respond by email: workandhealth@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

Or by post:

The Work, Health and Disability Consultation,
Ground Floor, Caxton House,
6-12 Tothill Street,
London,
SW1H 9NA

What is Scope going to do?

Scope will put together a response to the consultation.

As part of this, we’d like to hear from disabled people about their experiences with things like claiming ESA, taking part in employment support programmes and getting support while at work.

We’ll put out more information on how to get involved over the coming weeks, but in the meantime if you’d like to get involved please contact Mel Wilkes, a Policy Adviser on melanie.wilkes@scope.org.uk

I used to hide my autism from employers, now I see it as a positive – End the Awkward

Felix took part in First Impressions, First Experiences, a pre-employment course for young disabled jobseekers. Since then he’s been working hard to reach his goals and he’s passionate about changing employers’ attitudes towards disability. 

For End the Awkward, Felix talks about how he learned to see disability in a positive light and why employers need to do the same.

Before I joined Scope’s pre-employment programme, I was working for a firm in East London. Unfortunately it didn’t go according to plan and I realised that, while my autism can’t be ignored, it isn’t something that I should be ashamed of.

Now I talk about disability in a positive light

In the past, I wouldn’t have disclosed my autism to potential employers, but Scope’s pre-employment programme taught me how to talk about it in a positive way. Now I do talk about autism and those who I’ve worked with have seen it in a positive light. Instead of just seeing autism as a negative, I’ve shown that there are many positives as well.

I think there are two ways to improve inclusiveness in the workplace. The first thing is for employers to be educated about disability, but another way is for potential candidates, who are disabled, to strike up the confidence to say “This is my condition, this is why I need support”. I’ve also learned to highlight the positives that I can bring to the workplace so that potential employers don’t feel the need to question my abilities.

Employers shouldn’t hide from disability

I read an article about how 49 per cent of companies don’t want to hire someone who has learning difficulties and that affected me because I’m part of that demographic. And unfortunately, it said further on in the article that only 7% of people with learning difficulties are in employment which means that 93% have been forgotten about.

Workplaces can be more autism friendly by being patient when it comes to communication, reinforcing boundaries regarding employee relations, and if there is an incident where the individual is anxious then it would be best to find to out why. They should acknowledge that autistic people have skills and see how those skills could be best utilised by the organisation.

Felix laughing with a friend

Education is key

I discovered that two thirds of the public are still uncomfortable with people with disabilities, and that’s very clear in terms of employment and in terms of social life. There’s a long way to go to improve attitudes and awareness.

I feel like there’s a lack of diversity regarding the public image of disabled people. When people think of a disabled person they usually think of somebody who’s using a wheelchair. But it’s so much more.

People need to be educated about what cerebral palsy is, about what autism is, how they can make adaptations, and so on. Education is key so that employers know how to support that person’s needs. You could have a positive mindset but if the work environment isn’t supportive, it can go downhill from there.

Everybody brings something new to the table

I think that awareness campaigns like End the Awkward can have an impact on employers and on the wider public. Disability is a broad spectrum. Just because someone is disabled, doesn’t automatically mean they can’t do something.

You can’t compare yourself to everybody else. Can you imagine how bland and boring the world would be if everybody was the same? Everybody brings something new to the table. My achievements are a testament to how disability doesn’t have to be a barrier to having a good life. It’s time other people realised that.

You can stay up to date with everything End the Awkward on Twitter and Facebook using #EndTheAwkward or visiting Scope’s End the Awkward webpage.

“All I really wanted was to work, so I could be independent.”

Harrison is just one of thousands of young disabled adults who have struggled to find work. Here he explains about the barriers he faced on his journey to permanent employment. Donate today and support our work with young disabled people.

Have you ever felt really let down? Like there’s no hope? A year ago, that was me. Like so many disabled people, I was constantly being overlooked by potential employers. I kept applying and applying for work. But I kept missing out. At first I didn’t let it get to me. But after a while I got so stressed. I started to think there was no point.

“Employers judged me, without finding out what I could do”

I’ve always been a people person. I’m not shy, I like talking and I’m good at understanding people. I love the theatre and have done some acting and backstage work. So I knew I had lots of skills to offer. But, when employers found out about my learning disability they judged me, without first finding out what I can do. I even started one job, but they let me go with no warning. I didn’t believe in myself at all. I felt really down and useless.

Harrison with his employment advisor, Jo.

Everything changed for me when I met Jo from Scope. She encouraged me to join a work programme where I learnt about everything from how to tell an employer about my impairment to time management skills.

“When I finally got an interview with Morrisons I was so nervous”

I worked on a new CV and learnt how to fill in application forms. My confidence was really low because I’d been rejected for so many jobs. But the support I got made me realise that there are many jobs I can do, which helped improve my confidence a lot.

When I finally got an interview with Morrisons I was so nervous but I had a lot of help with my preparations. I practised and practised answering questions. When the interview day came, I remembered what I was told. And I got the job! I was so happy and excited, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I knew. The support I got helped me get my job at Morrisons. With your help, other young people can get the right support too, and show employers what they can do.

Harrison working on the checkout at Morrisons.

“My life changed because of the support I had”

I’ve been working at Morrisons for 10 months now. My supervisor helps me remember the things I need to ask customers, like if they have a loyalty card. He says I’ve taken to customer service like a duck to water. I know they want me to succeed here because they do everything they can to support me.

Now I’m earning my own money, I’m saving up to move out from my parents’ house into my own place. It’s great that I can see a future where that happens. I want all employers to be as supportive as mine. My life has changed because of the support I had and now every day when I go to work I feel confident and independent!

Harrison’s story shows how with the right support a young disabled person can get a new start and chance to achieve their dreams.

Donate today and help disabled people like Harrison get in to permanent, sustainable employment.

With your support we can make sure disabled people can get the right support, and show employers what they can do.

“You never have a bad day at Scope!” – National Volunteers’ Week

Volunteering with Scope led to an unexpected change of career for Lisa. As we conclude our celebrations for National Volunteers’ Week, she talks about what it’s like to be a Scope volunteer and how it changed her life.

What inspired you to become a Scope volunteer?

I was originally a customer at the Scope shop in Lincoln and was asked if I was interested in becoming a volunteer. I wanted to help with the window displays, so decided to get involved. I was nervous as I hadn’t worked in a retail environment before, but the existing volunteers were really friendly and quickly showed me the ropes.

After a little while a vacancy came up in the shop, and I took on a paid role as a Sunday manager. This progressed to me taking on extra responsibilities and around two years ago I became the shop manager.

A shop window display

How have your experiences at Scope changed your life?

I thought my career was heading in a particular direction, but both my area manager and the team at the shop encouraged me to apply for the shop manager role. That gave me the confidence to really go for it. My team are lovely and have been very supportive. They really helped me when I started in my role.

Five years ago, I would never have imagined myself doing this job, but this change has been really good for me. Volunteering at Scope helped to improve my confidence and changed my career path for the better. I’ve had an amazing experience at Scope, I don’t want it to end!

What’s been the most memorable moment of your time with Scope?

I have one almost every day! My team likes to have fun and we do things that are a bit different. For example, we took over the local museum and held a fashion show there.

The volunteers I work with are amazing. In the last couple of years, we’ve helped nearly 30 of our volunteers get in to work. We support them through their training, give them time and support, they even do mock interviews with each other during their breaks. Some local shops now come to us directly when they’re looking for new staff as they know how well we train and support our volunteers.

Scope means a lot to me and I love what I do. It’s such a positive place, you never have a bad day at Scope!

Would you recommend volunteering with Scope to others?

Definitely yes! We’re all about encouraging and supporting our volunteers, and getting them to achieve their ambitions. Volunteering with Scope gives you confidence. We’re like a family and we’re always there for each other.

Fancy giving it a go? Are you interested in becoming a Scope volunteer? More information on volunteering with Scope, and ways in which you can get involved, can be found on our volunteering pages.

A spotlight on disability employment

You won’t hear this on the news, but a couple of events taking place this month show how important disability employment is at the moment.

Disabled people still face a broad range of barriers to work – however a renewed focus on disability employment across government, the charity sector and employers, could give us reason to be hopeful.

The employment gap

Employment is an important aspect of living independently for many disabled people. While more people are working in the UK than ever before, just 46.7 per cent of disabled people are in work. This puts the disability employment gap at 34 per cent. It has hovered around this level for the last ten years.

Scope’s analysis shows that nine in 10 disabled people have worked, but only half are in work now.
Employer attitudes, inaccessible workplaces and a lack of accessible transport remain significant barriers. Other barriers include lack of effective support to enable people to enter or get back into work, and employers and disabled people not knowing about schemes such as Access to Work which pay for additional adjustments some disabled people need in the workplace, such as screen readers or taxis.

Time for change

Clearly, there is a real need for a new approach. Recent announcements from Government could indicate steps are being taken in the right direction. Scope has been campaigning for parties to commit to halving the disability employment gap. Last year, the new government took on this goal, which will mean supporting 1 million disabled people in to work.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has just launched an inquiry in to the disability employment gap. This marks an opportunity to review support available, explore alternative options for support and hold the Government to account on their commitment to bring about real change. We will submit evidence to this inquiry, ensuring the Committee’s recommendations to Government are informed by the real experiences of disabled people.

This morning, I’m meeting the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to hear about their proposals for employment support for disabled people.

Later this year, the Government will also publish a White Paper on disability, health and employment.

We are calling for:

  • Employment support that is specialist, and tailored to individual needs
  • Investment in schemes like Access to Work
  • Employers to offer flexible, modern workplaces

Harrison’s story:

Tell us about your experiences

Are you a disabled person looking for work?

Or, if you are working:

  • Have you asked your employer for a workplace adjustment?
  • Have you used the Access to Work scheme?

We would love to hear from you. Please contact stories@scope.org.uk

15 ways to search for jobs using social media

Future Ambitions is a brand new service aimed at supporting young disabled people aged 16 to 25 in Hackney, Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets into long-term sustainable employment. Here are their tips to search for jobs online and using social media:

1) Ask your friends
Post a simple, polite, professional status asking if anyone knows of a place that is hiring. You may even want to be a more specific about your needs. Ask if anyone knows of an open position in the area you want to work in. Chances are that at least one person knows about a potential job opportunity. Even better, you may have someone ask for an interview right then and there!

2) Search
Put jobs into the Google or a company’s search box and see what comes up!

3) Like company Facebook pages
What are your interests? Like pages of companies you’d like to work for. They will often post their jobs on Facebook as it’s cheaper than traditional advertising.

4) Follow companies on Twitter
Follow companies you might want to work for. They may post links to their jobs on their Twitter feeds.

5) Search hashtags
#job is a good way to see jobs posted on Twitter or Facebook, you might need to narrow down the search to UK or local area only #job

It’s best to search Twitter at times when local companies would be posting jobs, for example, 9am -5pm.

6) Job search on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is like an online CV so follow the same rules:
• Be clear with your objectives in your personal profile
• List your most recent job or training first
• Be professional
• Be honest

8) Follow companies on LinkedIn
You can also follow a company on LinkedIn, meaning all the jobs they advertise come up in your news feed.

9) Be consistent online
Use your real name on social media, keep a consistent tone and think of it as your personal empire. Of course your Facebook ‘About’ will be different from your LinkedIn profile description. If you keep the general tone similar, you’ll look in control.

10) Google yourself
A bit obvious this one, but don’t just check the first page. Beady-eyed employers will go a few pages back.

11) Request your Twitter archive
Go into your Settings. Click the Account tab. You can find how to request an archive containing all the tweets you’ve ever sent. Check over the last two years. Use programs like Tweet Eraser to search for the offending tweets.

12) Find hidden vacancies
Many employers will fill vacancies by word-of-mouth, headhunting or recruiting internally. Knowing how to get yourself in contention for these roles could give you a major boost in finding your next role.

13) Use your network
Using your network is the other main way to find hidden positions. Past employers, colleagues, friends, family and just about anyone you meet can form your network. Serious jobseekers treat even the most casual of meetings as a potential job lead.

14) Make prospective calls
Even if an employer doesn’t have any current vacancies, they may be willing to create a position if an exceptional applicant comes along. Contact companies to ask if they have any opportunities for somebody with your skills. Call the manager of the department you’re looking to work in but avoid busy times. Follow up with an email, thanking them for their time and attach a copy of your CV.

15) Contact us
Future Ambitions is supported by the Credit Suisse EMEA Foundation. For more information, call 07807 799 928 or email future@scope.org.uk

“I didn’t chop my own arm off!” – tales of a disabled chef #EndTheAwkward

Guest post from Ronnie Murray, who is group head chef at Mark Hix’s London restaurants and has a shortened left arm. He’s backing Scope’s End the Awkward campaign, and stars in our new awkward moments film.

I always knew I wanted to be a chef, but it wasn’t so rock ‘n’ roll 20 years ago. Back then chefs were rarely seen, and definitely not heard! It was seen as a bit of a drop-out’s career, but it was all I ever wanted to do.

As a teenager, I wrote a letter to Michael Caines, a very famous Michelin-starred chef. He had lost his arm in a car accident just a year before I was getting into the kitchen.

I went and worked with him for a week, and had a fantastic time. And I realised that if Michael can earn a Michelin star, then damn sure I could get off my backside and do it as well!

Disability and me

Man behind bar holding a knife
Ronnie Murray on the set of our awkward moments film

I’ve never referred to my arm as a disability, because it doesn’t really set me back with anything. I’ve only discovered two things I can’t do – ride a motorbike, and play golf! It certainly hasn’t ever held me back in the kitchen.

But being described as a ‘disabled chef’ doesn’t bother me. I want to inspire people through good cooking and great food, but if I can also inspire a disabled person who maybe thinks they can’t be a chef, that’s all the better.

How I approach awkwardness

I’ve never really noticed too much awkwardness in the kitchen. No one in my kitchen would look at me differently from anyone else, because they know me. First encounters can be awkward, but it always wears off quickly.

But I have had fun with a few awkward moments – like where someone will say, ‘Do you need a hand…?’ and then get embarrassed.

A barman here said to me last week, ‘They’re biting my arm off for these canapés…’ I said, ‘You can’t say that to me, that’s out of line!’ I’ll always reel it in back quickly though. I’d never leave anyone hanging.

A lot of it is about your own presence and attitude. Most people are much more comfortable once you’ve shown them there’s nothing to be embarrassed about – just be confident, and they’ll take their cue from you.

Ending the awkward

It’s a bit of a sad state of affairs that the issue of awkwardness around disability still needs to be raised. I think we’re much better than we were, but there’s still more to do.

I made a YouTube cooking demo for Vice last year. The golden rule of YouTube is ‘never read the comments’ – so of course the first thing I did was look at all the comments.

Most of them were positive and about the food, but there were also some cheap jokes about the arm. It doesn’t really bother me, but it’s very narrow-minded.

We’ve moved a long way as a community over the past few years, though, and I think that’s important. Programmes like The Last Leg are a fantastic thing, and the 2012 Paralympics almost got more interest than the rest of the Olympics.

To overcome awkwardness, all I think you need to do is treat each disabled person as an individual, and remember there’s nothing to be scared of. After all, the worst that can happen is an awkward moment.

Check out Ronnie’s awkward moments film and read more awkward storiesDo you have an awkward story to share? Submit your awkward stories, and we’ll publish our favourites on our blog and social media. 

Find out more about how Scope is ending the awkward this summer.

Celebrating First Impressions, First Experiences at the Barbican Conservatory

On Monday night, we were pleased to welcome back 22 alumni from the First Impressions, First Experiences pre-employment training programme for a celebration event at the Barbican Conservatory.

Held in the beautiful tropical garden that is situated in the heart of the concrete jungle of the Barbican Centre, guests were welcomed to enjoy drinks and an assortment of canapés amongst the tropical flowers and trailing plants, under the huge glass roof of the conservatory.

The programme, which for the last four years has been funded by the Credit Suisse EMEA Foundation, was devised to support young disabled people who were not currently in employment, education or training. These young people were provided with a structured programme followed by additional weeks of tailored, one-to-one support. The aim was to increase their confidence and independence and help them to develop important skills to make life-changing career decisions, ensuring that they left the programme feeling career-ready.

The secret garden party was a way to celebrate the success of the programme, and highlight some key achievements that the young people have made.
We were so pleased to be joined by Michelle Mendelsson, a Trustee of the Credit Suisse EMEA Foundation, who welcomed guests, spoke about the success of the programme and seeing such brilliant results, such as the fact that 74% of young people are moving or have moved into work, further training and volunteering.

Comedian Alex Brooker spoke to the audience in his first ever appearance as a Scope Ambassador, and shared the importance, as he saw it, of building confidence in young disabled people, and the amazing way that the project had achieved this. He then introduced the two key speakers on the evening, Taylor and Felix, two young people who went through the programme, and whom Alex Brooker has since been mentoring in public speaking in preparation for the event.

It was truly inspirational to hear them speak about how the programme has affected their lives – Taylor spoke about the way that the programme had helped her get voluntary work at the Together! 2014 Disability Film Festival, and pursue her dream of working in film and television, while Felix shared the importance that the sense of community created by First Impressions, First Experiences has brought to him and his peers.

At the end of the evening, the young people collected a goody-bag of treats including notebooks, pens and a book on interview techniques, ‘Why You?’ by James Reed, kindly donated by the author.

Thank you so much to the Credit Suisse EMEA foundation for not only hosting and funding the event which gave the young people a chance to come together again, but also for supporting the programme over the last four years, which has successfully seen 101 participants through its doors. With the help of programmes such as this, Scope can get closer to seeing the employment gap halved by 2020.

A driver wouldn’t let me on the bus. When I complained, they offered me a job – #100days100stories

Guest post by Jean from London. Jean has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a painful condition which means she is prone to muscle tears and dislocated joints. She uses a wheelchair most of the time. Jean is an active campaigner for disability rights. She is sharing her story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

At the beginning of 2013, I had to put a complaint in to a London bus company because a driver refused to deploy the ramp and let me on.

Instead of dismissing my complaint, the company actually asked me to go in and speak to the management about how disabled passengers should be treated.

Then they asked me to go in again and speak to the bus drivers – and after a couple of months they said, “How would you feel about us paying you for it?”

Jean holding the catBefore that, I hadn’t been able to work for seven years. Part of the time this was because I was unwell, but for a lot of the time it was because employers weren’t prepared to support my needs or make adaptations.

A couple of places I applied even offered to give me an interview, but then withdrew the offer because their offices weren’t wheelchair accessible. It was ridiculous.

Getting support

My new bosses have been really supportive, even offering to contribute towards a new reclining wheelchair, which I will need at work.

However, when I applied for funding from Access to Work for a support worker and a better wheelchair, I was rejected.

One of their reasons was that I wouldn’t be working enough hours, and would still need to claim benefits. But how am I supposed to build up my hours, and start to come off benefits, without the right level of support and equipment?

At the moment, my fiancé has to take me to work and act as my carer. It is difficult – we find it hard to balance his being my partner and being my employee. When he doesn’t do things how I want them, it feels very hard to tell him so.

Add in his own health issues, and wanting to pursue his own interests which have to constantly be put on a back burner, and it causes conflict in our private time.

I felt this was unfair so I appealed, and with the help of my MP I was successful in getting funding. I’m now in the process of finding a support worker, and Access to Work also paid towards the cost of the wheelchair and a small travel allowance.

My work

I’ve looked at how the company views and treats disabled passengers, and made some recommendations for improvements.

I’ve also run disability awareness training for bus drivers. We simulate various impairments – such as being blind or mobility impaired – and ask staff to try to move around inside the bus while it is in motion. It demonstrates how difficult travelling can be for disabled passengers.

I go to conferences and events, and we do a lot of work with mental health and learning disability charities.

One thing I’ve noticed is that disabled people will come and speak to me because they see me in a wheelchair. The fact that I have an understanding of what their situation might be seems to make a big difference.

My work is challenging, fun and rewarding, and it brings confidence and self-worth. I feel like I’m contributing something and making an improvement. Even though the majority of my income is still benefit-based, I am hoping that I can slowly build up my hours.

My employers saw something in me and built a new role around my abilities, and are investing quite heavily in me to ensure I have everything I need to fulfil my potential. I love it.

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