The Disability Unemployability Conspiracy (Part 3)

Hello and welcome back! In our 3rd week of disability employment awareness month, I talk to Jamie, a young man whose enthusiasm for getting back to the career he loved quickly became a nightmare, which saw him fighting numerous battles everyday just to keep his job.

This is his story…

Jamie

Year of injury & cause: 2014, RTA (car crash)
Age at time of injury: 31
Current age: 35
Injury level: T4 complete

Prior to his injury, Jamie had worked several steady jobs including shop assistant, bar manager and teacher. In fact, only a week before his injury, Jamie had started a new teaching position, and one of his main focuses throughout rehab was returning to this job as quickly as possible, something he accepts may have been to the detriment of his overall recovery. Upon discharge, the next challenge to overcome was finding accessible accommodation within reasonable distance of his work, a process that took nearly a year!

“I was in fact, back at work long before suitable accommodation had been found, making an 80 mile round trip every day to continue doing my job.”

However, Jamie persevered – determined to return to the job he loved, and at first everything seemed to be going well, with a very positive set of colleagues and staff eager to welcome him back into the fold. He was even provided with a room in which he could get changed as and when necessary. However, after this initially promising start, attitudes swiftly changed. Promises around basic accessibility and patience towards Jamie’s perceived limitations all dried up fast, and the “changing room” he had been provided with was often closed off for other purposes.

“I know for a fact I wouldn’t have got my job with my injury. The practicalities of Support for Learning teaching doesn’t support those with less abilities.”

The longer this went on for, the clearer it became to Jamie that there was a general lack of understanding or empathy in regards to being a spinally injured teacher. Cramped classrooms with narrow spaces between desks made it extremely difficult to navigate in a wheelchair, vastly limiting teacher/pupil interaction, and the kitchen and toilet areas were similarly cramped and borderline impossible to navigate.

“Facilities an able bodied person takes for granted are stressfully limited for a wheelchair user.”

On top of all this, it took nearly 6 months for a door to be put in place that Jamie could open unaided; up until then he was having to wait in hope that someone was around to open it for him. As far as solving the issue of navigating his way around staffrooms, computer suites and classrooms – even his assigned occupational therapist couldn’t come up with any longterm, practical solutions. Jamie didn’t expect the entire school to be altered to meet his needs, he simply believed he deserved an equal opportunity to access the building and navigate his classrooms in a way that would allow him to do his job to the best of his ability, not in spite of his disability. And although efforts were initially made, attitudes fast became exhausted and irritable at his perceived physical limitations.

“[Things] quickly turned unprofessional, staff members largely ignoring me, talking down to me or just avoiding me.”

The staff seemed reluctant to accept some of Jamie’s difficulties and largely struggled to empathise with the challenges of being a spinally injured wheelchair user, especially one as newly injured as Jamie. Personally, I cannot think of another person who has returned to employment as soon after injury as Jamie, and whether or not I believe this was the best thing for his longterm rehabilitation, I cannot help but admire his determination and refusal to languish. The people in management however, chose to view these issues as reflections of Jamie’s character and work ethic, culminating in his employment being terminated. These managerial views have led the authority he was employed by to make assertations to justify his sacking, and as a result Jamie is now not only unemployed, but also battling to keep his teaching registration. He is currently untouchable as an employee.

When I asked Jamie whether more could be done to help people find work after spinal injury, he had this to say:

“There needs to be more input from the spinally injured. Whether that’s for adaptions or even just dealing with attitudes of ignorant staff. The law is very much on the side of those who can do everything without difficulty. For those with injuries, and resulting trauma and depression, there’s little to no understanding or empathy.”

Next week I’ll be talking to Shaun who has been injured for 35 years and after many years of struggling to find work, eventually found a job that utilised his knowledge and experience of day to day life in a wheelchair.

Hope to see you then!

G