Working and CP - my experience
@Jgeek is one of our brilliant community champions, she has written about work for us before, you can read about job applications here and interviews here. Today's post is about her experience of working with Cerebral Palsy.
In July I celebrated 1 year in my company as a data scientist; I say celebrated, even HR forgot, but it was a nice surprise a month later when I received a gift- true acceptance right there, I’m clearly part of the furniture. Now this blog would be a lot juicier if I suffered discrimination and daily put downs in the workplace but the truth is I’m respected for my work I do and appear to be well liked.
I do have moments where I assume blank looks after I have spoken is because my voice is unclear, only to find people repeating the words back to me showing they understand but its just ‘crazy science’. I do get tired and people are extremely patient with me, Interviews are all about proving yourself, arguably even more so if you have a disability, but once in work, colleague are aware you have speciality they need to use; it becomes far more objective as people realise they need your skills to get the job done.
Whilst eating my lunch one day, through lack of concentration I started coughing- to which my colleague said ‘don’t die, but if you do can I have your laptop?’ It may seem funny but it made my day, knowing colleagues are aware I don’t expect sympathy or special attention allows my disability to become less of a taboo and simply one aspect of who I am. Working full-time takes its toll with regard to my disability, my extra movement means I use up lots more energy even sitting up and typing. The worst consequence of this is my voice becomes unclear and I cannot be understood, this is frustrating for me and I do have a tendency to gravitate to colleagues who I know already understand me.
I work from my flat four days a week and go into the London office one partly because of my energy levels, partly because I’d need someone to accompany every day and partly I’d drink the office dry of coffee! An adapted keyboard and joystick to leave at work and funding for ‘travel buddy’ (now my boyfriend- that’s a story for another blog!) were supplied to me by Access To Work, alongside a contribution to a tube-friendly power chair. In total my dealings with ATW took 7 months but understandably the pot of money is not bottomless and the ball cannot start rolling until work is found.
A mix of Skype meetings and instant messenger makes me still feel very much part of things; someone putting some ‘hilarious’ picture on the message board is pretty much a daily occurrence. I do really enjoy going into work, not least because it gets me out of ripped jeans and band t-shirts, and its also nice to put faces to names. My job is primarily done via email, but as I increasingly work with different people, its important to build up working relationships in the ‘real world’.
Twice a quarter the company has social events generally following ‘Jess, I’ve booked bar with no lift again, you’ll be ok, right?’ This is a great way to get to know my colleagues personally and to show them I mainly enjoy what they enjoy (just better music!). It can be too noisy to talk to people given my speech impediment but at least it starts a dialogue and the next time I’m on the messenger or in the office, more people talk to me. No one in the company has ever made me feel different; I feel this is because I have made an effort to integrate fully, not expecting special treatment and creating a persona that isn’t just of a disabled woman. Help is available and you need to ask for anything you need; your company needs you to be at the top of your game and no one can do that if they are stressed about practicalities. Everyone is special for who they are as a whole person and its important thisis shown in the workplace with patience and integration able bodied or not.
Some women my age hope for marriage and kids but I’ve never wanted more than a career using my passion for science and to be fully accepted, I feel well on the way and anything more will be a bonus.
Tell us about your experience of work, have you had to overcome any barriers? Did you receive the support you needed?