I am told when I was born there was a complication which meant I did not get the oxygen I needed to my brain, resulting in a disability namely Cerebral Palsy or a Hemiplegia which affects the right side of my body, with weakness and limits my range of movement. Later when struggling with reading and writing I was also diagnosed with dyslexia. In most recent years I have had some depression requiring medication.
However I’m not sure in my every day life I would describe myself as disabled, that is dis able to do the things I need to do, to live (there are some I would like but will come on to those later)
As an Occupational Therapist I know it’s my environment, coping strategies and attitudes from others, that makes me not dis able to do the things I need.
For example a stranger coming it to my home would see nothing out of the ordinary. However a trained eye would notice two different sofas in the living room one much higher than the other; a bathroom with no bath instead a walk in shower, a bed at the right height for me to get off, and a car that is automatic with its accelerator on the left hand side. My dyslexia and depression are managed with copying strategies and problem solving skills.
But when I come out of my regular environment that’s when I become disabled.
As I write this blog I’m on holiday in the Lake District with my family. We are staying in a lovely cottage, however I can’t get off the low sofa without assistance, much to my brother’s amusement. There is the most amazing looking Jacuzzi bath, which I’m dying to try, but I know I would struggle getting out (I have goggled hiring a bath lift, but its to expensive for a one off.)
Coming on this holiday last minute was quite out of character for me, that is to say going on a holiday that someone else has planned is not something I normally do.
When others look at cost, location in relating to beauty spots etc. My first question is what is the furniture like? Is there a walk in shower? Can I park near by and use the car for most journeys? Will I have space of my own?
This is my coping mechanism and having as much control of the unexpected makes me feel more able.
Being invited to social occasion like friends birthday nights out, hen do or wedding should be something I look forward to and don’t get me wrong I do, but my first thought is still always, right how to a get around this unfamiliar experiences with the lest amount of fuss and not pointing out I’m different (this I think is related to insecurity, I strongly believe I should not be ashamed of how I need to do things differently)
So what is my point, Occupational therapists are taught to think from the perspective of the person with lived experiences in order to problem solve.
Or at least have to tools to truly assess the impact of a disability on a person life including how this will change, over time. Other Health Professionals also are requiring to work holistically seeing the whole person not just the problem.
I’m using the world disabled in its broadest sense.
There are lots disabled Occupational Therapists and other Health Professionals. I have had the privilege to meet many, and in my opinion they are a great asset to health and social care.
So in settings of health care and in particular the OT profession that prides its self on working within the social model, seeing the whole person, enabling coping skills, grading and adapting the environment to embrace disability. You would imagine this would be a prefect profession to have a disability and be accepted. Sadly in my experience and in the experiences of others I have met, this is not always the case.
As a student I had a mixture of experiences in placement areas, from the disability being ignored completely with no reasonable adjustments, to others over compensating and making assumptions about the levels of work I might be able to do.
Since qualifying I have been lucky enough to work in supportive teams, which has made reasonable adjustments, mainly help with my dyslexia, which I see as the biggest day-to-day challenge during work. However I have heard negative comments from others about me using the lift, or questioning my being able to escort a patient.
Apart from a limp, at a glace my physical disabilities is hard to see but once disclosed I have seen, surprise and attitudes change, again often making assumptions. I’m still struggling with disclosing my recent mental health problems in some circles due to stigma I feel at times with in the work place.
I guess writing this blog and putting it out there for people to read is easy then talking about it at the moment, however I am hoping and feeling this will change.
My question to you the reader is how to we recognise the need to act, improve attitudes and embrace the great wealth of experience us disabled OT’s and Health Professions have to offer Health and Social Care?
In March myself and fellow OT with a disability will be hosting a #Otalk looking at Occupational Therapy Professionals with a disability – What is a reasonable adjustment for a student with a disability? Please do join in.
Thank you for reading – and here’s hoping I have seen all the spelling a grammar mistakes – apologies for those I have missed.