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Today I have just completed my 11th week at work.
No one has yet approached me to say that it is not working for them, so I am keeping my head down and trying hard to appear useful. I still love my job and I think I am beginning to make a difference in that there are shorter queues and I am bothering others less than I had previously.
The Health Centre that I work in is undergoing an overhaul at the moment in the form of a team of decorators that work through the night so the first thing I do each working day is go for a roll around the centre checking out the progress they have made.
Already, having been painted 48 hours ago, the disabled toilet door bears the marks of people’s shoe prints where, I presume, they have pushed the door open in order to get their wheelchair or buggy through. However, being that it is a combined health centre and busy Dr’s practice, I am sure that I will not be the only wheelchair user that will make their mark. So far, to my knowledge, bearing in mind that we are still in the first week of the project, I have only scraped one newly painted wall and chipped a finished door frame. I think that’s about par for the course. Unfortunately, being as the initial plans were in place before I came along with my scratchy wheelchair, there is no allowance in the budget for kickplates or door frame buffers. I have pointed out that this is a folly, but I do not hold the purse strings so que sera sera …
My colleagues at the reception have begun to integrate us new people into their day. I have had the dubious pleasure of being asked to do overtime when a colleague was unable to be there. This to my mind says that a) everyone more useful said no, and b) they must feel that I am probably at this point improved enough to be worth asking. Win, win! Also, this has the added bonus of increasing my wage packet at the end of the month which is always good news.
Also today, the first of the other new starters, who I haven’t been able to properly get to know yet since we are invariably paired with more experienced colleagues – very necessary still by the way despite the progress we have made, approached me to ask about my disability.
For me, this is not a problem any more.
I can understand why it is for some. Technically, it’s none of their business, after all. I don’t go around asking other people for their medical history … Oh actually, I work in a Dr’s surgery so I probably do now, but you get the gist! I have gone out of my way, as you do, to be open and friendly to anyone and everyone there. I believe that no one is an island and able people are not gifted with second sight. They can no more see the problems that bother me day to day from my chair than I can see theirs. Thinking about it, I guess that even between two wheelchair users there could be a huge range between the issues that are a problem for one person and another.
So, I was open from the beginning, both with my employer, who asked very carefully about my potential limitations and anyone else who has felt the need to know. I feel that it is part of my responsibility, as the only seated person in the practice staff to the spread the knowledge and tell them if there is possible area of difficulty, be that access or more personal issues that could be improved. Fortunately, I am generally an open and honest person and I feel it best, most of the time, to take the bull straight by the horns.
So, today, when I was asked, for a while after answering, it made me look back and think about how that change had come about. It was definitely not always this way. I have been approached numerous times by complete strangers who inquire if it is OK to ask why I am in a wheelchair. And I have had many opportunities to refine my response. This has varied between complete honesty and total fabrication as in ‘I fell from the trapeze when I ran away to the circus’ depending on the way my day is going. At times I have been downright rude ‘No, it’s not OK’, or explained ‘that is not a very polite question to ask a total stranger’ occasionally, and especially if the askee is particularly young (under ten) or otherwise naive to the embarrassment of a refusal to play the game, I would just give the answer that ‘my legs are crumbly’. In my head at least, that is enough information to satisfy their curiosity but gives nothing of my situation away unnecessarily.
So, in my new world of work I am making great strides. As far as I can tell the bosses are happy with the way I am progressing, my colleagues – I love that word – appear to be happy to work with me. And … drum roll … I still have not seriously injured anyone by running them over. As long as we don’t count the damage to the paintwork.
All is good!
Blog by Heather Farley
Ability Today Volunteer