As a person with a very visible disability (Cerebral palsy, if you’re wondering) people take one look at me with my bright blue walking frame, leg calipers and slightly jerky limbs and decide that everything in life is a massive struggle for me.
This in itself doesn’t bother me – I can completely understand why people might come to that conclusion. It starts to become an issue for me when people feel the need to constantly tell me that something will be hard for me, and then seem to imply that if something will be hard for me then I shouldn’t do it at all.
Would they say that to someone who didn’t have a disability? No, I don’t think they would.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times a well-meaning stranger (or even someone I’ve known for a while) has told me not to walk somewhere because it’s too far without even bothering to ask me how far I can realistically walk. Or tell me that I couldn’t work a full-time desk job because I’d get too tired, without bothering to ask me how many hours a day I really spend sitting at my desk at home mindlessly scrolling through social media. I’ve never actually worked this out but I wouldn’t be surprized if it turned out to be roughly the same as a 9-5 job…
When people never allow you to explain, let alone prove, what you’re actually capable of, it can be easy to start to doubt it yourself. I feel that, in terms of my own disability, people are so quick to celebrate the things that they think are a physical achievement for me, they forget to look beyond them and into my academic and professional achievement. People ask how I’m doing at improving my mobility but hardly ever ask about how my dream of becoming a professional writer is coming along. When no one is there to register those milestones with you, it’s easy to start believing that they only matter to you and not the rest of the world.
I’d much rather people praised me for writing 60,000 in 30 days (true story) than for getting a bus to my local library, but hey ho.
This is one of the reasons I am so grateful to have met Nancy Doyle when I was being filmed for the second series of Employable Me. Not only did she take a couple of hours out of her day to only talk about my academic and professional strengths, but she gave me tests (and their results) to prove to me that they are real and should not be ignored. Not by me as I sit crying into my keyboard that I can’t and, shouldn’t be, a writer, or by anyone else who thinks that I can’t (and shouldn’t) work full time.
When you look at me it’s quite easy to see that I have mobility issues, but what you don’t see is that my verbal comprehension IQ score was in the top 1% (yes, one per cent) of people my age in the country. Nancy even wrote it down for me in a formal report so that other people (and more importantly) I have to pay attention to that fact.
The achievements in my life that matter most to me have finally been proven to be real. To know that I am actually good at those things that I’ve always known deep down that I’m good at is invaluable. Now I can say them with conviction. I don’t have to doubt myself any more, which means that I now have the confidence to tell people that my brain is more important than my disability because I truly believe it is. And I now believe I have the right to go out there and force people to listen because I am valid and would actually be useful within a workforce.
The world needs to stop focusing on what disabled people can’t do and focus on what they can. It makes me so sad that it took someone it writing down on a piece of paper for me to trust in my abilities. It makes me sad that more people don’t take the time to sit and listen long enough to write it on a piece of paper, and it makes me beyond sad that bits of paper and test scores even needed to be involved at all.
People had spent so long overlooking me before this process that I felt truly worthless. I feel employers need to make time for assessments that are geared towards finding out what roles their staff would fit, rather than assessing them only to find out how good they’d be at the roles they want them to fit.
Who knows, they might even find out they’re entire team is even more able than anyone thought they were, they just hadn’t been given the tools to prove it.