When I graduated in the early 80s my university careers adviser suggested that I join a telephony scheme specifically supporting visually impaired people. As I have mobility problems I don’t think I was too impressed at the understanding of my particular needs and that may have influenced my decision to work for the Careers Service trying to do better.
In addition I opted for public sector employment thinking that it would be secure and permanent enabling me to have a useful, fulfilling and independent life, which indeed it has. Do I think attitudes and opportunities have changed in the last 30 or so years? In some ways ‘yes’ disability is certainly more visible and in theory all options are open but I am still beating the statistical odds for a disabled person in terms of my educational attainment, employment status and economic standing.
Discrimination legislation has been a help and a hindrance. There is a widespread assumption that the environment both physical and attitudinal has been tipped in favour of anyone who wants to call themselves disabled – even if this was desirable it is most definitely not the case. When people encounter me struggling against some aspect of inaccessibility they usually say “that’s terrible why don’t you complain?” Mostly because my impairment is exhausting enough without taking on the vagaries of the legal system to get a lift fixed or a step removed, things that make life easier for everyone not just a band of moaning disabled people!
If there were to be a magic pill developed to make me ‘better’ would I take it? If I was 14 I probably would as the course of my life could be substantially altered, but now probably not, with luck I am wise enough to know that ‘different’ doesn’t equal ‘inferior’. But if I could change anything from the path I chose it would be to put a lot less effort into striving to be an honorary able bodied person and to be out there taking more risks loud and proud, which I hope younger generations of disabled people feel more confident to do. As James Morrison would have it “I’ve got one life and I wanna live it right.”
Ruth Livermore, Careers and Employability Centre