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RI WORLD CONGRESS 2016 – PARALLEL SESSION
OVERCOMING BARRIERS INTO WORK: NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE, THE WORD
ITSELF SAYS I’M P...
mainstream school the chance to go to college or into work after school.
At high school I was nearly denied the chance to ...
The coordinator had been to one of my talks so she already knew my background and
my disabilities which meant I didn’t nee...
in part this is because they are a disabled person led organisation working for disabled
people but it is also about the i...
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RIWC_PARA_A176 Overcoming barriers to Work: Nothing is Impossible, the word itself says I’m Possible

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A176 Overcoming barriers to Work: Nothing is Impossible, the word itself says I’m Possible

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RIWC_PARA_A176 Overcoming barriers to Work: Nothing is Impossible, the word itself says I’m Possible

  1. 1. RI WORLD CONGRESS 2016 – PARALLEL SESSION OVERCOMING BARRIERS INTO WORK: NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE, THE WORD ITSELF SAYS I’M POSSIBLE BY CLAIRE CHUE HONG Good afternoon. My name is Claire. I’m a disabled person living with mental illness, aspergers syndrome, hearing loss and several physical health conditions. However I still manage to work as Self Directed Support Options Adviser for the Disabled Person’s Housing Service as well as doing voluntary work. Having a disability doesn’t have to mean you can’t do all the things you want to, as my title says Nothing is Impossible. I took on that viewpoint when I was at High School and my teachers lacked faith in me that I could pass my exams – I wanted to show them that they were wrong. I grew up being told I was stupid and this was before I started falling behind and failing my exams at school. When you're told you're stupid you can either accept someone else's opinion or you can say damn you I'm going to show the world who Claire is and people are going to know my name. Yes, I've been in the paper more times than the person who told me I'm stupid has, been on the radio when they haven't, my name comes up more in a google search and I'm here talking at a World Congress which they never did during their career. Despite their status in society, their distinction in their studies and admired job in the medical profession I've done so much they haven't so who are they calling stupid now? Success doesn't come without difficulties and as much as I have that I'll show you attitude I also am very sensitive. The words I heard stuck and as much as I strived to do well when praised for this I couldn't cope and turned to self harm. I believed I should be punished for doing well. This has been a big barrier for me in getting where I want because my mental illness has often meant I've been too unwell to work. Being a successful young woman meant I had to beat my demons and start to have faith in those who were telling me I was doing well not in those who were supposed to love me. This is something I have slowly chipped away at over the years and though my confidence dwindles at times I know out there are a lot more Claire supporters than those who think I'm stupid. All I ever wanted when I was a child was to study, do well in my exams, go to uni & get a good job. I didn't expect people & society to stand in my way of that because I had a disability because I was too young then to know how much stigma & discrimination was out there. How do you tell a 9 year old that they are going to have to fight really hard to have the same chances as their peers when only they realise they are different, no-one else has clicked on that they are autistic and have mental health issues simmering under the surface. Being treated equally at primary school had its pros - I was at the same level in English and maths as the top students in the year and I had organised a fundraising event for charity with a team of my peers to lead. It meant I could go to mainstream high school where I got to study for my standard grades and higher. For other children with a disability they may instead go to what was the department of special education where they were not given the chance to sit the same exams we did. That right away is a barrier to employment as most jobs require a minimum number of standard grades or national 5s and universities ask for at least 3 highers. Even sitting the foundation papers at standard grade for 3 or 4 subjects and getting a 50% pass rate could give those not in
  2. 2. mainstream school the chance to go to college or into work after school. At high school I was nearly denied the chance to sit a chemistry prelim I'd missed because I was mentally unwell and my teacher predicted I'd do badly so was forced to say well done when I got a B. I had to put up with bullying from peers and teachers, was suspended from school and missed weeks of classes because of my mental health. I could have lost my chance to go to uni but off my own back studied extra hard to catch up in time for my exams. There were so many barriers to getting the grades I needed for uni to get a job - the bullying made it hard to go to school, my depression affected my concentration, missed classes meant I was way behind, and a one fits all method of teaching meant I missed out on a lot as I couldn't understand the lesson. At uni I faced the same barriers and was told to quit half way through 3rd year because of my mental illness which was now in the form of depression, hypomanic episodes, self harm and suicide attempts. Things were so bad my GP predicted I wouldn't live to see my 21st birthday. But somehow I used their lack of confidence in me to give me the boost I needed to finish my degree with a 2:1. Better than most of my class who were not disabled and didn't have all the barriers I did. I wanted to go into teaching after finishing my degree and was accepted for teacher training. I alerted them to the fact I was disabled but was not called for a medical until the day before my course started so I went to classes before a decision was made. I was then told I'd failed my medical so the door to teaching was shut in my face as the disability discrimination act didn't cover higher education at that time. I'd spent 4 years working towards this and now I had to find another route as this one was a dead end. A massive barrier saying road closed was in front of me forcing me to turn back. After quitting my job of 10 years as an youth worker due to office politics and bullying I focused on voluntary work and did a short contract in the arts sector but it didn’t work out. I sought help to find work from the Supported Employment Team at Fife Council. Sandra, a disability employment coordinator helped me to look for jobs, write a cv, fill out job application forms, and practice for interviews. I applied for various jobs and was unsuccessful and was getting downhearted about it. I felt I was never going to find anything until the job at the Disabled Person’s Housing Service came up. How it came about was that In 2011 after meeting a social work manager through a service user forum I mentioned how I was unhappy with the support I was currently receiving and stuck in rut. She happened to be the lead for self directed support in Fife and when she asked if I wanted to be on the pilot that Fife was running I immediately said yes. That was 5 years ago. In the 4 years before getting my current job I was very involved with self directed support in Fife. I assisted with training social workers, evaluation of the Pilot, giving input about the paperwork used and the assessment, being on the stakeholder reference group, attending and speaking at national and local conferences, and sitting on the SDS Implementation Board. I immersed myself as much as I could in a volunteer role with the SDS team and this gave me a lot of insider knowledge and connections as well as helping me build up a good awareness of self directed support not only as a service user but I went through the training social workers were receiving on self directed support too so had a greater level of understanding than if I was just in receipt of SDS. It was just a waiting game for job opportunities to arise.
  3. 3. The coordinator had been to one of my talks so she already knew my background and my disabilities which meant I didn’t need to hide anything when applying for the job. Being honest has always worked out best for me as then they can’t say they didn’t know if an issue arises at a later date. I was lucky in that I was one of very few people who had a good knowledge of SDS outwith social work. My starting hours were 17.5hrs a week which is more than I’d ever done before but I was confident that I could do this as was my disability employment coordinator Sandra. I couldn’t have coped without Sandra’s support though. Having someone outside of my workplace whom I could confide in about any issues I was having, bounce things off if I was unsure about something or get advice on how to deal with different situations. I was able to apply to Access to Work for help with getting an ergonomic computer chair, a keyboard, mouse and a telephone amplifier to assist me to do my job without my workplace having to pay for these. The good thing is now this equipment will follow me to whichever job I move to when my contract ends. My workplace have been incredibly supportive and open to learning about my health conditions and how they can help me to do my job. Their openness to learn and to work with me to find solutions is what has helped me stay in my job. It’s a learning curve for all of us and we do have days when something new comes up and throws us so there is a little upset but we come back together and work it out. It does involve me making changes as well as others changing but that is only fair. I work flexible hours which allows me to attend any medical appointments I need to and so usually I’m home in the afternoon when my fatigue is at it’s worse and I’m needing to sleep. It’s less stressful for me having flexible working hours but I also like routine so most days I’m in from 9 to 1 and this helps me cope with changes to the rest of my day as I have some routine to my week which is important to anyone with an autism spectrum disorder. My boss helps keep me on the right track, sometimes I’ve said the wrong things but she knows that I don’t always mean things the way they come out so lets me know it was wrong but without coming down hard on me instead allowing me time to work out what I should have said instead. My colleagues too have been great help practically and emotionally. These little things are what makes all the difference and makes it a good place to work. The main issue I’ve had at work is communication. My difficulties with forming relationships and understanding figures of speech became more of an issue when a new member of staff came on board who uses a lot of sarcasm and jokes which I don’t understand so kept putting my foot in it. Instead of being told if you can’t deal with it then leave I’ve had help to know when they are being sarcastic or asking rhetorical questions and help to find ways to communicate better with them. Because of all the support I have I increased my hours to 21 a week and I nominated my workplace for the Fife Voluntary Action Awards Equality and Diversities Award for which they were shortlisted. I myself won the award for Volunteering Into Work which I’m very proud of. I have had a lot of bad experiences in workplaces and often left after a few months so I knew I had to put in a lot of effort to maintain this job but it’s been made so much easier because my colleagues are accepting of my disabilities and can see beyond that to all the good things I bring to the organisation. I no longer get shunned by colleagues and left out, stigmatised because of my mental illness, or side lined for opportunities because of not being the bosses favourite and my sickness levels. I guess
  4. 4. in part this is because they are a disabled person led organisation working for disabled people but it is also about the individuals who make up the organisation. The only barrier to work now is my illness rather that barriers that arise because of my disabilities, when I’m in a depressive episode motivation is a huge barrier to overcome to get to work but my work don’t put up a barrier because I’m depressed, it’s my own internal barriers. I’ve been lucky to have a disability employment coordinator I get on well with. Sandra has done so much over the past few years to get me to where I am now and move me on from a workplace that wasn’t working for me. I’ve been lucky too to find a job that I have the right skills for and in a workplace that doesn’t stigmatise me but accepts me for who I am. Finding the right support and the right workplace isn’t easy but as the title of my talk says Nothing is Impossible. I have always fought to do what others said I wouldn’t or couldn’t do, I like to prove people wrong, but it’s not without it’s struggles, heartbreak and pain. However, when I do succeed it’s a great feeling. Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean I can’t have the same opportunities other do and if I give up work it will be when I decide that it’s too much not because someone tells me I can’t do the job. I was told I wouldn’t pass all my highers and I did, I was told to quit university but I didn’t, my dr told me she didn’t expect me to live past 21 and I’m now 35, I was told I was unlikely to work full time and now I’m working 21 hours a week, have sustained this job for over a year and won an award for my journey into work. I’ve continued with my education too as I love learning so I have done my PGDip Community Education, nail technician training, day and corrective make-up, and up to level 3 Counselling Studies so no-one can call my stupid any more. There is always a way around the barriers but it does take an “I’ll show you” attitude as well. It hasn’t been easy for me to overcome the barriers I’ve faced since childhood and get into work but I’ve taken on the motto “Nothing is Impossible, The word itself says I’m Possible”. I want to show people that despite living with mental illness, aspergers syndrome, hearing loss, and several physical health issues including arthritis, sjogrens syndrome, type 2 diabetes, fatigue and chronic pain it’s still possible to get a great job and be part of society.

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