Liz is a crip activist and actor, now trying to gain experience as a stand-up comedian. Originally from the North West, she recently moved to London, lured by the bright lights and the promise of fame and fortune. She's still waiting.
1st October 2010
At night, exhausted by the long days sat in front of a computer, I’ve been hitting the sack at half past ten. The last time I went to bed this early, I was 8 years old. Mornings aren’t much better; since starting work, I’ve had to set my alarm for times that I previously never knew existed - six am? Six thirty? What?
Two weeks into the new job though and I am already creating coping strategies. I’ve learnt that if instead of 'six forty five', I say 'quarter to seven', then psychologically it doesn’t sound quite as early. I go to bed in my clothes to save time in the morning and if I am ever late for work then my favourite excuse is, "my hamster ate my wheelchair".
But getting used to a new routine is the easy part. The difficult bit is learning how to fit in with colleagues, the company and your new role.
Is this a disability thing? Is the pub inaccessible? Is it because I’m a woman or older or perhaps it’s just that I’m not yet part of the gang? Maybe I should just make the first move and invite myself.
I have had office jobs in the past but they’ve always been in disability organisations where there’s inevitably some degree of mutual understanding, humour and camaraderie. In my new workplace, however, I’m the only wheelchair user – in fact I’m pretty sure I’m 'the only cripple in the office’. This means there’s no 'in’ jokes about Disability Living Allowance, no shared experiences about people asking 'what’s wrong with you?’ and no casually calling each other 'crips’. Instead, as the lone crip, it's become my unofficial job to train everyone in disability issues - and I’m delighted to say that my presence already appears to be having an impact.
The accessible toilet which used to be the company changing / private poo room is now more often than not displaying that little green ‘vacant’ symbol on the door. Result!
I’m sure it’ll take me a while to acclimatise to working with non-disabled people and it looks like it might take them a while to get used to working with me. Last week, my boss used the phrase 'I’ll walk you through this’ and when I made a joke about him flaunting his fully functioning legs in front of me, he was clearly mortified. First he became confused, next he apologised and then he told me that he has a disabled relative.
Not only has the office been invaded by a wheelie with an entourage but in the coming weeks we’ll also be joined by a whole host of disability gadgetry. As soon as I got the job, I contacted the Government scheme Access to Work for help in making my workplace even more accessible. Before I could say, 'ugly looking equipment with an over-inflated special price tag’, an assessor had been out. She measured me, photographed me and promptly ordered a height adjustable desk, a made to measure office chair and an electric stapler. I shall be the envy of the office.
I live for my daily rummages amongst the fluorescent post-it’s, envelopes with windows and box files. I can’t help but help myself.
So, with my personal assistant as my accomplice, I rifle through the stationery cupboard, and every evening we leave the office with an oversized bag of booty.
Surely no one would ever suspect a frail little cripple like me, with her extra large bag of medical aids and continence products. Or would they?
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