You know how it is. You go to school. At some point, you get thrown into work experience and given careers advice which you never listen to. Then you’re expected to go to university. By the time you’ve got your degree, you’re supposed to know exactly what you want to do in life, and if not, it feels like your world is crumbling. We’ve all been there to an extent, and we’re all well aware that the picture-perfect plan rarely works out. Add a disability into the mix and you’ve got an even bigger mountain to climb.
One of the reasons I set up Written Wheel was to blog about my experiences as I embarked upon my career as a journalist. I had a sense that getting into the world of work was going to be tricky because there was bound to be wheelchair-shaped barriers I had to face. I figured if I could blog about the highs and lows of getting into the industry, it might persuade other people in my position to give employment a fighting chance. Nobody has ever written a guidebook entitled, “Disability and Employment for Dummies”, in fact, there’s more likely to be a “Disability and Benefits for Dummies”. I was determined to change the societal notion that ‘disability’ is short for, ‘you have a valid reason to do naff-all and you should be happy about it’.
I was on an all or nothing mission to become the world’s greatest journalist and to tell everyone how I did it. What I didn’t stop to think about was if I actually wanted to be a journalist or whether it was just the easiest way to get back into writing. All I knew was that failing wasn’t an option, so the ‘nothing’ aspect of my mission was null and void.
That was where I went wrong. Within the first week, I left the course – it wasn’t what I wanted to do. For sure, I still wanted to make a difference to people who may, or may not, have a disability, but that couldn’t be done by sitting through a master’s in journalism. As cliché as it sounds, even amidst the sheer panic that came with the decision to change paths, I had a gut feeling that Written Wheel was the way forward, although I didn’t (and still don’t) know how. I just threw caution to the wind in the hope that someone would like what I write enough to pay me to do what I love.
So, a few months later and I’m still trying to navigate the employment maze where there’s very little opportunity for disabled people to get any kind of work; paid or otherwise. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but it possibly linked to people’s unwillingness to work combined with an employer’s incapacity to cater for anyone who isn’t ‘normal’. Regardless, there’re very few people who know the steps that need to be taken for someone who happens to have a disability to become a fully-fledged tax-payer. And finding those who hold the secret can be likened to stumbling upon gold dust.
I’m lucky enough to be part of a fantastic free project called MOVE which supports people across Lincolnshire to get into paid work. Bishop Grosseteste University is one of the organisations that run it, so once a week I go to discuss my options and plan for the future. It’s through this that I’ve been able to have a one-to-one meeting at the job centre (after ten hours of phone calls). The advisor was really helpful in confirming my suspicion that it’s not impossible to be employed, or self-employed, just because I’m disabled. I’ve since got in touch with The Prince’s Trust and I’m on the waiting list for a business start-up course to turn Written Wheel into something more than a blog and a list of crazy new year resolutions.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But as I said earlier, it’s expected without a second thought that disabled people don’t need to and won’t want to work, so nobody tells us that we can, or shows us how. And that’s not right. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t picked an easy route, and I have constant anxiety in the knowledge that Written Wheel has such potential and there’s so much riding on me bringing it into fruition. However, the fact remains that is someone with a disability wants to work, no matter what the industry or profession, the tools to do so should be openly available.
So, when Written Wheel becomes less of a hazy vision and more of a reality, I’ll write a guidebook, entitled, “Disability and Employment for Dummies: How to Turn the Mountain into a Molehill”. Until then, thank you for sticking with me, Written Wheelies. You’re all amazing!