By Margaret Stone, Senior Lecturer, University of Derby
I am many things, but one that many often miss is that I’m a pharmacist with a physical disability. Having ignored a repetitive strain injury for too long I can no longer do fine manipulations with my hands and wrists, and my right arm gets tired quickly when I do repetitive work or it is unsupported.
If you met me out and about on a usual day, you wouldn’t realise, but it’s affected me for about 15 years, beginning during my career as a hospital pharmacist. I have adaptations to my home and work environment, enabling me to work as a part-time academic pharmacist, teaching post-graduate courses at the University of Derby.
Changing my attitude
At first, I resented calling myself disabled. It forced me to confront my situation and affected my sense of self as so much language and thinking about disability is negative.
But when I realised that I needed to use adaptations to continue working and living independently my attitude changed. In order to get the adaptations I needed at work, I had to identify as disabled, so they could be classified as ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the Equality Act. That was a hard lesson to learn, but I came through the other side with my identity as a pharmacist intact.
It’s all about ability
These days I talk about ability rather than disability; I say: “I can do this, with an adaptation” rather than “I can’t do this”.
I can work on a computer with voice recognition software, a special mouse and elbow support, and participate in office life with colleagues. I can teach students with my arm in a sling - made from a fancy scarf to match my outfit, of course!
I can work as a pharmacist, passing my knowledge and skills onto others, benefiting large groups of patients as my students implement their learning.
I can also enjoy cooking amazing meals when I buy vegetables pre-chopped and use kitchen gadgets.
Yes, I now work in a different sector and need to use adaptations to my computer. I am delighted to see patient lives transformed through the work my students have done. I have used my experience to mentor others through receiving a life-changing diagnosis and I’m the person I am now because I have a disability.
Ask, don’t assume
The one thing I want to pass on to others when they learn about a person’s limitation or disability is: don’t assume what they can and can’t do - ask. I would much rather someone ask me what I can do, and what adaptations I might need, rather than that choice be taken away from me because someone has assumed I can’t do something. It’s my life. It’s my ability. I’m the only one who knows what I can do.
We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group