Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Returning to work as a wheelchair user

By Henry House, Pharmacy Technician

In 2011 I started my career as a dispensing assistant before moving to train as a pharmacy technician at Morriston Hospital, Swansea in 2014.

At the start of 2015 I suffered a fall and subsequent spinal cord injury. After a hospital stay and six months rehab, I began planning my return to work as a wheelchair user.

Returning to work

My employer was great and together we learnt about what worked best for me. I was given the opportunity to talk about what I felt we needed to change, and the Government’s Access to Work scheme provided useful funding for adjustments.

Wheelchair access around the dispensary was vital. The hospital put in a disabled toilet by the dispensary and height adjustable desks there and in the controlled drugs area.

We also got a standing wheelchair – by leaning forward you can go from a seated to supported standing position. This was massively helpful in getting things down from shelves and when handing medicines over to patients. It was great to be able to meet them face to face through the dispensary hatch to counsel them about their medicines.

Working on a ward level was fine, but a lot of staff areas, like stores or treatment rooms, were not accessible. We identified the changes needed and I became a qualified technician in 2018.

My girlfriend and I then moved to the West Midlands and I went for a job at another hospital. They didn’t ask me anything about my disability at the interview, so I brought it up. It turned out they hadn’t felt confident to ask me and were very relieved I’d raised it. I talked through what was needed and was offered the job.

Encountering obstacles

In this job I encountered more obstacles. I had to leave the department and use a public access disabled toilet, which was a real challenge as it was far away and often engaged. The department was also split over two floors and I couldn’t access the staff tea room to have a break, so had to use the public canteen instead.

Parking was a massive issue as there were very few staff disabled spaces. I can’t park in a regular space as I need the room to open the door fully to get into my wheelchair. I discovered even hospital staff will park in a disabled space without a blue badge. It took six months to get me access to a patient car park with lots of disabled spaces.

Moving on

In 2020 I moved to a GP practice, Hall Green Health. It’s a very large, modern building with disabled parking, there’s a lift to every floor, and more than one disabled toilet on each floor. It’s more of a desk-based job and I haven’t had to struggle nearly as much.

I had planned to move to primary care, but I think the difficulties I experienced pushed me to move faster than I would otherwise have done. You should be able to work anywhere and not have your career shaped and bent by the accessibility of the workplace.

If you encounter someone with a disability in the workplace, don’t be shy in asking them about what they need. After all, they’re the expert! More openness can only be a good thing and in my experience, once you’ve explained what will be useful, people try to help as much as they can.

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