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When an acquired disability leads to bullying
Megan is a serving police officer who is currently on long-term sick as a result of being in a vehicle accident it 2015 while on duty. As a result, she fractured the base of her spine which led to Complex Regional Pain Disorder (CRPS) and PTSD. She is currently studying a master’s degree in international public policies and volunteers with her local Girlguiding Organisation.
Adjusting to life with a disability has been challenging, finding myself hobbling through new obstacles on a daily basis. Some of these obstacles are glaringly obvious like the need for accessible buildings or better assistive travel provisions. However, many of these are disguised well within society, such as people’s perceptions and attitudes towards disabilities.
It has been three years since sustaining my disabling injuries, but it has only been very recently that I have begun to look properly into the assistance I am entitled to. For years I refused to accept support, desperately clinging on to what I thought was my independence and free-spirited nature. It has been far from an easy process of navigating the labyrinth of information out there on disability entitlements. Now I have come to see them not as a substitute for my independence or loss of identity, but as a necessary mechanism for me to exercise my independence and a new element of my identity.
I was not prepared for the indirect prejudice I faced within the workplace; many people perceive the police service as having rooted solidarity and pride in taking care of their own. This was something I believed before I returned with a disability, one which I must emphasise had occurred due to an injury sustained on duty. I can only speak from my own experiences, but the police service is lacking in terms of supporting disabled employees. I faced completely inadequate occupational health services. With no continuity of care, I found myself having to consistently repeat myself as the staff had no knowledge of my circumstances, with contact often being rushed or delayed. There was a distinct lack of knowledge when it comes to reasonable adjustments or accommodations, providing suitable equipment in my case took 9 months and I was repeatedly advised that I was on waiting lists, they had no resources, or it wasn’t in the business interest.
Returning to the workplace was difficult enough, due to no longer being on the frontline of a job that I genuinely loved. There were a few colleagues who made this even more heart-breaking. My disability was commented on, judged and not believed to exist even when I was hobbling around the office with my walking stick, my back brace was poking out at the top of my shirt or I had to leave the office in tears through pain both mentally and physically. There was also a lot of jealousy and alienation, for some I was being given priority treatment because my reasonable adjustments meant reduced hours or working from home. I became isolated and felt unable to be open and honest about my disability and how it was affected my work and myself. This severely damaged my mental health and the fact this was coming from my colleagues really hurt.
In October 2018 I travelled to Florida with my family. The main reason for the trip was to reconnect with family and spread my fathers’ ashes in a place he loved. It was a massive thing for me and one I was determined to do before my mobility deteriorates further. My nieces came along too, so of course we visited Disney and Universal. A colleague commented that “she can’t be that bad if she is going on holiday to Disney”, but it wasn’t a holiday like able individuals experience. There was a lot of planning involved, I was in my wheelchair most of the time, I had to arrange assistance, it was hard work.
It’s as if you’re not allowed to find enjoyment in life, you have a disability therefore you must be miserable and if you aren’t then you’re not really disabled. I have constantly been criticised for being ‘too functional’. Disability is very misunderstood in society and made worse by people not wanting to ask questions to educate themselves. I would be very open and honest if people asked me questions about my disability, in fact I would encourage it. The ownership shouldn’t be on the disabled individual to provide an overview of their disability, society should be taking an interest, asking questions, and educating themselves on how to support disabilities.
This is why I enjoy volunteering with children, they are direct, they are interested in things they can’t understand, and they ask you how it is. Adults can learn a lot from them.
Have you experienced judgement as a result of having a disability? What can be done to increase disability awareness? Let us know in the comments!