23 years ago today, I met the first person I knew with a disability. I just didn’t realise that person was going to be me. I was on my way to college, using the same station I had for a year. As there was no bridge I had to cross over the track. Our train had just left the station and a group of people walked past me and started to cross, so I just went with the flow. I hadn’t realised that the fast train was coming in the other direction and before I knew what was happening, it was right in front of me. I fell backwards, but as I did, my right leg slipped under the train and it was amputated. They found what remained of my leg and foot half a mile up the track. I was now disabled. I was an amputee.
I won’t lie, there were some emotional days, weeks and months that followed. A two month stay in hospital, and then learning to walk again. But I have a great family, and for those that know me, you won’t be surprised to hear that I talked a lot about it, and this was my counselling.
I wish that 23 years ago I could have met my current self and confirmed that ‘everything will be ok’. Actually, things are better than ok, I have a great family, a fantastic husband, two wonderful boys that drive me mad from time to time, but I love them all to bits! I am also lucky that I have a job that I enjoy and that I am really passionate about, working at the Business Disability Forum (BDF).
But, it occurred to me when speaking to a colleague yesterday, that although I have a physical disability, it is also hidden. Over the years I have dressed in a way that covers up my leg, and my walking is at a level that most people wouldn’t even notice. If you get me on the subject of my leg, you probably won’t be able to shut me up, but it’s just not that obvious.
My aim is not to inspire anyone, but to raise awareness that most of us have gone through a number of life-defining moments and these shape the person that we are today. They may not all be as dramatic as being hit by a train going 65mph, we may not have the physical scars, but events mould us into who we are and this is why we are all unique.
I believe that things happen for a reason, and if I hadn’t have had my accident, I wouldn’t be nearly as confident or assertive as I am today. I almost certainly wouldn’t have had an interest in disability and I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have applied for my role as Technology Taskforce Manager at the BDF.
So, how did it all start?
A year after my accident, I was back at college, doing my A-levels. I had been training to be a hairdresser beforehand, but I had decided that standing all day long probably wouldn’t be the best option for me at this stage in my recovery. So I decided to get a summer job as a receptionist at a local company, which turned into a full-time job.
It was at my next role, at a non-for profit, that an opportunity arose that would change my career forever. I was a receptionist again, working for a small organisation with about 40 staff. Next to the reception desk was a server and being an underfunded non-for profit, there were always things going wrong with the technology. So, either I kept getting kicked off my desk, or, I learnt how to solve the problems myself, with the support of an external IT company. So I went for the second option. This allowed me to learn on the job and have the safety net of an IT company to help me.
I was soon the expert in IT within the organisation and taking responsibility for budgets and forward planning of the IT architecture, website design and much, much more. This led to a number of IT/customer service related roles as my career continued to progress. Although I would not consider myself to be a techie – far from it, I had enough knowledge to ask the right questions, and I was not afraid to sometimes ask the ‘stupid questions’, that often turn out not to be that stupid after all. (There have been many times where I’ve asked a simple query and then 6 other people in the room said, “yeah, I was wondering that too”.)
I also became the Chair for the Staff Disability Network at the Council, which introduced me to a new network, one that was a great interest to me. I knew that this was where my true passion was and one day I really wanted to work in the field of disability, once the right opportunity arose.
In 2009 I took a 4-year career break to start a family. Once the children had learnt to do the basic milestones, we decided that it was time for me to get back into work and find a job. I wondered what this would be like, having been out of paid employment for a period of time and having spent most of the previous 4 years watching CBeebies. By chance, a contact suggested that I might be interested in the role of Technology Taskforce Manager at BDF and as soon as I looked over the job description, I knew this was perfectly suited for me. After 2 interviews, I was offered the job and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I’ve been in this role for nearly 3 years now and I feel more passionately about it now than I ever did.
It’s funny how the impact of having a disability has actually made me more confident, able to ask questions, and improved me as a person. Without my disability, I don’t think I would have found a role that fits my skill set, experience, and personal interest, as well as this does. Throughout my career, I have always been open and honest about my disability and the implications of this to an employer. My general approach to life is to keep it as simple as possible and be open and honest about who I am.
I didn’t always know where I wanted to be in my career, mine has zigzagged from one area to another, not exactly sure where it would end up, but I think having a positive outlook on life and being proactive certainly helps! In my experience, if you put yourself forward for new opportunities and responsibility, you may not always be initially rewarded financially. It will help you to grow, and more often than not, your achievements will be rewarded.
Lucy is the Technology Taskforce Manager at the Business Disability Forum (BDF), a not for profit organisation co-chaired by Barclays and GSK which seeks to remove barriers between public and private organisations and disabled people. The Taskforce division was established to help businesses make their technologies more accessible for disabled customers, employees, and stakeholders