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My Disability Journey

Category: testimonial, Disability Confident, disability, Hidden Disabilities, Disability Awareness, Disability Inclusion, Staff Testimonial, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, disability at work, DCMS, hidden disability

Disability

Hi, I’m Simon. I joined the Civil Service in 2009 and am currently a senior lawyer in DCMS, working on the Telecommunications Security Bill. I’ve always wanted to work in DCMS, I volunteer for two charities, improvise comedy, grew up with grass roots hockey. Oh, and I happen to be disabled.

If you met me, you probably won’t guess my invisible disabilities. They are eczema, dyslexia and partial sight. I was born with all of these, so I can’t separate them from my life. They are part of the recipe that makes “Simon”, just as much as my infectious laugh, my Goan heritage and my love of the colour “blue”.

My eczema means I can end up with sore, bleeding skin - it's exacerbated when I’m stressed and often interrupts my sleep. Over the years I tried loads of things to “fix” it, the most recent was cognitive behavioural therapy, which finally made me accept it's not something to “fix”. I need to cope with the bad days and when they happen, they won’t last. My dyslexia means I sometimes struggle when I’m writing or reading something. My sight probably has the most impact on me.

It would take me a long time to explain how these disabilities impact on my work. Essentially, they all mean I have to work collaboratively as part of a team, I’ll struggle to read documents, so I tend to talk things through. I have limited screen time I can spend, so I have to prioritise what I do, and have breaks in between meetings. For some of them, I even use this magic talking device called a “phone”. There is no picture, however you can chat to someone. Every time I meet someone I also have to think 'when do I tell you I’m disabled?' and 'what works for me?'. I learnt the hard way; the answer is straight away.   

Due to this I build high trust, authentic relationships with everyone I work with. I’m empathetic to others and their difficulties. I also am very creative and quite a visual learner, so I tend to use flowcharts or diagrams to talk through an issue - even with a Minister.

I wasn’t always confident talking about my disability. I’m afraid as a 40 year old, I’m from the generation when 2 of my conditions were not even seen as a disability. I certainly wasn’t encouraged to talk about them, especially not at work. In the end, what changed for me was a really sympathetic manager called Caroline in DofE who first realised I was struggling and took time to find out why. The other was an amazing support group I got from the Positive Action Pathway, a leadership scheme I went on in 2018 where I spent time with leaders from all over the civil service who were all from under represented groups. Finally, with my sight, I just have to tell people. I have no choice.

I was asked when writing this what I’d wish for the future. To steal shamelessly from one of my heroes, Richmond AFC Manager Ted Lasso (yes I know he’s a fictional character), Ted quotes Walt Whitman: “Be curious, not judgmental”. I’d like everyone to be curious about their colleagues and hopefully that would create a safe space for us all to be good colleagues. If you are curious, open and welcome people in, they will trust you with their disability and they will feel supported.

I’d like everyone to feel like their disability doesn’t define them. I’d like them to see it as just a different ability, one that makes them valued and not to worry about the “disabilities” being the only thing that anyone notices.

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