Disability Rights

Reflecting on Past and Considering Future Placement Experiences as a Disabled Occupational Therapy Student

I explore practice placement extensively on my blogs, because planning a placement when you have a disability doesn’t happen overnight, and it is the area where I face the most challenges at university. Placement is physically and mentally challenging for anyone, not just someone with a disability, however, knowing what I will need on placement is what I find the hardest.

Under the Equality Act (2010) employers including practice, educators must provide Reasonable Adjustments for disabled people. With this in mind, my university has been very on it with placement, in fact even in fresher’s week a meeting was arranged, to start my pre-placement learning agreement.

The meeting was great, but it was apparent that a lot of my answers to the questions was “It depends.” My lectures were very understanding of this. How can I possibly say how tired I would be at the end of the day when it’s so varied? I mean if I’ve been on my feet all day then tired won’t even cover it, but if I’ve been sat on the computer then I’ll be able to push through.

My first placement took place from March to May 2019 in which I had my pre-placement visit at the end of February. The pre-placement visit was certainly useful as the adjustments that were made are ones that I knew I would need on every placement. For example, I can’t write by hand, so in relation to note writing I could warn the placement that this was something that I would not be able to do. Apart from that and a few other things I couldn’t really say much about what I needed. Even when I was asked how far I think I would be able to walk my answer was vague as it purely depends on my fatigue and pain levels.

From that placement, I took away 1 or 2 things to add to my pre-placement learning agreement, but not many because this was my first placement and therefore for most of the time I was observing.

When my second placement came in October 2019 my lectures and I knew that I was going to come across more challenges on this placement due to the increase in expectation. But we still had to explain that we didn’t know what the challenges would be.

I found this placement quite emotional as discussed in my blog post ‘Transitioning from a Service User to a Healthcare Professional’ as not only was I realising that I was soon to be the professional I was also realising I was soon to be the professional with a physical disability.

I faced a lot of physical hurdles on my second placement, a few examples being setting up the equipment, high levels of fatigue, and I also found that note writing took me a lot longer than expected. But even though at the time this was incredibly hard to deal with I’m glad that I did find this out as multiple meetings were arranged and my pre-placement learning agreement was amended.

This meant that for my #VirtualOTPlacement I was all set, and yes, even pre COVID-19 I was working at home which makes a massive difference, but I felt a lot better going into that placement with my amended pre-placement learning agreement. As it didn’t matter if I needed more time writing a blog because it was there in black and white that I needed more time. Whereas before I might have thought this is taking a long time, I’ll knock an hour off for my timesheet.

I know that I’ll never be totally independent on placement or in practice for that matter as discussed in ‘How Will I Define ‘Independent’ as an Occupational Therapist?’ However, I’ve accepted this it’s just a fact, it’s hard to know what unexpected hurdles I’ll face on placement in the future.

I’m happy with my pre-placement learning agreement now and I do feel a lot more confident going into my next placement as I’ll be able to tell them what reasonable adjustments I need, and it’ll be in black and white. However, the next placement is in mental health and I have never been in mental health before, so I am aware that my needs will be different in this setting. That’s fine as it’ll probably happen in every setting that I’m in. I mean of course the more experience I have the better I can anticipate what may occur. But right now, finding out my needs takes time and relies on me feeling comfortable enough with my educator, especially as I am being assessed.

I doubt I’ll find as many hurdles as I did on my second placement. But I’ll still have some hurdles that will come up that I didn’t expect. I always have and I always will embrace all my placement experiences, and the learning and knowledge I’ve gained will always overweigh the challenges. However, I’d be lying if I said that facing new challenges with an educator who doesn’t know my needs isn’t daunting.

To help educate educators of the future, I have developed some training materials to help illustrate the needs of students with disabilities and demonstrate how to listen to the requirements and reasonable adjustments we may require. We have used this for the first time at the L’apple accreditation course in July 2020 delivered by Sheffield Hallam, Lincoln, and Derby Universities. Hopefully, this will go some way to open up conversations in the future about reasonable requirements and how we can put these into practice.

Thank you for reading,

Georgia
@georgiavine4213
@GeorgiaVineOT

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