Let’s take you back to my placement in December 2019, when the anxiety of being a disabled student on placement kicked in. I wrote about this, in what was probably my first ever raw reflective piece on my blog, it’s no secret that I struggled on this placement. Figuring out my needs and my identity as a disabled occupational therapy student triggered many of my placement reflections on NSTP.
At the time of this placement, my internalised ableism was heightened. When I was figuring out my needs and what adjustments I’d need in practice, I feared that the reasonable adjustments I needed were in fact unreasonable. Which turned into a massive internal debate and left me asking myself, what makes reasonable adjustments reasonable? This is the question I wanted as the title for my OTalk in 2020. However, after reflecting I realised this is not a question that any disabled person should be asking themselves and is riddled with my own internalised ableism. Although I feel my self-advocacy skills are much better now, than they were 2 years ago, I still get that anxiety and fear when I need to advocate for myself.
For example, I have just started a new job as a clinical demonstrator in occupational therapy at The University of Huddersfield, and have just been through the process of occupational health etc. Who by the way, were amazing! At this moment in time, my role is mainly online but in the months ahead I will be going to Huddersfield more often (wish me luck as I’ll need it with my new driving skills). When I work at the University, my reasonable adjustments will obviously change and I’ll have to get in contact with Access to Work. My manager is fine with this and we already have ideas of what I may need. Such as, helping me get my wheelchair in and out of my car.
When I found out that Access to Work could provide this I was shocked that this was a thing, and it certainly made me feel at ease having these discussions with my line manager. I’m also aware that if I am in the university a lot there are probably going to be many more unexpected hurdles that pop up and this is when the worry and anxiety of advocating for my needs sets in… I’ve already been through occupational health, got to know the team (who have been lovely and super supportive) and yet I’m still may be needing more adjustments? I’m only a temporary contract…
I know, I shouldn’t think like this but I do and this is why it took me so long to be honest about my needs of previous placements as there was an internal voice saying “Georgia, suck it up it is only 10 weeks”.
I know, that I am not a burden. I know, my own needs and any reasonable adjustments I need will be reasonable.
But why do I still pile this internalised ableism on myself?… I do this because of the external ableism I have faced.
Let’s look at the definition of internalised ableism:
“Internalized oppression is not the cause of our mistreatment; it is the result of our mistreatment. It would not exist without the real external oppression that forms the social climate in which we exist. Once oppression has been internalized, little force is needed to keep us submissive. We harbour inside ourselves the pain and the memories, the fears and the confusions, the negative self-images and the low(Marks 1999, cited Campbell 2009, p. 25)
expectations, turning them into weapons with which to re-injure ourselves,
every day of our lives.”
This definition sums up my fear of advocating for my reasonable adjustments perfectly. I’m scared of not being believed because of my previous experiences. Yet, I don’t want to have to go through the mental trauma of disclosing every little need that I had to, to get PIP (personal independence payment).
Do you see how my fears are intertwined with my previous experiences? Maybe after being in the working world longer this anxiety will disappear? Or maybe it will increase as my needs change with age?
Until this is put right and not just in the occupational therapy profession but in every walk of life, disabled people will always have this fear.
The question is what can occupational therapists do to reduce this fear, and enable everyone to access all occupations in the work environment without implications on their mental health?
Thank you for reading,
References (APA 7th):
Campbell, K. F. (2009). Contours of Ableism. Palgrave Macmillan: London. [Online.] Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230245181_2